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Lockdown: how couples can cope together

Over the course of your lives as a couple, you’ll probably go through lots of stressful situations together. Many of these will be things that only happen to one of you, like getting ill or having a tough time at work. In those times, the other partner might step up and offer support.

But, as we all adjust to living through a global event, we find ourselves facing something that affects everyone – that alone can be a lot to deal with, and it may kick off lots of difficult thoughts and feelings. As a couple, it can be hard to know how to cope.

  • What does this mean to each of you as individuals?
  • How will you support each other?
  • What if you both need support at the same time?

We’re all going to deal with this in our own ways. You and your partner may have different ways of coping, and you may need different types of support at different times.

Coping with stress together

Stress happens when we feel unable to cope with the things we need to do. It’s like a balancing act – when you’re feeling strong and energised, you can cope with all that life throws at you. But, if you’re feeling worried and tired, then even an average day can be overwhelming [1].

Having a supportive partner can help you feel more in control of things. When you and your partner support each other well, you might find you’re both better at coping with – and moving on from – stressful situations [2] [3].

Many couples and families have found themselves in lockdown or self-isolation together. This is a new and strange situation and is likely to require new ways of coping together.

But here’s something interesting – even in a ‘normal’ situation, with just one of you under stress, we would still recommend finding a way of coping together. So, from that point of view, the way you’ll get through this situation shouldn’t be entirely different from the way you’d get through any other.

Shared coping is easier when you’ve got shared goals. These might be long term jobs like keeping the house clean or helping the children with their schoolwork, or they could be fun things like working through a box set or doing a jigsaw puzzle together.

Think about what you both want to get out of this time. Perhaps you could draw up a list of goals to work on together – even easy ones will help you feel connected. You can use the goal-setting feature on Click.

Getting through a crisis can be good for your relationship, as long as you find ways of coping together. Mutual support can reduce stress for both of you – when one of you feels better, the other will too, and this can make you feel more supported as a unit [4]. This is great news because, when we’re happy with our relationships, we tend to feel better in general [5].

How to be supportive for your partner

Support can be offered in different ways:

  • Emotional support.This is when you show your partner that you have understood.
  • Practical support. This is when you offer ways of solving a problem.
  • Delegating. This is when you take on tasks to give your partner a break [6].

Emotional support helps your partner feel listened to and shows them that you are making the effort understand what they are going through. It’s usually best to offer emotional support first, rather than jumping in with practical support.

This video shows the difference between emotional and practical support. The video was made at a time when going out and doing the shopping was a little easier than it is now, but the ideas are still relevant. Notice Naomi’s reaction to the different types of support from Liam:

When you offer support, do it willingly, and take your partner’s concerns seriously. They will be able to tell when you’re being sincere.

How to talk to each other about stress

When you talk to your partner about a stressful situation, try to describe your feelings as well as the situation. Start sentences with “I feel…” and explain what the situation means to you. Tell your partner why you are upset, and what you hope will change.

When your partner tells you about a stressful situation, show your support by listening properly. Put down whatever you are doing and give your full attention. Ask questions to learn more. Try summarising the problem to make sure you’ve properly understood.

You could use the following guide to help with talking about problems:

  • Explain what the problem is.
  • Discuss it together and look for solutions.
  • Talk about what you will each do next.
Alcohol

In stressful situations, we might be tempted to turn to harmful ways of managing things, like drinking too much. While alcohol can feel like an effective way to cope with stress in the moment, it’s usually more harmful in the long run – the negative effects on your mood and general health can end up causing more stress than they solve. Try to stick to other, healthier ways of improving your mood, like exercise or phoning a friend for a chat.

If you’re worried that you or your partner might be using alcohol to deal with stress, have a look at our alcohol site, where you can find our free short course, ‘Coping with stress’.

References

[1] Lazarus & Folkman, 1984
[2] Bodenmann, Meuwly, & Kayser, 2011
[3] Meuwly, Bodenmann, Germann, Bradbury, Ditzen, & Heinrichs, 2012
[4] Regan et al., 2014
[5] Traa, De Vries, Bodenmann, & Den Oudsten, 2014
[6] Falconier, Jackson, Hilpert, & Bodenmann, 2015

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