Stay close, love more and worry less during the crisis of COVID-19
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The recent global impacts of COVID-19 pandemic have been critically affecting people around the world. Besides health-related concerns and financial constraints, the restriction of social practice has widely generated limitations on day-to-day life, especially to family members who are forced to live together during lockdowns. To comply with disease control policies applied to certain industries, people have been working from home. Some families have to return to their place of origin. Considering lockdown’s benefits, family time can be obtained as an essential factor that helps to create strong bonds, love, connections and relationship among family members. More importantly, spending quality time with family does help in inculcating family values as well as coping with challenges and stress induced by given circumstances. Nevertheless, the emerging evidences of dramatic increase in relationship issues, including violence and abuse have been globally revealed.
Relationship problems caused by COVID-19 restrictions
Countries across the globe have made efforts in all possible means to suppress transmission of COVID-19 disease and to mitigate its socio-economic impacts. This unprecedented crisis unfolds in the context of several pre-existing challenges, one of these include relationship management. Current survey conducted by American Psychiatric Association (APA) indicates that 12% of the U.S. populations have addressed their relationship issues. During the first few weeks of lockdowns, American couples have enjoyed a close relationship when they are able to spend quality time together. However, the survey elicits that, while being on a lockdown longer than 1 month, their positive feelings have subsequently turned to express as stress, anxiety and other emotional disturbance in which relationship termination has dramatically ramped up.
The unprecedented stress of the pandemic could breed unsafety in homes where violence may not have been an issue before. Violence in the home can also lead to adverse health and mental health outcomes including a higher risk of chronic disease, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and risky sexual and substance use behaviors.
Statistical data derived in the United Kingdom and Turkey has concurrently signified that the domestic violence and abuse rates have surged across their countries. Recently, official reports have shown a dramatic increase in numbers of people seeking for assistance in domestic assault and violent crimes through telephone helplines, applications and internet.
In China, the first country on a strict lockdown, statistics reveals that the divorce rates in China have risen significantly. Officials believe the sharp increase of divorce requests could be caused by the fact that partners have spent too much time in close quarters under quarantine and isolation. In March 2020, a huge number of married couples had scheduled their appointments to get a divorce in Xi’an and Dazhou. The numbers have become the highest rates of divorce in the history. A record high divorce rate, up to 25% has been also reported in Shanghai.
Preventive measures and social practice instructed by health authorities largely help to control viral transmission, resulting in lowered chance of being infected. However, people’s daily lives are drastically altered. To alleviate social impacts caused by this crisis, psychological advices to maintain healthy relationship play a vital role especially before terminating relationship which is probably unnecessary.
Alterations of sexual desire and satisfaction
Amid the crisis of COVID-19 which is becoming a threat to humanity, this is certainly not a honeymoon period for couples when stress, fear, anxiety and emotional distress have been inevitably induced. No one knows when this nightmare will end. Fear of a second wave has sparked while returning to normal life. The enormous strain that the pandemic imposes on health system undoubtedly impacts mental health and sexual desire of individuals. Being extremely stressed, warning signs can be present, such as emotional fluctuation or mood swing, fear, anxiety, irritability, frustration and being short-tempered easily. In addition, it might largely disturb sleep patterns and impair concentration. Moreover, social gatherings of any size, in homes or public spaces e.g. restaurants and outdoor exercise, are not allowed under a new regulation on the pandemic, causing chronic stress and lack of social support. Instead of appreciating family time, it has created more family conflicts, assaults or other forms of violence. As a result, living through a pandemic has dampened sexual desire and satisfaction presenting as loss of libido and interest in sexual activity.
Advices on managing of relationship during the COVID-19 pandemic
Actually, stress and anxiety are appropriate responses to raise awareness, allowing people to carefully plan and manage the situation. Everyone reacts differently to stressful conditions. Nonetheless, stress and anxiety should be managed properly. To maintain healthy relationship, tips include:
1. Managing anxiety and coping with reality
In fact, the feeling of being stressed can be typically triggered by an event that makes people feel frustrated or nervous. Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry or unease. Without stress and anxiety, a number of people would have ignored all disease control measures and denied complying with preventive policies. As an undesired result, it potentially enhances disease transmission to wider communities, causing disease even more difficult to be kept under control. The first step to cope with stress and anxiety is to accept the truths that we have been facing unprecedented situation. People can then relieve stress by taking all measures recommended by health authorities and maintain their routine involving a balance of time, relaxation and connecting with friends and families preferably through communication technology. To avoid being overwhelmed, paying attention to reliable sources of news on the pandemic, taking breaks from time to time and refraining from overuse of social media are highly suggested.
2. Appropriate communication is a key
Since people tend to respond to the situation differently depending on their background, it is crucially vital to understand different reactions and needs among individuals. To keep a good relationship between spouses or partners, close observation and expression of sympathy play a major role, especially when mental support is highly needed. Communications between couples should be conducted with love and care. Positive interactions between couples include listening, validating the other person, using soft words, expressing appreciation, affirmation, physical affection and compliments. Negative responses that must be avoided are raising one’s voice, commanding, making unfair judgment, stating a complaint as well as expressing one’s anger. Keys to effective communication in marriage include:
- Using more “I” statements. I-message should be often used to reflect your desires while limiting the use of “You” statements which might directly trigger the feeling of being complained or criticized. I-message decreases the chances of your spouse feeling like they need to defend themselves. For example, “You have been attached to me night and day, you deliberately do not want me to have my privacy”. The sense of this sentence refers to negativity and complaints. Instead, “I” statement can be used for more pleasant tones to preserve family bonds and care, such as “I dearly love you and I always do, but recently I have been frustrated and I need some private time to rest my body and mind.”
- Avoiding using offensive comments. Negative feelings should be expressed constructively. There will be times when couples feel bitterness, disappointment, resentment, or disapproval. These feelings need to be communicated in an appropriate manner for good changes. Subtle disrespect can often be a relationship killer. Signs and behaviors that are considered disrespectful in a relationship or marriage must be kept away from all couples. Expression of disrespect, both direct and indirect ways, such as careless actions, sarcastic comments, being sharp-tongued and making a joke out of your couple could result in broken relationship. For example, “ Oh! Do you think it is just only you who can be tired? I am even more exhausted to take care of our kid. I have to teach her/him while school is closed and I also have to clean the house and cook for our kid and a husband like you, who are doing nothing but badly addicted to mobile phone. It seems like I have two kids.”
- Frequent expression of positive feelings. Naturally, people are quicker to express their negative feelings than positive ones. It is essential to affirm your spouse. Positive feelings, such as respect, appreciation, affection, admiration, approval and warmth indicated to your spouse is similar to making deposits into your love account. You should have five positive deposits for every one negative. If complaints predominate compliments, criticism will fall on deaf ears. Being excessively stressed can lead to inappropriate decision making and responses. It is highly recommended not to make any important decision on relationship during this moment. For a marriage to succeed, both spouses must be able to hear each other’s complaints without getting defensive or decisive judgment.
3. Adjusting to the ‘new normal’
The effects of the panic has caused massive changes to daily lives rapidly and abruptly. Life adjustments often come with a wide range of emotions and new experiences. In some people, transition to the new normal can feel smooth while others might face high degree of difficulties during making changes. Living an unplanned life in this critical time can potentially lead to destroyed relationship. It is necessary for couples to spend time together talking about their plans, duties and expectation. New activities might be set in order to pursue the new normal. If there are children and elderly people in the family, time should be well spent to look after them. Putting excessive stress on yourself should be avoided. Being perfectionist at all times does not help to resolve the situation, in fact, it causes more tension in the family unnecessarily.
Apart from taking care of your family and performing your duties, private time to treat your body and mind remains essential. Sitting on your favorite sofa after work enables you to feel relaxed, allowing you to charge your life energy while spending time on your own favorite search. Besides having sex, couples could spend time on other recreational activities, sport and exercise. Before going to bed at night and after getting up in the morning, talking in the topics related to COVID-19 situation should be limited. Talking about other issues that belong to your partner acts as an indication of your interest in your loved one.
Rearranging furniture and spaces can also help to relieve stress induced by current crisis, especially in the limited areas, such as apartment and condominium. If applicable, working room must be isolated from bedroom. If space does not allow, drawing a separation line helps to define different areas e.g. working space and living zone. Working outside the house such as in the garden could be also an option.
4. Asking for support if it is needed
Serious talk about the situation should be avoided in order to reduce the stress of the family. Personal interactions should be retained while hygienic precautions are strictly followed. Sharing shared feelings does not only help reducing stress, but it also expresses caring to the ones you love and care about. However, if the relationship is seriously damaged, mental support and psychological consultation with psychiatrist or psychologist should be considered in order to alleviate pain and suffering.