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Coping with Change: Strategies for Couples

“Hi! It’s so great to see you! This pandemic has been rough! How is your family? It’s interesting how Covid impacts everyone so differently! How did you feel after your second shot?” Sound familiar? To some extent, over the past few weeks, this has been our new opening lines when meeting each other again after approximately 18-months of pandemic quarantining and sheltering in place. I’ll validate by saying the pandemic may have impacted our relationships in some way, shape, or form.

Now, with the country starting to reopen again and with some restrictions lifted, how do we continue to adapt to the various changes? How can I connect with my partner again? How do we reintegrate back into society? Here are three strategies that may help answer those questions.

First, change, whether positive or negative, can be scary as it takes time to adapt and adjust. A study was published in the European Journal of Social Psychology in 2009 which indicated that it takes a person between 18 to 254 days to form a new habit, depending on the habit. The same study also identified that it takes 66 days on average for a new behavior to become automatic. Given the various changes happening within our relationships currently, the key is to be patient with yourself and your partner. Allow each other the time and space to reflect on what was, what is, and what can be, and allow each other time to adapt and adjust to the changes.

Second, reestablish relationship goals (or vision quests) with your partner. Now might be a good time to have a conversation with your partner where you check in and say, “what was challenging for us these past few months, where are we now, and what are our goals for the next few months.” One topic of conversation to have during date night could be, in terms of ideal life satisfaction: on a scale of 1-20, with 20 being your ideal life satisfaction scenario, what does a 20/20 look like? Where you are on that scale now and what are the next steps towards reaching that 20. Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Julie Gottman term this type of activity as building love maps, where you get to know your partner’s world. Checking in with your partner, and relearning what your partner’s world looks like, can align your goals, and ensure that you and your partner are as close to being on the same page as possible to face the changes together.

Third, review your social and emotional reintegration energy output. To some extent, we can finally spend time with our family and friends again – whether having family barbecues or socializing at our local karaoke bar. It can be incredibly satisfying and healing to again reconnect and catch up with each other. However, a constant reintegration, weekend-after-weekend socialization, has the potential to leave us feeling socially fatigued and emotionally drained. This can in turn result in us having lesser amounts of energy to manage or regulate our own emotional well-being, let alone be there in support of our partner. Reviewing your social output and deciding which social events to participate in versus which to save for next time, can ensure that you and your partner have enough emotional capacity to check in and connect with each other.

With any change, there is the potential for great growth. Use this opportunity to grow WITH your partner into the lives you want to create.

By: Bernard De Wet

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