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My wife and I have been together since high school, and she was just offered a new position at work. Yay!! We’re so excited. But there was only one catch: the offer required that she take and pass a standardized test. Three things trigger her anxiety more than anything else: doctors, spiders, and tests. When any of these three is a possibility, she can’t sleep and loses her appetite. We’ve always known this was an issue for her, but we work through it. One step at a time.

Her anxiety before these events made me curious. Is this normal or is it a sign of something more? Is she ok? I mean, I get anxious about some things, but not to that extent. So, I did a little digging. In the process, I came across some interesting articles and research regarding something called “anticipatory anxiety.”

What is anticipatory anxiety?

It sounds clinical, but anticipatory anxiety comes from fear or worries about things that could happen — situations, events, or experiences that may lie ahead. It can stem from past experiences, but it doesn’t always. My wife’s anxiety with tests or spiders doesn’t stem from past trauma. The anxiety with doctors? Now that’s a different story. 

Some symptoms may include things like hyperventilating, chest pain, difficulty concentrating and feeling apprehensive. It can also show up as sleep issues, loss of appetite, emotional numbness, and trouble managing emotions. 

Aren’t we all a little anxious about the future?

Sure! It’s normal for all of us to feel anxious about the future from time to time. Tests, moving, big trips, new jobs, and major medical procedures are just a few examples of things that cause anxiety. It’s not unusual to worry over these things, but there’s a BIG difference between being worried and having anticipatory anxiety.

Let’s take a look at some differences. A 2015 study looked at “phasic fear” (fear that precedes a threat you can predict) and anticipatory anxiety. Phasic fear lasts for a short time. On the other hand, anticipatory anxiety lasts longer and is a reaction to an unpredictable threat. Each fear activates different parts of the brain. The researchers found that we all experience different levels of anticipatory anxiety. BUT if a person suffers from an anxiety disorder, anticipatory anxiety can go well beyond what most people experience. Anticipatory anxiety can be life-limiting for those who suffer from panic disorder, PTSD, or a phobia.

An American Psychological Association survey in March 2021 found that 50% of participants reported anxiety in the current reentry phase of the pandemic. We’re probably all a little anxious right now as the world reopens and kids return to school (in some areas of the country for the first time since March 2020). We might even worry about a COVID recurrence or future pandemics.

So, how do we cope with anticipatory anxiety?

Anticipatory anxiety can put stress on personal relationships because you’re distracted by what-ifs. It can be life-limiting as you try to avoid things you’re afraid of. But you can cope with anticipatory anxiety and work to overcome it. 

We can also help others cope by paying attention to their actions and emotions. Maybe you have a loved one with anticipatory anxiety. If so, you can encourage them to use the coping mechanisms listed below. A strong support system that offers love, grace, and encouragement can make a world of difference.

Here are some methods to help you cope:

Practicing a relaxation response: Deep breathing, guided imagery, or meditation are a few examples. Find something that calms you.

Self-talk: Talk to yourself like you would talk to a friend who’s having a similar experience. Self-compassion can make you more mindful. It can also motivate you to recognize and face your fears.

Healthy distractions: Take a walk, listen to music, engage in your favorite hobby, or exercise.

Challenge your anxious thoughts: Ask yourself if you’re being realistic. If you aren’t, challenge those thoughts with realistic ones.

Take action: Sometimes, the best solution is to confront whatever makes you anxious. This may mean taking small steps toward conquering your fears. You don’t have to tackle it all at once.

So, my wife faced her test anxiety. She studied diligently. The kids and I cheered her on and offered words of support and encouragement. We created an environment at home to lessen her anxiety as the time to take her test got closer. And she passed her test. With that, the fear is gone… until the next test. But, when it comes to spiders, we’ve got a long road ahead. [Read How To Help Your Spouse Deal With Anxiety]

Overcoming anticipatory anxiety takes work. But, reining in your fears will be helpful for you and your family. If you think your anticipatory anxiety could be a sign of something more, consult with a therapist or counselor for guidance. 

Sources:

https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/behavioural-and-cognitive-psychotherapy/article/abs/anticipatory-anxiety-as-a-function-of-panic-attacks-and-panicrelated-selfefficacy-an-ambulatory-assessment-study-in-panic-disorder/F74B866DB57404E82BAB423D9F48689F

https://www.nature.com/articles/nrn3524

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/da.22382

https://www.jneurosci.org/content/33/26/10607

https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2021/one-year-pandemic-stress

What You Need to Know About Post-Pandemic Anxiety

Just like COVID affects us in different ways, so can the aftermath.

Summer is in full swing, and things seem to be getting back to normal. Fifteen months ago, the world was full of questions and uncertainty. Today, businesses are reopening, large-scale events and social gatherings are returning, and school resumes in the fall. While some people are relieved by these things, not everyone is. 

Some may feel anxious about the post-pandemic world. 

Many people shifted how they lived during the height of the pandemic. We had to adjust to life as we knew it, and now we see a slow return to a pre-pandemic normal. It’s common to feel anxiety and uncertainty due to change.

2020 brought a drastic shift in life around the globe, affecting us all in different ways. You may have been affected to a greater degree than those around you. You may have felt a little out of place because of that. Maybe you still do. It’s okay. Anxiety during the post-pandemic period is normal, and we all deal with things in our own way. Over the last 12 months, several studies have examined the pandemic’s impact on mental and physical health. As you would expect, researchers have found increased stress levels due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several studies call this stress post-pandemic anxiety.

So, what is post-pandemic anxiety?

We all experienced a global pandemic over the last 15 months. But we didn’t all have the same experience. Many factors may have affected your experience: job loss, being classified as an essential worker, parenting and dealing with school from home, being in closer proximity to those infected with the virus, contracting the virus, or being quarantined are just a few examples. 

According to Canadian researchers, “several studies have reported high levels of fear of infection and a pandemic-specific adjustment disorder called the COVID Stress Syndrome.

The COVID Stress Syndrome has five features.

1. danger and contamination fears

2. socioeconomic concerns

3. Xenophobia (the fear or hatred of that which is perceived as foreign)

4. traumatic stress symptoms

5. compulsive checking and reassurance seeking.

There is emerging evidence that some people have developed post-traumatic stress disorder in response to COVID-19 related events.”

An Italian study conducted in 2020 found a similarity between anxiety induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Since previous studies have identified PTSD in the months following epidemics or medical emergencies, this isn’t uncommon. Survivors, healthcare workers, people in direct contact with those infected, those subject to restrictive measures (quarantine and shutdowns), and those overly exposed to media information are at high risk for developing PTSD. 

Of course, not everyone who experiences anxiety due to the COVID-19 pandemic suffers from PTSD. Anxiety can be seen as more of a sliding scale. People might experience varying levels of stress and anxiety as the world reopens.

Did I experience stress or trauma?

A Canadian study found that 15-25% of the general worldwide population experienced clinically significant levels of anxiety or stress-related symptoms in response to COVID-19. It’s likely that even more people experienced general distress due to the pandemic. Understandably, we all experienced varying levels of stress or even trauma. 

What signs should I be aware of?

You may want to dismiss what you’ve experienced over the past year, but reflecting on how the pandemic has affected you might be good for your mental health. Pay attention to your emotions because self-awareness is the first step in getting help if you need it. Here are some signs of anxiety according to the American Psychological Association:

  1. Persistent worry or feeling overwhelmed by emotions
  2. Excessive worry about a number of concerns
  3. Restlessness and irritability
  4. Difficulty concentrating
  5. Sleep problems
  6. Generally feeling on edge

While anxiety is normal with lots of situations, including post-pandemic, it’s whether the anxious feelings decrease over time that really determines if someone might need to seek professional help. If these symptoms don’t improve, reach out to a counselor or therapist. If you see a loved one struggling with anxiety, encourage them to seek help as well.

Sources:

Post-traumatic stress disorder and psychological distress in Chinese youths following the COVID-19 emergency. Journal of Health Psychology, August 2020.

COVID-19 Pandemic in the Italian Population: Validation of a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Questionnaire and Prevalence of PTSD Symptomatology. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, June 2020.

Real versus illusory personal growth in response to COVID-19 pandemic stressors. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, May 2021.

Stress in America 2021 Survey Report. American Psychological Association.

Psychological Impact of COVID-19. American Psychological Association

2020 might be the year everyone wants to escape from and/or forget for so many reasons. This means we shouldn’t be surprised to learn that many of us are looking for ways to escape the pain and fear. One of the escapes that has seen a dramatic increase in use during the coronavirus pandemic is porn. 

A variety of sources report a 16 to 30% increase in use in the U.S. since March. India reports a 95% increase. Pornhub, the world’s largest pornography website, reported an 18% increase in users after making its premium content free for 30 days. 

To give you some perspective, check out these porn usage statistics from 2018 tabulated by Webroot Cybersecurity:

  • Every second, 28,258 users are watching pornography.
  • $3,075.64 is spent on porn every second on the internet.
  • 40 million Americans regularly visit porn sites.

Let those stats sink in for a second. Staggering to say the least.

Coronavirus and Porn

In a Psychology Today article, Dr. Justin Lehmiller explains that the coronavirus pandemic is affecting not just the amount and type of porn being produced. It’s also affecting how much porn people are consuming and what they’re searching for on major sites. According to Lehmiller, people are not just searching for porn, either. In one month’s time there were more than 9 million searches for coronavirus-related or pandemic porn, as in people wearing masks, surgical gloves and gowns engaging in sex.

He explains that porn searches are up, in part, because a lot of people are at home with more time on their hands than usual. But, he and other experts say there are other potential reasons for increased porn site visits. Some of those reasons include using sex as a coping mechanism for dealing with fear of disease and death, plus loneliness and the dramatic increase in experiencing anxiety, stress and negative emotions.

The Impact of Porn Addiction

So what about this “gift” that Pornhub has given to people, married, single or even teens, in the midst of COVID-19? The truth about porn is, most people don’t realize how pornography reaches out and grabs people. Research shows that when a person sees pornography, the brain releases endorphins that are 200 times more potent than morphine and more addictive than cocaine. They also give you an enormous false sense of well-being. Fight the New Drug likens it to eating junk food. It seems like it is really good and satisfies you in the moment. However, it actually leaves you wanting more and never feeling full.

Additionally, research consistently indicates that pornography use can hurt a couple’s relationship. This is especially true when one person is frequently viewing pornographic images online.

In an open letter discussing the dangers of porn, Drs. Julie and John Gottman argue that intimacy for couples is a source of connection and communication between two people. But when one person becomes accustomed to getting pleasure from porn, they are actually turning away from intimate interaction. Second, when watching pornography the user is in total control of the sexual experience, in contrast to normal sex in which people are sharing control. Thus a porn user may form the unrealistic expectation that sex will be under only one person’s control. Third, the porn user may expect that their partner will always be immediately ready for intercourse. Pornography can also lead to a decrease in relationship trust and a higher likelihood of affairs outside the relationship. 

Here are some red flags that may indicate your spouse is involved in this highly addictive activity.

  • Is their body language open and does he/she respond appropriately when you ask questions? Does your spouse look you in the eyes when he/she talks to you? One lie often leads to another. You may ask a simple question and get a very complicated answer or an answer that was different than the day before.
  • Does your spouse have appropriate boundaries? They seem to live in drama and chaos all the time. They may ask you to record yourself or take pictures of you getting out of the shower or at intimate moments. 
  • Does your spouse use lots of sexual humor and innuendos, even when the conversation has nothing to do with that subject?
  • Is your spouse preoccupied with sexual behaviors? Is he/she constantly wanting to push the boundaries and experiment sexually in ways that make you wonder where they got the idea from? 
  • Does he/she exhibit inappropriate anger? This anger appears to come from nowhere. For example, if you ask about household cash flow or what time they will be home, he/she explodes. 
  • Have they lost interest in you sexually? Or has their demand for sexual activity increased, although they seem to be “elsewhere” in the midst of sex? If so, sex at this point is not about intimacy. Instead, it’s about control and power and what he/she can get you to do. 
  • Do you seem to constantly have money problems? No matter how much money you have coming in, there just is never enough to cover the expenses.   

As a result of the coronavirus pandemic and people being quarantined, many have commented on how they really didn’t realize how much they really needed in-person, face-to-face experiences for their emotional wellbeing. The research is clear: while a person may be using porn as a coping mechanism, the thirst for it is insatiable. And it still leaves them feeling empty, unfulfilled and needing more.  

Helpful Resources

If you or someone you love is struggling with porn addiction, the Fight the New Drug and The Addiction Center sites may help you determine best next steps.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear that someone is monitoring your computer or device, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Something shifted overnight for me. At first, I scoffed at how absurd people were being about a silly virus. Then I began to feel a looming sense of dread, realizing that this was not something to take lightly. It was 3 months into my third pregnancy. I started questioning if that meant I was an immunocompromised at-risk person who would be more susceptible to COVID-19. And although I suddenly went from an apathetic state to a concerned and informed citizen, I still had no clue what it all meant. Or how it would actually affect all of our lives in such a drastic way. If I’m being honest, I still didn’t worry too much about being pregnant during a pandemic. That’s because I thought it would blow over in a month, or, at the most, by the time I gave birth. 

But being in the middle of a pandemic rapidly changed the landscape in which I conducted my life and consequently my third pregnancy.

Ya know, they say each pregnancy is different, but now that I’m 6 months pregnant and COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon… I’d say this one is taking the cake. But just because this pregnancy is DIFFERENT, doesn’t mean it has to be DISASTROUS. I am realizing that finding the positives in pregnancy during a pandemic is ALL about shifting my perspective.

My prenatal workout class

…Went from an amazing escape every Monday night, connecting with other pregnant mamas and getting an hour break from all the responsibilities of having two kids and a full-time job to a virtual Zoom session from home. And it’s quite the struggle to find a quiet space to exercise without my kids literally jumping on my back or bumping into me. attempting to do the moves alongside me.

UPSIDE: The kids are kinda cute when they try to do the workout moves. I still get to check in with other mamas, and working up a sweat contributes to a healthy pregnancy! (Also having my girls see me working out models good healthy habits for them!) 

Prenatal doctor appointments… (specifically the 20-week Anatomy Scan)

…changed drastically. It went from a much-anticipated appointment where my husband would attend and we’d find out the gender together to an extremely lonely experience. I wore a mask, sat in an almost empty waiting room, and saw a skeleton crew of healthcare employees. I recorded the ultrasound to show my husband when I got home since spouses were (and currently are) not allowed to attend any appointments.

UPSIDE: I have a video of the ultrasound, which would otherwise not be allowed. And really, I’m thankful for the healthcare workers taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of their patients… even if it means I had to be alone for such a significant moment. 

Big announcements like gender reveals

…changed, too (because yes, gender reveal parties are still a thing)! We went from all our friends and family gathering around a big box filled with balloons that we would let free at just the right moment to yet another virtual Zoom session. Among only our closest friends and family, I let Jackie, my 4-year-old daughter, do the honors of announcing we’d be adding ANOTHER girl to the mix! 

UPSIDE: Having a special intimate announcement that I was able to record was priceless. And I saved a ton of money on balloons, food, and decorations. Just sayin’.  

Documenting my pregnancy

…went from a variety of social events where we would naturally take photos to trying to remember what day of quarantine it was and finding a split-second where the stars aligned (aka the weather was good, makeup and outfit were put on and I had my fancy camera on hand) to get a good picture to document my growing baby bump. 

UPSIDE: The photos that I do get will be that much more precious. And, the captions I write with them will give tremendous insight into this unprecedented time in history for future generations.  

The pregnancy attention

…went from the normal socially appropriate, “You’re glowing!” or “You don’t even look pregnant from behind, it’s all belly!” to crickets. Honestly, some days I think people forget I’m pregnant. They usually only see me from my shoulders up on video calls or FaceTime. If not for my intentional picture-taking that gets posted on social media, I probably would surprise everyone when I resurface from this quarantine to reveal a brand new baby! 

UPSIDE: The socially inappropriate comments have stopped, too! I don’t have strangers trying to touch my belly. I don’t have awkward co-worker conversations about whether I will be breastfeeding, either. And people don’t exclaim, “Are you SURE you’re not having twins?!” (All these things have most definitely happened in previous pregnancies.) 

These are but a handful of ways this pandemic has reshaped this pregnancy. I could choose to dwell on the overarching climate of fear, anxiety, worry, and confusion that only increases my stress. OR, I can focus on finding the upside in every situation. It’s not easy, but it’s necessary for the health of me and my baby girl. So, today, I’m choosing to be thankful. Yes, I recognize the downsides, the difficulties, and the disasters happening around me. However, I’m choosing to be positive, no matter what. 

First, the world shut down. It was inevitable as COVID-19 was spreading. But you weren’t sure how you’d handle it. Work, school, health, friends, jobs, money. There was so much uncertainty.

Then, at some point, you settled. You recognized what you could control. You started making the best of it and even realized that it wasn’t so bad. Who are we kidding? You were surprised at how much you were enjoying it. Slower pace. Family time has been fun time. Meaningful conversations with friends. You found your routine

You noticed the anxiety level in your home decrease. Not because of the absence of issues. Jobs aren’t all steady. Health concerns are everywhere. There’s lots of unrest in America right now. But the slower pace, the presence of the people you care most about, the ability to connect with family and friends, even if they are virtual connections, has helped you to live and process life in real time. 

During pre-quarantine days, many of us were moving so fast that we were simply going through the motions of life, but weren’t processing all that we were experiencing.  We had become accustomed to our way of doing life and never considered alternatives. And now the world is ready to open up and you’re not sure you’re ready to give up the benefits of this new lifestyle. So what do you do?

If You Aren’t Ready, Try These Things

  1. Accept: Just like we accepted the shelter-in-place orders and the fact that COVID-19 was spreading. We must accept that the world can’t stay shut down forever.
  2. Identify your fears: This could be anything from COVID-19 to busyness. You may be scared of losing the deep connections you’ve formed. The return of stress, anxiety, perpetual activity. Loneliness
  3. Name what you don’t want to lose: Family time, slower pace, meaningful conversations, quiet time, game/movie nights, time for mindfulness, and self-care.
  4. Be intentional: Just because the world is opening up doesn’t mean you have to dive in headfirst and resume everything you were doing before. Identify the things you have to do. Think through the things that are optional.
  5. Practice Using One of the Most Powerful Words in the English Dictionary: NO. Be willing to say “no” to those things that compromise the very things you’ve said you don’t want to lose. You WILL say NO to a lot of good things. Good will often keep you from BEST.

You may not be ready for the world to reopen for many reasons. Taking control of what you CAN will help you to re-enter the world with purpose.

Image from Unsplash.com

Someone once said that the quality of your life depends on the quality of the questions you ask. So, first of all, asking, “Why am I so mad at my spouse during this pandemic?” is such a quality question!

You could have asked: Why is my spouse such a jerk these days? What’s their problem? Why are they so annoying, unhelpful, boring, and not the person I married? Instead, you placed the focus squarely on yourself (Why am I so mad…) and you put the problem in its appropriate context (…during this pandemic). HIGH-FIVE! You’re on the right track!

Someone else once said that the answer is often right in the question. Let’s break the question down and see if we can find a reasonable answer.

Why Am I So Mad…

Anger is a normal emotion. It’s okay to feel angry. But, try to understand how it works and how it can affect you and your family. In that moment of anger, (his dirty clothes on the floor AGAIN, she had THAT tone, we’re BOTH supposed to help put the kids down for bed) your brain is flooded with stress hormones that override your pre-frontal cortex. This is the part of the brain that controls higher-order thinking skills such as decision-making, impulse control, focusing your attention, planning for the future and predicting the consequences of your actions. It also controls your ability to use logic and process feelings of empathy, shame, compassion and guilt. In that moment of anger, if you react, instead of pausing and responding, this is like handing over the keys to the part of your brain that is deciding between “fight, flight, or freeze.” 

If your spouse has done something that triggers “flooding” in you, it is physically and mentally impossible for you to have a reasonable conversation. You are literally incapable of rational thought. Your heart might be racing. You might be sweating or even crying at this point. Mentally, you won’t interpret and process the words and actions of your spouse accurately. 

This is definitely NOT when you want to address issues or problems in your relationship. 

This is why we say and do things when we are angry that, later, after the pre-frontal cortex gets the keys back, we totally cannot believe we said or did. It is also why the way we handle that 90 seconds or so of our brain “flooding” is so important. It’s why you’ve never heard of “Happiness Management” classes, either.

Marriage researcher and relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman, found that it takes about 20 minutes for the “floodwaters” to recede and explains this process and how “self-soothing” like taking a walk or calling a “timeout” can help. (More on that later.)

Even though anger is a normal emotion, it is not one to take lightly or ignore. We don’t want to camp out with our anger. In a very real sense, anger is a “Gateway Emotion.” Anger that isn’t dealt with often leads to bitterness, contempt, resentment and apathy. These feelings can wreak havoc even when we’re done being mad. People often take these feelings out on their spouses, their children, and even on themselves. Plus, dwelling on your anger sends a signal to your brain to start flooding all over again. This is not where you need to be. This is not your “best self.”

What do you do with your anger? What do you let your anger do to you? How do you handle your brain being “flooded?” Have you considered that anger is often a “secondary emotion” that masks the real issue? Have you reflected on what the real issue could be—not feeling appreciated, not feeling heard, not feeling respected? Are you really jealous, lonely or hurting?

Are you taking proper care of yourself?

At My Spouse…

Your spouse might, in fact, be acting very differently right now. But why? They might process stress, fear, conflict and communicate it differently than you do. That’s okay. Opposites attract, right? But you might be seeing some real opposite-opposite behavior at the moment. Your spouse might really be struggling. They might be flooded or they might be withdrawn because stress makes them shut down. They might be irritable because of what their employer is expecting from them or they feel like they are failing you and the family.

Dr. Gottman found that 69% of conflict in marriages is about “unresolvable, perpetual problems.” That is NOT a discouraging statistic. That is what we call marriage—two unique individuals with their own unique needs, personalities, ways of communicating, handling conflict, and let’s say… quirks—spending their lives together, trying to fail better tomorrow. That’s love. It’s beautiful. 

Get real honest with yourself—is this a tension to be managed or a problem to be solved? Is your spouse a convenient outlet for your anger? Are you leaving room for them to be them? Are you spending too much time together cooped up? Not enough quality time together? 

This is a time for patience, grace, and empathy. 

During This Pandemic?

The stress and fear that comes with quarantine and a global pandemic can keep us in a perpetual state of “brain flooding.” Think about that a second. We may be trying to be employees, tutors, parents and spouses while we are worrying about the future, finances and getting COVID-19. Add to this that we might be stuck in the house and cut off from our normal routines and the usual ways we “blow off steam” and have fun.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, (including you and your spouse) are their best selves right now—no matter how your friends appear on social media. We are all in Survival Mode. Everything is magnified right now. Everything is intensified. An off-hand comment that wouldn’t have phased you before now is a personal attack. Don’t let this “thing” we are all going through drive you away from your spouse. Be determined to handle your anger in a way and deal with conflict in a way that drives you toward your spouse

Make it a goal to come out of this better and closer on the other side.

Understanding Is Important, But Here Are Some Practical Tips.

  • Learn to recognize when your body is telling you that you’re flooding and have a plan. Find a healthy outlet for your anger. Journaling. Going for a walk. Calling a timeout. Take the reins of your brain and remind yourself of why you got married and your spouse’s awesome qualities and traits. Control your thoughts and emotions, don’t let them control you.
  • If there is a problem or issue that you and your spouse need to work out, remember that is a normal part of marriage. Don’t attempt to resolve it when you are angry. Pick a time when you can have a productive, constructive conversation about it. Use “I” statements, not “you” statements. Listen to your body—don’t escalate and don’t be afraid to call “timeout.”
  • Are you and your spouse connecting creatively with each other or crossing paths chaotically? Is it time for a special in-house dinner date? A movie night? Some yard work together? A walk around the block? Just enjoy each other’s company.
  • This is not the time for any harsh conclusions or permanent judgments, and definitely no big decisions—specially when you throw anger into the mix. Take responsibility for yourself and for what you can control. 

Why am I so mad at my spouse during this pandemic? Remember, the quality of your life depends on the quality of the questions you ask—and what you do about the answers.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

Image from Pexels.com

Perhaps you’ve seen the pictures on social media. Brother and sister have been fighting all day. Mom has had enough. Mom gets one of dad’s t-shirts and makes brother and sister wear it—at the same time. 

Brother and sister look thrilled.

Some have called this a “Get-Along Shirt.” The funny thing is, while this may be a great deterrent for kids to stop fighting (“If you two don’t stop it, I’m getting out THE SHIRT!”), I’m not sure it does much to help brother and sister get along while they’re in the shirt. In my opinion, quite the reverse: It just makes them want to fight more. 

This is how I picture being in quarantine with a spouse that you don’t particularly like. You feel glued at the hip, but you can’t get away. 

THE SITUATION

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused us all to change our way of life. And if there has already been tension in your marriage before this whole mess began, then right now you might be wondering, how the heck do I get out of this giant shirt? 

Let’s think about this situation. Chances are, back in the “old days” (pre-pandemic) one or both of you spent at least some of your day apart, possibly at work. Point is, your regular routine gave you time apart so that when you came back together, your relationship was more manageable. Life provided some ways to cope with the tension.

Not so at the moment in quarantine. There is no coming back together because there’s no time apart. Together is your reality right now. If there was tension in the marriage before, the coping mechanisms you used back then aren’t there anymore. 

And whatever differences were coming between you back then, now they are magnified. You see the differences more. You are in difference-overload. And so the tension builds.

THE CHOICE

Your situation gives you a couple of choices: 

  • You can choose to avoid the issue, be miserable in your Get-Along shirt, and live in increasing conflict, tension, stress, and anxiety. Sounds fun. (See picture above.)
  • Or, you can dig in your heels, be intentional, and decide to do what you can to lessen the tension and improve the situation with your spouse 

Disclaimer★ What I’m about to share with you is helpful, but it’s going to take intentionality and humility. When two people don’t get along, things only get better when pride is put aside. And yes, both people in the marriage need to make the effort, but it takes one person to begin to lead the dance. In other words, choose to be the first person to take up the mantle of humility; more often than not, the other will follow. 

So you first have to ask some questions: 

  • What is it specifically you don’t like about the person you’re in quarantine with? 
  • Do you not like your spouse, or do you not like the situation you’re in? 
  • Does everything about your spouse get on your nerves? Or are there one or two qualities that are magnified by the circumstances of the quarantine? 
  • Could… this… possibly… be…you? Are you stressed, and that affects how you see your spouse? What are you dealing with inside of you that makes you see your spouse in certain ways?

These questions are humbling—they can bring you down a notch or two. But considering sincere answers help you to stop and put the right perspective on the situation. Then you are freed up to make a healthy response rather than a knee-jerk reaction

PRO-TIPS

Having said that, let’s consider some pro-tips: 

  • Choose to see your spouse as a whole rather than one or two negative qualities. When there is something bugging me about my spouse, I have to stop and consider all the things that make up who she is, and I find the positives far outweigh the negatives. I consider all the ways she contributes to the family, what she’s done for me in the past, her background and history, how good of a mother she is. And it minimizes in my mind whatever it was that was getting on my nerves. 
  • Think of five things you’re thankful for your spouse. The next time you find yourself frustrated at your spouse, try this. It’s a way to train your brain—to condition yourself —to see your spouse as a whole. When I’ve done this, I’ve found more often than not that I was frustrated at a molehill rather than a mountain. And even if you are facing a mountain, thinking of why you are thankful for your spouse clears your headspace to approach the issues in calm, effective ways rather than being reactive. Take a few minutes, write down five reasons you’re thankful for your spouse, and read them over. 
  • Take time to decompress and do things to lower the tension. Lots of times conflict with your spouse is exacerbated by the stress of everything else going on around you. Take the opportunity to detach from life for a little while and do some self-care—both as a family and on your own. Go on a walk, meditate, read something inspirational, do some push-ups, cuddle with your cat or dog. Your self-care should be productive and healthy rather than merely an escape. This helps ease the tension and set a healthier atmosphere for communication. (Here and here are some great ideas on self-care.) 
  • Try not to make big decisions during this time. The idea is to lower the potential for stress, not the reverse. If you can help it, avoid making big, life-altering decisions like major purchases or having children (although you need to keep the ones you already have). 
  • Adopt an attitude of gratitude. Prolonged traumatic situations like the pandemic can cause a person to focus all their attention on the negative. This is extremely stressful and adds to the tension in your marriage. Reverse this pattern by thinking of the things you are thankful for at this time. And no matter the situation, there are always things to be thankful for. Make a list. Add to it daily. Gratitude helps lower the tension in the atmosphere and put the issue at hand in a proper perspective. 
  • Put grace into place. Consider that our circumstances are affecting not only your emotional health but also that of your spouse. Put yourself in their shoes and try to understand what they may be feeling. Keep in mind that you probably have magnified qualities that get on their nerves right now as well. 

Quarantine has put a strain on all kinds of relationships, especially marriages already under strain. But by being intentional and putting pride aside, the tension can lessen. Putting these practices into place will help you and your spouse get along during this time of quarantine. 

(Get-Along Shirt not required.)

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By nature, I believe we as humans are caring and kind. We like to help and be there for others when they celebrate and when they go through tragedy. For example, we buy gifts when people have babies, get married, retire and reach other various milestones. And we bring food when others suffer the loss of a loved one or lose everything in a natural disaster. We sit close to those who are suffering from a terrible disease like cancer, in the midst of grief or going through a divorce. That’s how we love, comfort, support, and uplift

Loving and caring for others who continue to face many of life’s celebrations and trials has become difficult since the pandemic. Our hearts begin to hurt because of the weddings we miss and the families we can’t mourn alongside. We grieve over the showers we can’t attend and the relief efforts we are limited in assisting after natural disasters. 

The core of our humanity seems to be stripped away from us because of the need to quarantine and stay safe and healthy. Sometimes, if you’re like me, you begin to wonder, is it worth it? Is what I’m giving up to “stay healthy” worth it? What’s the point of being a friend when you can’t do all those things that friends do? I don’t want to miss the birth of my cousin’s baby or the funeral of my neighbor’s son. What do I do?

How to Check In

That’s where we have to be creative. Here are some ideas to support, encourage and love those that are facing life-altering events during this time of quarantine.

  • Arrange for meal delivery and share virtual meals—We love to take food to those who are experiencing life-changing events. Instead, have the food delivered to them. Then, use a video app to eat together while you share in their grief or their excitement.
  • Virtual Photo Albums—Simply going through digital photos to walk down memory lane and using the “share screen” function that many video apps have promotes the bonding and connectedness we desire.
  • Drive-By Parade—Gather some of your friends safely. In your own cars, parade in front of their home with signs of celebration. 
  • Gift-Giving Through Online Registry—Help loved ones set up online gift registries and purchase the gifts electronically. (Don’t assume everyone, such as your soon to be 70-year-old grandmother, knows how to set up an online registry.)
  • Electronic Greeting Cards—Find a ready-made one or design your own. You can send these directly to their smartphone. A sympathy card or one of celebration can offer timely words of encouragement. 
  • Prepare A Virtual Trivia Game Night—Create trivia facts centered around the person being celebrated (TriviaMaker is a good app).
  • Mail a Handwritten Letter or Card—There’s still something that makes me feel special when I receive a letter. Knowing that someone took the time to handwrite something themselves—everything about that says that I am important. Emails or texts can’t match the feeling of a handwritten letter.
  • Attend Events Virtually—Knowing that you took the time to attend an event, whether it’s a wedding, funeral, or party, tells your loved one that you won’t let social distancing stop you from sharing in their moment. 
    • Leave comments on their social media feed when appropriate. We know what it feels like to read our social media comments and feel the love and support of those who couldn’t be with us physically. It uplifts the spirit.
  • Call. But Use Video Calls As Often As Possible—Be available to listen. Allow those you love to vent, blow off steam and complain. You may not be needed to fix anything. Just being a listening ear goes a long way.
    • Note: When someone crosses your mind, call them then. Don’t waitI can’t tell you how many times someone has called me at the perfect time when I was dealing with something. And they often started with, “I was just thinking about you and thought I’d call to see how you were.”
  • Record And Electronically Deliver A Special Video Message—You may be providing a keepsake that your loved ones will treasure forever.

Encouraging, loving and supporting others does make us feel good. It uplifts us and helps us feel meaningful and full of purpose. Ultimately, we have to remember that it’s not about you—it’s about the person on the receiving end

A virtual meal or handwritten letter may not feel as satisfying to give right now. However, it can still help your loved one’s big life moments bring them the joy and peace they may need. That’s one of the special perks of having you in their life.

Image from Unsplash.com