Keeping Relationships Strong
Tyler Bliss, executive director of The Education Foundation for New Albany/Floyd County Schools, and his wife Megan, who is a math coach for Slate Run Elementary School in New Albany, faced the same dilemma many parents faced once quarantine began. “The first few weeks of quarantine Megan and I were just trying to figure it out,” Tyler says. “How does this work? How do I work? How do you work? How do our kids homeschool, and how do we all stay sane?”
Couples who have been together during quarantine are feeling all the emotions — love, fear, sadness — and annoyance at whose turn it is to put away the dishes. All of these feelings are amplified because we’re confined to our homes most of the time. Without engaging in familiar outside activities like work and social events, quality time has turned into quantity time. How are couples keeping it together and surviving together during quarantine?
When it comes to navigating the emotional ups and downs of relationships, small disagreements can bring a deeper understanding in a relationship. Quarantine, however, brings with it an uncommon set of stressors. If you’re noticing high stress levels in your relationship, you’re not alone. Sally Connolly, a licensed marriage and family therapist and owner of Couples Counseling of Louisville, says, “A lot of couples are having stresses more intensely because of the economy, losing jobs, or being around their children a lot more.”
Tyler Bliss, executive director of The Education Foundation for New Albany/Floyd County Schools, and his wife Megan, who is a math coach for Slate Run Elementary School in New Albany, both worked from home for the first time while also homeschooling and parenting their two children, ages three and six. “The first few weeks of quarantine Megan and I were just trying to figure it out,” Tyler says. “How does this work? How do I work? How do you work? How do our kids homeschool, and how do we all stay sane?”
Figuring out a doable work schedule while keeping up with the kids was key to building a sense of normalcy. What really helped out the Bliss family was relying on their already balanced family routine. “He takes the cooking roles, and I take the child care roles naturally, and so we continued those roles,” Megan says. Keeping that plan as a base, they moved on from there and were able to tweak when necessary.
Megan and Tyler were also able to stay on top of lockdown by writing it all down. “I started writing our meetings on the white board calendar, which helped communicate our responsibilities,” says Megan. She says documenting their schedule enabled them to keep their lines of communication clear.
Connolly says keeping open communication with your partner and scheduling weekly check-in meetings can help maintain a strong bond. This time can be used for you to talk about the differences you’re experiencing. “Bring up the things that are getting on your last nerve, and do it in a constructive way as opposed to a destructive way,” Connolly says.
Julie and Ben Evans have created some new healthy habits during the quarantine to share with their daughter and Julie’s mom, who also lives with them.
Begin your weekly session in a positive light by stating what’s good in your relationship. Connolly says from that foundation, ask for what you need using constructive phrases like, “It would really help me a ton if you would…” These phrases allow for openness and give less cause for your spouse to feel defensive. As a couple, you can agree to hold off on any heavy discussions until your weekly meeting. This can give you time to focus on your own mental health before confronting your partner.
Julie Dingman Evans and Ben Evans kept their 16-year marriage focused by creating healthy habits. “We were developing some good habits out of necessity because of the quarantine,” Ben says. These new healthy habits included creating healthy meal plans and exercising more. Ben goes on to say that inherent in this time was more of a focus on the things that were truly important. “I’m even more grateful for all the little things and for each other,” he says.
Ben, an actor/filmmaker and sixth-grade science teacher at Noe Middle School, and Julie, an instructor and chair of the Musical Theatre Department at Louisville’s Youth Performing Arts School, were both required to work from home during the quarantine. Their 12-year-old daughter also participated in homeschooling, and it sometimes became tricky to find a space to work. Instead of letting stress mount, however, Julie and Ben looked for ways to practice self-care. “We feel better because we’re taking time to take care of ourselves,” Julie says.
They are also spending more time parenting their daughter. “I feel like we are appreciating each other as parents right now,” Julie says. Before lockdown, their teaching schedules were full to bursting and time could be lost. Now, these parents are taking advantage of the extra time quarantine has given them to engage in long talks with their daughter that are allowing them to deepen their parental bond.
For those parents looking to achieve a balance while parenting at home, Connolly says to ask questions of your parenting partner like, “How can we parent together?” She also says it’s common to experience tension due to different parenting styles. If trying to strike a parenting balance triggers an argument, “you can take a time out to calm yourself before you try to talk about the issue,” Connolly says.
For Megan and Tyler, when they need a respite from juggling all the parenting things and work things, they have a magical phrase that gives them a break. “I need five,” Megan says. “That’s just our phrase.” This allows them five minutes alone to regroup. This little breather gives both Megan and Tyler a fresh outlook and keeps their relationship connected.
If you and your spouse are lost in a land of quantity time versus quality time, know that you’re not alone. “Have some empathy and understanding about what you’re going through and have some about what your partner’s going through,” Connolly says. “You can give each other the benefit of the doubt and talk to each other about what’s going on.”
Using tools like empathy, developing healthy habits, short time-outs, and weekly meetings are all ways to keep your relationship strong and connected in a time when feelings are being felt more intensely. The good news is along with feeling more of all the stresses, it’s also possible to feel more of all the love.