Coronavirus survival guide for couples

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

If you’re married, holed up at home for an indefinite time with your spouse and have begun thinking of such songs as Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and Faith Hill’s “Breathe,” professional counselors have survival strategies for this difficult life situation.

Actually, they give suggestions for how such extreme cohabitation during a health crisis is manageable and can be rewarding in the end.

The Times-Gazette presented mental health care providers with three scenarios of married life during forced isolation:

• Young couples married less than a year

• Seasoned married couples working apart for many years now homebound

• Couples at home with less than amicable domestic situations

“This is an especially trying but also an exciting time for the family unit. If the adage is true, ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder,’ then close proximity probably grates on us,” said Dr. Mike Courtney, founder and director of the Shelbyville Branches Counseling Center located at First Baptist Church.

As part of a Christian-based organization, Courtney is drawn to Jeremiah 29:11, which expresses hope for the future.

Courtney said for newlyweds, the time of being homebound for an extended time is actually a great opportunity for them to get to know one another better.

“I suggest taking time each day to ask two or three open-ended questions of one another. Make them fun.”

He suggested: “What is your all-time favorite movie and why?” or “If you were suddenly the ruler of your own sovereign nation, what would you work on first?”

He also suggested building a “life egg” whereby couples draw an egg on some poster board, then fill it from top to bottom with small pictures of their life story.

“Do it on chronological order and then tell the story of your childhood to your partner,” Courtney said.

Married for 42 years, Courtney said veteran married couples can also find this time challenging. He said the coronavirus situation should be looked at as an opportunity for growth even for the most seasoned partners.

“Use this as a time to re-prioritize. Talk about the later chapters of life . . . the kind of legacy you would like to leave. Ask your partner . . . some of the funniest or fondest stories you remember.”

He also suggested couples play games associated with their wedding day. Perhaps, write those wedding attendants a note.

“Finally, for those couples that have experienced great tension, practice good self-care. Take deep breaths if conflict starts to arise. Do outside walks and projects together if possible. Choose to de-escalate any tense conversations in light of this difficult season. Above all, do not allow physical or verbal attacks to take place. Leave. Go to your church . . . neighbors but to not remain in a harmful situation.”

Counselor Laura Tucker Huggins added from her Shelbyville office on North Main Street that regardless of the situation, there are a few things to remember about being quarantined during the COVID-19 pandemic. Huggins is a licensed professional counselor-mental health service provider (LPC/MHSP.)

“First, remember that you are free to go outside and exercise. Take a stroll, enjoy nature, or burn off some energy. Regardless of how you use your outdoor time, it’s important to allocate that time daily. Second, get in your car and take a drive. Explore some unknown territory, get lost and find your way back home, drive by and wave at friends, or have a date night at the local drive in……find an adventure!”

Third, she suggested couples continue to plan “dates.” Though public venues are mainly closed, she advised those “dates” can range from picnics in the yard to a candlelight dinner at home. “And lastly, I encourage you to continue certain aspects of your daily routine. This will help to normalize your days at home.”

Huggins said if a couple has had little cohabitation time and suddenly find themselves forced together, it will be important to allow each personal some individual space. She said being together 24/7 without the activities of vacations can be smothering for some.

“So, be patient and allow for separate activities. Take time to set some household goals that can be accomplished during the week. Allow each partner to pick one task to be completed before the end of the quarantine. Additionally, the time would be well spent identifying personal and couple goals . . . dreaming of future plans. Have some fun and identify goals for 5, 10 and 15-year time frames.”

Huggins suggested another great option would be for couples to download a copy of the book, “The Five Love Languages.”

“For the couple who has spent their time as all work and no play and finds themselves “lost” as to how to reconnect for fun, they should go to the website and download the Recreational Enjoyment Inventory. Once the inventory has been completed, there will be several common interest items identified. Write down the ones that can be currently carried out safely, fold them, put them in a jar and each day draw a new activity to explore together.”

Huggins revealed how life stressors tend to exacerbate problems in a marriage. In situations of high conflict, couples should not over engage, she said. Be sure to incorporate individual time to help balance tense situations.

“They could use the time at home to do some tele-health sessions with a licensed provider and address issues within the marriage. Often the lack of effective communication skills are a significant barrier in achieving resolution to identified problems. Practicing communication by discussing lighthearted topics could go a long way in bridging gaps (i.e., favorite move, song, childhood memory, date with spouse, one thing you like most about your spouse, what your spouse does well.)

Huggins further stated, “Should discussions become heated, abandon verbal communication and write your spouse a letter instead. This slows the communication process and allows for more thoughtful presentation of your concerns. Ask your partner to write back.”

Huggins and Courtney said several websites and podcasts are directed toward improving romantic relationships — and now is the perfect time to explore.