Folx in Relationships* in a socially distant world

Tips for navigating life at home during this difficult time

By Mark Kaufman • JFCS Counselor

*Folx in Relationships is a term intended to be more inclusive of the diversity of romantic relationships than “couples”

We are all facing rapid changes in our routines in the face of a pandemic and learning about social distancing and sheltering in place. Many couples living together have discovered that it can be stressful to manage working from home, childcare, and anxieties about getting sick or unknowingly infecting someone else. We frequently take these stressors out on those we love the most.

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, is the opposite true?

News stories about increases in domestic violence calls for police and predictions of an increased divorce rate are indications of what many people are worried about – that tensions and conflicts already experienced by folx in relationships, families, and among housemates can be exacerbated by sheltering in place.

Some of us are now working from home, more distant from friends, and suddenly relying on partners for most of our social needs. We are engaged in conflicts over who gets the dining room table and who offices on the couch with the coffee table desk, whose turn is it to make sure the kids are not distance gaming when they need to be distance learning, and why there is not enough bandwidth to go around for everyone’s Zoom meetings. And we are stressed because there is a pandemic happening.

Things to try:

This can be a time of being intentional about our relationships. Just as many are replacing their commute with an exercise routine, taking this time together can be an opportunity to focus on strengthening our bonds to each other. Romantic partners can take time to be intentional about how they will manage conflict knowing they may have difficulty finding space when needed. They can work together on getting to know each other on a deeper level rather than continuing with assumptions made years or months ago. To facilitate this, the Gottman Institute has an app that presents questions to ask each other to increase intimacy.

As a therapist trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT), I focus on identifying and challenging patterns of communication. I help people understand how they are seeking connection and how they can build empathy and intimacy in the relationship.

As you are navigating your practical and relationship needs through this difficult time, stop and think to yourself: “Am I really angry about being stuck with the coffee table again, or do I feel like you push me away when I try to be close to you?” If so, instead you may say, “Hey, I get that you need to spread your stuff out because this project is really big; I would love to take some time out today to just be together without being focused on something else.”  Or “Could you give me a backrub after work? The coffee table is really low for my keyboard.”

Of course, there may be indications to seek out therapy. If you are finding significant criticism, defensiveness, disrespect, or distance between you and your partner, it may be time to seek therapy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, JFCS continues to provide therapy for Folx in Relationships via secure, encrypted, and HIPAA compliant Zoom teletherapy. JFCS counselors are expertly trained and can provide therapy for people of all backgrounds and ages. We accept most insurance, including Medicare. For counseling information call 952-546-0616 or request a counseling appointment.