Families are indeed dealing with a plethora of emotions and abrupt lifestyle changes due to the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Fear, isolation, coping with physical and social distancing, and a wide-variety of stressors are even more prevalent in the lives of southern Albertans.
With today’s current struggles, it is vitally important for partners to deal with the challenges of working at home, dealing with unemployment, and whatever else is thrown into the stay-at-home mix.
Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) has you covered, with a little help from your friendly neighbourhood FCSS counselling hub in your area.
“For all of us, these are stressful times. When we’re stressed out, our ability to cope is extremely taxed. Even though those normal frustrations we have with our partners somehow become exasperated by those underlying stressors, due to what is happening around us in our world – those frustrations and those differences we have between our partners and ourselves now seem to be magnified a thousand-fold, and we just find we don’t have the emotional energy to deal with that. We find ourselves having more and more conflict,” explained Mike Fedunec, FCSS counselling services supervisor.
Fedunec offers a suggestion how couples can reduce some of that stress and to reduce the level of conflict that might be occurring. “Devote yourselves to experiencing some self-compassion and expressing passion for your partner.”
“We all have a need for connection. We need to be able to spend time together – to have that sense of belonging, feeling loved, valued, and appreciated. But the truth of the matter is, we also need time for separation,” Fedunec added.
In these times when couples are sharing small spaces with kids, pets and possibly other family members, Fedunec noted, it is often difficult to experience alone time and disconnection.
“This is a level of stress increased now that many are finding themselves working from home or perhaps a partner lost a job. Now, the house is just booming with personalities and all kinds of things that prevent us from disconnecting from each other,” he said.
One way to provide disconnection is the simple act of designating areas in the home for specific activities, according to Fedunec. For those working from home, designate a room or area just for work and don’t forget to leave work at the office and not take it with you to the living room, kitchen, or bedroom. Also, designate an area just for yourself.
“Ensuring you convey to everyone this is your space,” Fedunec said, adding make sure to respect your partner’s space and don’t invade it. “By giving each other the mutual respect and expressing compassion to yourself and to your partner, you will find in time you’re not as stressed and your ability to handle the stresses and the conflicts that come become easier and easier.”
Bryan Bullock, FCSS counsellor said with couples living in close quarters, one suggestion is going back to the basics – where the focus becomes conflict resolution and how to recognize when you or your partner are flooded with emotions.
“Acknowledging and attending to your nervous system when you’re getting agitated or when you’re getting flooded or when you are wanting to freeze – going into that ‘fight or flight’ freeze and just supporting each other, as you’re just trying to pendulate between all the different emotions you’re likely feeling because the conflict is going to be at an all-time high. There’s so many unknowns and so many new things we’re trying to adjust to,” Bullock said.
Before the pandemic came into the picture, Bullock said, couples may have been trying to really deepen a connection. “Now you’re just trying to survive, in a sense, inescapable from each other.”
There may have been some back burner topics such as an affair, Bullock added. “That’s important, but we were building on trust and that’s great and it’s still needed but it might have taken a backseat to just managing the moment.”
Fedunec asked what about those couples that just do life and there never really is much engagement to begin with? “Now, they’re stuck in a place where they can’t get away from each other and there’s that pressure to engage.”
How would couples that normally don’t engage begin to engage in addressing each other’s emotional needs?
Bullock said part of that would still be in line with trying to regulate and recognize why a loved one is disengaged or overwhelmed or freezing up. “How do you keep yourself regulated to even be open to engaging?”
It’s back to the basics, reevaluating as individuals and as a family where priorities are at and how each person is doing and rating that, Bullock continued. It’s taking a step back, evaluating, and figuring out if you or your partner is attending to those aspects. It’s self-assessing and becoming self-aware, as well.
“Then taking an opportunity to discuss that with your partner in terms of are you both on the same page or get an assessment of the situation,” said Bullock.
As for suggestions of what couples can do while staying at home together, Bullock said dancing is a top activity for the entire family. “Turn the music on and try something like that. In the 1950s and 1960s, after dinner you turned the music on. I think we’re kind of there. Shake it up and start dancing. It’s something different.”
Other suggestions include games (which engage and keep the mind sharp) or couples can sit together, away from the family, and read (separately or together).
“A friend pulled out a coin collection he hasn’t brought out in a long time,” Fedunec added.
“While he was doing that, his wife was knitting instead of sitting and watching TV. It was a good experience,” Fedunec said, adding maybe there’s something you haven’t done for quite some time.
What fills your tank and drains your tank – individually and collectively? “Maybe there’s something you used to do that filled your tank, but life became so overwhelming you pushed those things out and you don’t make room,” said Fedunec. Couples, upon reflection, may recollect things they used to do that helped them feel connected. “Evaluating and reconnecting to those things that energize you and minimize the things that stress you out.”
Couples, Fedunec said, have an opportunity to evaluate and an opportunity to make some changes. “The changes we make and how we adjust to this situation may determine how we continue to live together and function in the future. If there are things you got disconnected from and you reengage in doing those things, if they are truly valuable, how do we maintain these not just for the six months it might take for us to get past this – but is it something we want to carry on for the rest of our marriage or the rest of our relationship?”
“We may have always talked about certain things, but never had the opportunity. Now, we really do,” said Fedunec. “That evaluation part is so critical. You can’t make decisions until you assess the situation.”
Bullock provided examples of what to look for if a person is possibly in a “fight or flight” or “freeze” position. He listed lack of patience, a desire to isolate, agitation, and irritability as a person perhaps exhibiting “fight or flight” behaviours. Someone in a “freeze” position might shut down emotionally and just not feel and may exhibit poor eating habits or behaviours.
For more information contact FCSS at 587-370-3728 or visit online at fcss.ca.