Staying healthy while keeping the relationship healthy

We all know relationships are hard — but throw a pandemic into the mix and they are even harder. 

We’ve heard about how the coronavirus has affected our economy, restructured our education and stripped away our jobs, but when it comes to our love lives, online classes and stimulus checks are not relevant temporary fixes. There simply has never been any research, blogs, or Pinterest boards to prepare us for how to structure a pandemic into a relationship. 

Romantic relationships of all kinds have had to face some extremely unprecedented challenges.  Some couples are in their homes having to spend most hours of the day with each other and only each other. Many others aren’t sure when they will see each other in person again. 

Callie Hemmer is a junior at DePaul who is currently apart from her partner because of the pandemic. She dives into what some of the struggles of being apart are. 

“Some difficulties have been not being able to see each other, watch movies together, and do our normal daily things that we do,” Hemmer said. “We hang out every day so this has been hard not to see each other for this long and abrupt. I know I’ve been really anxious during this whole thing so it’s hard to not be able to talk about it with someone not over the phone.” 

We choose our partners because usually they grant us physical and emotional comfort, creating a safe space and relief from stress and anxiety. It didn’t occur to most people before this to choose their partners based on who they prefer to self-isolate with — or go long distance with. 

But with what many of us are experiencing right now while quarantining, how are couples able to deal with conflicts in a healthy way, while physically being limited for places to go? And for those couples who are apart, what are some of the best ways to operate an unprepared long distance relationship? 

Tension levels are sparking and anxiety levels are rising, but there are ways for couples to work their way through conflicts during this unprecedented time. 

DePaul professor of communication studies, Tim Cole, mentions that it’s hard to give advice for an extreme situation like this one, but soon enough the research will come out and if there is a next time, we’ll be prepared. 

If you’re one of those couples who are quarantining together, there’s no doubt that this time will be a test on your relationship. 

“I imagine that it’s really going to bring some couples closer together and really test how well they really nurture and take care of each other and respond to each other,” Cole said. “And some couples are just going to exacerbate all of the problems that were there before.” 

When dealing with conflicts within your relationship, it’s important to keep in mind that this time is stressful and unique for everybody. 

“Try to find agreeable solutions to both people and to make sure both people feel understood. And with that said, less successful or unhealthy couples tend to do the opposite,” Cole said. When you’re stuck inside with your partner, the best way to cope with conflict is to not get too carried away with your emotions, don’t let them dictate conflict in a hostile or avoidance type of way. 

Cole mentions that it’s important to recognize when your partner needs space and give it to them; to try to be as understanding, kind, and compassionate as you can be. 

“Once negative interactions start, if both partners put fuel into that negative interaction it can really spiral out of control quickly,” Cole said. 

Sarah Halpern-Meekin, an associate professor at the University of Wisconsin, offered her own set of advice. 

“While the type of stress we’re experiencing from the pandemic is unique, many couples experience many different kinds of stressors even under ‘normal’ circumstances,” Halpern-Meekin said. 

Halpern-Meekin’s suggestions to couples include managing conflict in healthy ways, not accusing the other person of “never” or “always” doing things and to not expect one another to be mind readers — communicate how you feel openly and honestly. 

Halpern-Meekin shares that recent brain scan research shows that the simple act of receiving a hug or holding hands with a romantic partner can bring anxiety and stress levels down. When you’re feeling tensions rise, take a step back from your emotions and  maybe offer out a hand to be held. 

For those who are apart as well as those who are together while quarantining, it’s important for couples to carve out time to spend with each other to do something enjoyable to relieve stress. 

DePaul junior Sophia Pappas shares how her and her boyfriend have been spending time together while spending time apart, “We have been watching Netflix party chats which I have never tried, so that is fun and doing Facetime movie dates.” 

As far as long distance relationships go whether they operate in a time that is “normal” or in the middle of a pandemic, they have much of the same foundation and guidelines. “What’s really important is again to have [sort of] a patterned routine in how you interact, to not only have that but to have ways to remind your partner that you’re thinking about them even though you’re not there,” Cole said. “Do not try to resolve complex issues via text message, always try to do that via a ‘face to face’ sort of medium.” 

Halpern-Meekin had the same sort of advice. 

“We have lots of ways of staying connected — from video calling to sending old fashioned letters, and everything in between — even if these don’t feel like a total replacement for in-person relationships,” Halpern-Meekin said.  “So, we can try to be flexible in adapting rituals that are part of our regular lives so that we don’t have to lose them all together while isolating or quarantining.” 

Like many other relationships in our lives, when we have healthy, connected and communicative romantic partnerships, they can be outstanding sources of comfort during times of stress. 

“They are a place in which we feel accepted and like someone has our backs, and in which we can safely share our fears and anxieties,” Halpern-Meekin said. 

Just because you and your partner are away from one another it does not mean there aren’t ways for you to spend time together and to be there for each other. It can be hard to connect whether you’re together or separated. But if a couple establishes a healthy and committed way of communicating — by distance or being stuck together all day — it can still allow your relationship to be comforting and supportive. 

Not one couple could have prepared for this time — there simply has never been any research, books, or even movies to illustrate how hard this can be. It’s hard for a couple to say goodbye to each other without knowing when they will see each other again. And it’s hard for one couple to be spending most hours of the day with each other. 

These are both unique and extreme situations. But just remember, pandemic or no pandemic, a healthy communicative style is key to a long lasting durable relationship.