As the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches, it may be a good time to take stock of how one’s relationships are weathering its challenges. We asked Dawn O. Braithwaite, Willa Cather Professor of Communication Studies, to provide some advice for couples navigating this stressful time together.
“For some couples who have been sheltering in place, COVID-19 has been challenging, as they may be spending more time together than they are used to,” Braithwaite said. “This is happening at the same time that one or both may be missing spending time socially with friends.”
This closeness and isolation have the potential to put additional pressure on couples to be each other’s support and sounding board — roles that normally might be filled, at least in part, by friends or coworkers at a time of reduced contact.
“On the flip side, spending more time at home and with one’s partner may also be an opportunity to rediscover some of the qualities that attracted us to our partners in the first place, returning to those days when we could not wait to be together,” she said.
Couples could consider having more time together to be an opportunity to focus on strengthening their relationship and supporting each other. A better understanding of one another can yield benefits for couples that will last beyond the pandemic. Communication is key.
“While each of us is experiencing challenges during the pandemic, it may be hard to understand the different pressures that one’s partner is experiencing in their work, as a parent or as they are missing various activities and their social life,” Braithwaite said.
Partners who have children in the home may require a renegotiation over the division of labor in the household. Navigating their children’s education, safety, social lives and screen time on top of their own challenges has increased the need for parents to communicate clearly about their needs.
Couples can grow closer by exploring new activities and hobbies while at home together. Shared meals are a good opportunity for increased communication.
“Despite all the challenges during this time, some couples and families may be able to look back to the pandemic as an unprecedented opportunity for family togetherness, even in light of all of the losses.”
Braithwaite studies how people in personal and family relationships communicate and negotiate family change and challenges. She is a Distinguished Scholar of the National Communication Association, has authored over 130 articles and is co-author or co-editor of six books, including “Family Communication: Cohesion and Change and Engaging Theories in Interpersonal Communication.”