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This page contains a variety of articles and resources that may be of interest and help especially during the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown period. 

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Anxiety NZ Trust offers help to those experiencing anxiety during Covid-19

Posted on 22 April, 2020 at 20:15


The recent outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a significant impact on people worldwide, and has implications here in New Zealand. Given the extensive media coverage of COVID-19, many New Zealanders are feeling stressed about the situation. Some anxiety is normal and can help us prepare and reduce our risk. Remember to wash your hands, stay home if you're sick, self-isolate as necessary, and don't spread panic. Make a wellbeing plan with exercise, good sleep and a healthy diet.

Too much anxiety can create and spread panic. With uncertain threats like this one, our anxious minds can overestimate the danger posed to us, and underestimate our ability to cope. If you find yourself thinking a lot about the impact of the virus, ask yourself “Am I Worrying or Planning?” WORRYING involves rumination about things beyond our control and worst-case scenarios, whereas PLANNING involves goal-focused problem-solving.

Are you finding it difficult to control worries about the virus? Is it impacting your ability to sleep, work, or enjoy life? When we are frequently exposed to negative news, we can become worried and fearful. Checking for updates too often can escalate anxiety and increase exposure to sensationalism and misinformation. Limiting exposure to news, sticking to reliable sources of information, and ensuring that you connect with people about things other than just this issue can help alleviate anxiety. When we receive and provide support we build our resilience and form stronger families and communities. Reach out to family, friends, and others you trust.

Anxious thoughts, feelings, or behaviours are our body’s reminder that we may need to take a break from exposure and engage in a positive activity instead. What do you enjoy doing? What helps you feel calm?

If you are unsure or feeling overwhelmed, you can also call our free 24/7 national ANXIETY HELPLINE (0800 ANXIETY; 0800 269 4389). Our trained volunteers can offer support and advice on coping with worry and other distressing thoughts, feelings, or behaviours. They can take you through brief and effective anxiety management interventions and discuss helpful distraction and relaxation strategies.

For more support, information, and advice about anxiety management for yourself or someone else (including children), please call our FREE 24/7 National ANXIETY HELPLINE (0800 ANXIETY; 0800 269 4389) or visit


Looking after mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19

Posted on 22 April, 2020 at 20:00

Looking after mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19" target="_blank">From the Mental Health Foundation

COVID-19 is changing our daily lives. It’s important to look after our wellbeing and the wellbeing of our whānau and community as we get through this – together.

It’s a tense time for most of us. COVID-19 is scary, and it’s rapidly changing the way we work, socialise, travel, access healthcare, exercise, shop and live. We know many people are feeling anxious, stressed, worried and scared. It’s time to work out how we’re going to look after our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of our whānau and community as we get through this – together.

The number one message we want New Zealanders to hear is this: we will get through this if we work together. Connecting with people who make you feel safe and loved is the most important thing you can do to look after your mental health and the mental health of people around you. Self-isolation or staying at home makes this difficult, but not impossible. We’re going to have to get creative.

We also know that things are really tough right now for some people who live with mental illness. Stress and anxiety can make things worse. While we don’t have all the answers, know we’re sending you love and strength and our wellbeing tips below are designed to work for you however you’re feeling right now. Our FAQ on our website answers some of the questions we’ve been receiving.

We’ll be updating our website as often as we can with new information, resources and material. We’re also active on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, where we’ll be sharing ways to support wellbeing and asking you to share the things that are helping you get through. We hope you’ll join us. He waka eke noa – we’re all in this together.

Nga mihi nui, The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand

You can free call or text 1737 at any time to speak with a trained counsellor – it’s free and confidential.


Top tips for looking after mental health and wellbeing during COVID-19 and beyond.

Find ways to connect

Connecting with others is so important for our wellbeing and helps to make us feel safer, less stressed and less anxious. We can support each other to get through this. Some ideas to connect include: writing emails that share a favourite memory, playing video games with mates, playing online scrabble or other board games, joining or starting a virtual book club, sharing a favourite karakia or waiata with your friends on social media, having video catch-ups with workmates, calling friends and whānau who are in self-isolation and reaching out to neighbours to ensure everyone has what they need to get through.


Find ways to take notice

Notice the beauty in the world around your home. Take time to feel the sun on your skin, breathe in fresh air whenever you can, make a list of what you’re grateful for, take the time to thank someone for how they make you feel, do a mindfulness exercise on YouTube, watch the plants in your home or outside your window growing and changing with each passing day.


Find ways to be active

We know this is a tricky one without gyms or sports but it can be done! Play ‘the floor is lava’ with the kids, do a yoga class online, try out a new workout on YouTube, go for walks or runs outside (just stay 2m away from others!), use the cans in the pantry as weights, stretch.


Find ways to give

Give compliments, think about a skill you have you could share with your whānau/flatmates/friends, share a favourite recipe, let people know you’re there to help (and tell them what help you can offer – e.g. can you pick up food for a neighbour when you go shopping? Can you help your friends’ kids with their English homework via Skype?). Check in on neighbours and members of your community who may need to hear a cheery voice or need a helping hand.


Find ways to keep learning

Staying curious and engaging with the world around you is a great way to uplift your wellbeing. Pick a question you’ve always wondered about and take some time to look it up. Call your parents or grandparents and ask them questions about life when they were growing up. Research your whakapapa or family tree. Look up stories, myths and legends from different cultures. Discover the name of the iwi, hapu, maunga and awa of the place you live. Download an app like Duolingo and start learning a new language. Ask your tamariki/kids to teach you something they learned at school.


Spend time with nature

While staying at home doesn’t mean you have to stay indoors all the time, it might feel safer for you to do so! Think about how you can connect with nature from your home. Can you bring some nature indoors? Put up pictures of maunga (mountains), whenua (land), moana (oceans) or awa (rivers) that have meaning to you. Have a chat with your pot plants (this really helps them grow!). Listen to nature sounds – birdsong is a lovely background noise while you work. Open the windows as often as you can. Take time every day to feel the sun or the wind or the rain on your skin.


Keep taking your medication

Don’t stop taking any of your regular medication without first talking with your doctor. Phone or email your GP to get any new prescriptions you may need. If you’re staying at home and that’s throwing off your routine, set reminders to take your medicine when you need to.


If you're currently getting help with your mental health, continue with this if possible

Talk to your GP, counsellor, case worker or mental health team about how they can continue supporting you. Can your appointments take place over the phone, via email, text or video chat? What tips do they have to help you get through? Who can you call if you need help urgently? Write this down so you have it handy when you need it.



7 Ways to Meet the Marital Challenges of COVID-19

Posted on 22 April, 2020 at 19:55" target="_blank">7 Ways to Meet the Marital Challenges of COVID-19

Too much togetherness? How to balance dependency and autonomy in a lockdown.

Posted Apr 08, 2020 

Leo F. Seltzer

There’s something comforting about routines. We know what we have to do and there’s nothing preventing it. But with the unbidden invasion of the coronavirus, we find ourselves faced with all kinds of unprecedented restrictions.

To protect ourselves and others, we need to take various precautions. It’s as though suddenly the rules changed, and we weren’t allowed to vote on them, or provided with adequate time to acclimate to them. We’re now besieged with all sorts of things we were never asked to deal with before.

So here, the “IQ” we need to attend to isn’t our intelligence quotient but our irritability quotient. Given all that confronts us, the question becomes: How many adjustments and adaptations can we make without being overcome with such annoyance and aggravation that, unconsciously, we feel compelled to turn on others, especially those closest to us—like our now “too-intimate” partner.

Required to focus on matters we’d prefer to avoid can easily send us over our emotional edge. That’s why our frustrations with our spouse can get magnified to the point that we can hardly help but lash out at them (and, quite possibly, they with us as well).

It’s no coincidence that after COVID-19 cases in China peaked and their population was permitted to move about more freely, a surge in divorce filings was reported. And worldwide, lockdowns have increased the rate of domestic violence. Reactions to a crisis can bring out the best in us—but (maybe just as likely) also the worst in us.

Assuming we’re living in shelter-in-place conditions, this new normal will probably throw our emotional equilibrium significantly off-balance. Whether we’re extroverts or introverts, we all need alone time: time to regroup, time to hit the pause button—even on our closest relationship. And that can seem well-nigh impossible when we’re forced to live in close quarters with our partner indefinitely. Curiously apropos here is the phrase “too close for comfort.”

Many researchers have pointed out that humans need to balance their essential need for solitude, a time to enact their individuality and autonomy, with its opposite—together time—a time to enjoy the comforts of relationships, and to experience the sense of vitality and validation that such connection offers. And that crucial balance is seriously threatened when we’re part of a couple living together but lacking in the space that allows for the critical absence that “makes the heart grow fonder.”

So if you’re living with someone—not even to address here whether you’re also having to cope with restless, stir-crazy children—ask yourself whether your patience is beginning to wear thin, or may already be badly frayed. Have you and/or your partner become more short-tempered? More contentious? Petulant? Testy?

If so, here are some suggestions to help you avoid making even worse what, admittedly, is a dishearteningly bad situation.

1. Arrange for a couples “time-off.” Particularly if you live in a small apartment, you and your partner can start getting on each other’s nerves. Just as absence can make the heart grow fonder, familiarity can breed contempt. For being too “up close and personal” tends to exaggerate your negative perception of characteristics and habits in your mate you were never very fond of, to begin with (whether that be the way they load the dishwasher or the time they spend talking to their friends). Discuss with your partner how, without inconveniencing either one of you, you can contrive to make this alone time happen.

2. Don’t let differing viewpoints about the pandemic alienate you from each other. This isn’t a time to argue about whether your spouse is underreacting or overreacting to this extremely destabilizing national event. Don’t assume you understand all the ramifications of COVID-19 any better than they do. The level of their anxiety, anger, or depression may not match your own, but given how they’re sizing up the current crisis, it’s probably no less valid than yours either. So make every effort to respect and empathize with their feelings, as well as appreciate the legitimacy of how they’re processing the data that both of you receive daily from the media. True, their perspective might be arguable—but is it really worth arguing over?

3. Beware how you react to your loss of freedom (or maybe even your sense of free will). It’s likely that as a way of asserting some control over assorted feelings of helplessness, you’ve become more critical of your partner. When people feel they’ve lost control of their lives, they frequently look for someone to blame. And who’s closer at hand right now than your partner? So you’re apt to turn on them for things they themselves have little or no control over.

Almost certainly, the discouraging news you’ve been hearing and the troubling images bombarding you are making you feel rather victimized, especially if your financial security is now seriously endangered or your hard-earned savings for a rainy day are quickly drying up. But consider: This is that rainy day, and it’s raining on everybody else, too. So, continually remind yourself that one way or another, you’ll get through all this. Such an at least quasi-upbeat perspective, as difficult as it may be to cultivate, will make you less liable to take your frustrations out on your spouse.

4. Temper your temper, or control your anger before it controls you—and your relationship. If too much closeness between you and your partner is starting to get to you, getting angry with them (for matters big and small) will definitely increase the emotional—if not the physical—distance between you. Nonetheless, this is a time to safeguard, not sabotage, your relationship. And mishandling your anger will only serve to endanger it.

As understandable as your exasperation with shelter-in-place may be, you need to accept it as time-limited and make your peace with it. This is a time to increase your appreciation, understanding, compassion, and support of your spouse—not, unwittingly, to further augment any hostility or ill will that's existed between you. Consider that talking to your spouse oppositionally about what in them displeases you is all too likely to prompt them to respond antagonistically in turn (for they’re probably just as stressed out as you are).

5. Make love, not war. Excess togetherness hardly fuels feelings of lust. But can you find ways of renewing some romance between you by looking at your spouse with fresh eyes? Can you recall how during courtship you relished every moment you spent together? There’s certainly a novelty in these uncertain times. So can you connect it to the novelty you once shared when you fell in love?

Don’t forget that what makes sex sexy has mostly to do with what takes place between your ears. So, see whether you can’t find some way of replicating those earlier “warm fuzzies.” Through conscious intention transcend your present-day frustrations by celebrating the fact that your relationship has managed to survive up till now. And, if you act kindly and deliberately, you can ensure that it will continue to do so.

6. Bring play and humor to the rescue. It’s hard to retain your sense of humor when you’re anxious about contracting the coronavirus yourself or worrying about how it’s already compromising your financial situation. But as Oscar Wilde paradoxically opined: “Life is much too important ever to be taken seriously.”

So, take mini-vacations from the stress—and distress—you’re now experiencing by playing cards and board games. Or watching funny cat and dog videos, or your favorite comedians, or anything that made you laugh in the past. And YouTube is an excellent resource for finding things apt to get you to LOL. Not only can laughter be a much-needed respite from today’s ongoing, and all-too-sobering, global drama, it can be a potent stress reliever as well. And it can actually boost your immune system.

7. Plan, plan, plan. So many COVID-19 experts are now counseling that we should be “testing, testing, testing.” Substituting the word “plan” for “testing,” the same is true for you and your partner’s working together when you’re both housebound to efficiently handle day-to-day chores and responsibilities.

So, cooperatively, make a joint to-do list. And do so in a manner that the two of you feel is equitable and just. Because both of you are spending almost all of your time at home now, what once seemed fair and reasonable may necessitate some alteration. Try to be as flexible as possible and willing to take on tasks that earlier your partner may have had primary, or sole, responsibility for. Working together harmoniously can bring you emotionally closer together as well.

And that, right now, is an opportunity all of us should want to take advantage of.

© 2020 Leon F. Seltzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved.


Coping with Uncertainty During COVID-19: An International Gottman Trainer Shares Their Perspective

Posted on 22 April, 2020 at 19:30

Coping with Uncertainty During COVID-19: An International Gottman Trainer Shares Their Perspective


Michael McNulty, Ph.D., LCSW, Contributor

Apr 9, 2020

Ambiguity related to the ongoing virus pandemic leads to complicated feelings and overwhelm.


Uncertainty is the biggest psychological challenge individuals, couples, and families face during the COVID-19 crisis. There are so many critical unanswered questions about the impact of COVID-19, including:

• How will those infected be treated? Will they receive treatment? Will they survive?

• Will I or any of my loved ones catch the virus? If so, will I or they survive?

• How will the spread of the virus be contained? How long will it take?

• How long will restrictions last?

• What will be the impact on the economy?

• What will be the short-term and long-term impact on life as we know it?

Unanswered questions like these make facing the crisis so overwhelming. In more straightforward disasters, over time, people begin to grieve “who” and “what” they have lost and to move forward with life. The uncertainty and ambiguity related to the ongoing COVID-19 virus make grieving much more complicated. Overwhelmed by stress, people alternate between feeling extremely overwhelmed or acting as if nothing has changed, which leaves them coping poorly or unable to cope.

In this post, I will explain a theory called “Ambiguous Loss,” developed by Dr. Pauline Boss, which helps us understand and cope with uncertainty. I will then adapt Dr. Boss’ recommendations to help individuals, couples, and families face the COVID-19 crisis. I will also provide tools from Drs. John and Julie Gottman and others to help people put Dr. Boss’ recommendations into action to help people cope and live well in these uncertain times.

Ambiguous Loss

Dr. Pauline Boss of the University of Minnesota has developed a theory called “Ambiguous Loss,” which provides guidelines for facing uncertainty. I learned her theory and techniques before I went to Sri Lanka to provide support after the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami. I taught them to grateful counselors there at the time and on many of my 22 subsequent visits. I want to share them here as a resource to help people cope with the COVID-19 crisis.

According to Dr. Boss, one type of ambiguous loss can be a loss or losses, which are more complicated because they involve unimaginable circumstances that result in ambiguity or uncertainty. Grief becomes frozen. People do not know what they are grieving, and how to begin to move forward with life. For example, after the World Trade Center Disaster and The Boxing Day Tsunami, survivors lost family members suddenly in horrific ways beyond imagination. They were uncertain about whether their loved ones had died, if and how to grieve, and how to move forward. With no templates to guide them, they struggled with how to cope. They alternated between acting as if the disaster had not happened and re-experiencing the trauma as if it were happening repeatedly. Dr. Boss refers to this cycle as chronic re-traumatization. Dr. Boss’ theory is used to help people in these kinds of disasters cope and live well with uncertainty.

The COVID-19 crisis poses similar challenges. As survivors, we remain physically present in our homes and communities as the crisis continues to unfold. We and our friends and loved ones face the threat of becoming infected and even dying. Life as we knew it has and will dramatically change. So much remains to be seen. We are left, psychologically, to make sense of these changes and losses and how they will affect our lives.

The following recommendations are based on Dr. Boss’ guidelines. I have adapted them to help people face the COVID-19 crisis.

1. Label the Losses as Uncertain or Ambiguous

When thinking about or discussing the crisis with family and friends, label the changes and losses as “uncertain” or “ambiguous.” Remember that feeling confused, hopeless, disoriented, discombobulated, or overwhelmed is normal. Acknowledge that crises of this nature are the most difficult to face because so much is uncertain.

Labelling the changes and losses as “ambiguous” or “uncertain” helps people understand why facing the COVID-19 crisis is so challenging:

• People are living in a horrific context that is beyond their human experience.

• Life has changed dramatically and continues to do so on a day-to-day basis in ways that are uncertain, and involve the threat of infection, loss of life, and financial survival.

• The ultimate impact on the economy is unknown.

• There are no straight-forward answers to the ever-changing complex problems people face that result from this crisis.

• Achieving a true sense of mastery over problems associated with the COVID-19 crisis is unrealistic.

When people make these realizations, it helps them to:

• Increase their abilities to face the crisis in the moment one day at a time.

• Temper their need for mastery.

• Be more open, flexible, and gentle with themselves.

2. Normalize Ambivalence

Most people feel ambivalent about having to face a major crisis like COVID-19. That’s normal. When people face a crisis that involves uncertainty, the crisis becomes more real. When they avoid facing a crisis, they can pretend it’s not happening. When their ambivalence is understood and even shared, people tend to feel better able to begin to accept their tenuous new normal, share perspectives, and engage in healthy dialogues.

3. Share Perspectives

In an uncertain or ambiguous context, people will have different interpretations of new information about the virus, its impact, and how to manage key issues. That’s to be expected.

In the COVID-19 crisis, examples of everyday new information from the media include:

• How to protect one’s self from the virus.

• How to limit the spread of the virus.

• Current statistics on the virus.

• The impact on the economy.

• The anticipated length of the crisis.

• The anticipated length of restrictions.

In the COVID-19 crisis, examples of key issues include:

• Whether to leave home for work.

• Whether to leave home for other reasons, such as exercise, socialization, caring for more vulnerable family members, etc.

• How to manage related financial concerns or crises.

• How to meet basic needs for food, medical needs, etc.

• How to connect with family and friends.

Friends, family members, and partners do better when they agree to hear and respect one another’s points of view in these uncertain times. In doing so, they create safe places in their relationships, families, and support systems for people to open about their perspectives, which include their concerns, feelings, and needs.

Failure to share leaves people alone with their stress, which can increase feelings of anxiety, panic, and depression. Sharing perspectives in a supportive atmosphere helps people process their experiences and feel securely connected to friends and loved ones. This promotes resilience for all involved.

Discussions about key issues involving diverse perspectives, such as social distancing, managing finances, and others, can become impassioned. Dr. Boss suggests while having discussions, people should be ready to repeat this phrase: “It’s ok if we do not all see it the same way now.” This helps people with different points of view connect with and support one another even with their differences. Here are some resources that help people share and empathize with each other’s perspectives, and make time-sensitive decisions:

Drs. John and Julie Gottman have developed the following tools that help people share and listen to one another’s perspectives:

• The Gottman-Rapoport Exercise helps people with diverse points of view dialogue and empathize with one another.

• The Stress-Reducing Conversation Exercise helps people how to listen and empathize with one another about stress.

• The “Great Listening” card deck (in the free Gottman Card Decks App) helps people to improve their listening skills.

• Emotion Coaching techniques help parents listen to their children’s feelings.

• For partners or family members who are facing time-sensitive issues that require action and a decision, the Gottman Compromise Ovals exercise can help them to do so.

In addition, the Feeling Wheel helps people who are not used to identifying and talking about their feelings do so.

4. Be Flexible and Creative

When people challenge themselves to empathize with each other’s perspectives, they become more flexible and open in their thinking which helps them to cope. The COVID-19 crisis is ever-changing. Flexible and creative thinking prepares people to respond to new information and shifting challenges.

5. Reconstruct Routines and Rituals

Currently, the COVID-19 crisis has shifted everyone except those in the essential workforce to their homes, and away from work and school. In times of crisis and displacement, family members, partners, and friends function better when they conscientiously reconstruct routines and rituals in their new context, rather than forego them.

Routines and roles bring structure to our lives. They help people know what to expect each day, and who will do what. This helps children and adults to function, and cope. Families, partners, and roommates should develop schedules and assignments that take into work and home-schooling obligations, spatial needs, computer access, and support. Routines should include the roles people will play to help the household function, and the tasks they will perform.

Rituals help people connect on a regular basis and live life in fun or meaningful ways. They can be a break or a distraction from the day to day stresses of facing the COVID-19 crisis. People living in the same household should create new rituals for this time when they will be staying home. These can include rituals that involve:

• Family or House Meetings to Talk About Coping and Stress

• Family and Group Meals

• Breaks from Work and School

• Leisure Activities

o Games

o Movies

o Walks

How they are designed is up to all involved. Hopefully, everyone has input.

People can create rituals that bring a lot of fun to their lives. For example, one of my high school friends has started a game night at his house with his family members. They dress the part of characters in board games like “Monopoly.” They take pictures of one another in their outfits and post them on Facebook. Whoever wins gets to choose the game for next night.

People can also create rituals to connect with the outside world through teleconferencing programs like Zoom, Skype, and others. This enables children to see their friends and classmates. Adults can have time with their friends. They can have dinner parties or happy hours or coffee online. All involved can find ways to play games with friends or other families online. People can attempt to connect with friends and family members who they have not had time to connect with prior to the crisis.

Several communities have developed wonderful rituals to help children begin the school day at home, to express gratitude to health care workers, and to honor birthdays or homecomings from the hospital. These rituals are great examples of how to celebrate and live life in a meaningful way during a pandemic while respecting the importance of social distance.

It is important to note that routines and rituals will most likely be modified as restrictions shift in the future, as the need for social distancing changes.

Here are some resources to help couples, families, and friends create rituals:

• Dr. Bill Doherty’s book, The Intentional Family

• Drs. John and Julie Gottman’s exercise “Build Rituals of Connection” is available in a card deck (for couples) in the Gottman Card Decks App. The suggestions are mostly for couples, but the deck includes basic instructions for building rituals that friends and families may use

While neither of these resources have specific ideas for rituals in a time of social distancing, they do explain how couples and families can build rituals.

6. Find Meaning

Finding meaning in times of crisis can help people persevere. Making sense of the existential reasons why a disaster occurs often helps people to cope. Some people will look to their religious or existential beliefs to determine the reasons why this disaster is happening. As we anticipate 100,000-200,00 deaths in the USA, others will feel that the fact the pandemic is occurring is senseless. Dr. Boss reminds us when even we determine that a disaster is senseless or has no meaning, that that is meaningful.

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, the late neurologist and psychiatrist, who was a concentration camp survivor reminded us that people who find meaning in their day-to-day lives are the ones who survive disparate circumstances. Frankl once said, “The meaning of life is to give life meaning.” In times of crisis, there are so many ways to take actions that give people a sense of meaning or purpose. Here are some examples:

• At the risk of losing profits, a business owner chooses to close their business to avoid the spread of the virus.

• An individual may find ways to make sure a lonely neighbor has companionship (via the internet).

• Healthcare workers risk their lives in less than optimal conditions to treat the sick and the dying.

People who serve or care for others remind themselves and others that we are all part of a human experience. They relate to suffering and care for fellow human beings. Their intentions and actions give all members of society hope as they struggle to cope and survive.

People can find meaning in how they use their extra time at home. For example:

• A family who is spending more time together may use the crisis as an opportunity to bond or work on their relationships.

• A couple uses their additional time together to actively work on their relationship.

• Friends who have not seen each other in years may find time to reconnect by video or Skype.

• Individuals use extra time to re-examine their priorities and goals.

• Those who lose careers may work to discover opportunities for new career paths.

People can choose to use their time sheltering at home or in lockdown to accomplish important goals. In any disaster, people still have choices to live life in meaningful ways. Their intentions and actions often define them moving forward. Making sense of a disaster and having a strong sense that one’s life remains meaningful helps people persevere in their attempts to cope, survive, and rebuild.


Michael McNulty, Ph.D., LCSW

Michael McNulty, Ph.D. is the founder of the Chicago Relationship Center and a Master Trainer for The Gottman Institute. He has over twenty-five years of experience in counseling and psychotherapy.


How not to destroy your relationship during lock-down

Posted on 21 April, 2020 at 22:50

Two of my colleagues from Couples Therapy New Zealand were interviewed by Radio New Zealand for some tips on managin relationships during lockdown. Nic Beets and Verity Thom are psychologists who are national leaders in relationship and sex therapy. For more information about them please click" target="_blank">here" target="_blank">How not to destroy your relationship during lockdown

6:22 pm on 10 April 2020


Melody Thomas

[email protected]

Humans don't deal all that well with uncertainty - not knowing what's about to happen causes us more stress than knowing for certain something bad is. In the face of a global pandemic, where the outcomes are largely unknown, many romantic relationships will experience an increase in tension and conflict.

Melody Thomas* speaks with married sex and relationship therapists Nic Beets and Verity Thom about how not to destroy your relationship while in lockdown.


Uncertainty breeds stress breeds tension and irritation. If you've found yourself lashing out at your partner during lockdown, or else closing down completely, then you're certainly not alone. But if you want to get out the other side with your relationship still intact, you might want to engage some better strategies.

Nic Beets and Verity Thom are sex and relationship therapists who have been married for 40 years and are currently in self-isolation with their two adult children.

The secret to 'making it through', they say, lies in kindness and collaboration.

"Cut each other a bit of slack, dig deep and be your best self," advises Verity, "You 'do lockdown' do not let lock down 'do' you both."


Chances are your new normal looks a lot different to how it did two weeks ago. Putting in the effort now to clearly outline a lockdown routine could save you a good number of arguments later on.

"Talk about what everyone needs for this isolation together to work, for example, 'I need two hours to myself where I'm not in charge of the kids each day' or 'I need to go and do some work in the work-shed each afternoon'," says Verity.

Try to make sure everybody gets a say, and all needs are being addressed equally.

"The trick is to get through the conversation without someone feeling like they are being told what to do, or without someone appeasing or complying grudgingly and then later getting resentful," says Nic.

A pandemic magnifies all existing inequalities, so if they're already present in your home, they're likely to become a point of tension. Is one of you being expected to take care of all the childrearing while the other engages in paid work? How can you ensure each of you gets a break from the individual stresses those things entail?

"Attitude is so important," adds Verity, "We can do this, we are in this together, we need to collaborate to sort out a new routine."


If you're used to spending most days apart, there's a good chance you're going to get on each other's nerves. That's to be expected.

Try to make sure you have space to do your own thing, even if just nipping out for a walk or off to read a book, and when things do pop up that are getting to you, set aside a time to talk about them as calmly and empathetically as you can.

One thing you really want to avoid is criticism.

Whereas some relationship complaints are entirely legitimate, criticism is often used as a shield - where the overcritical person masks their own fear, hurt, sadness or shame by lashing out.

Criticism can be incredibly damaging to a relationship, researcher John Gottman has identified it as one of four key predictors of a relationship's demise, for the way it corrodes trust and intimacy.

It also has very little effect on the other person's behaviour (other than causing them to become defensive) so if you actually want to see something change you might want to try a different tact.

"I encourage people to do a big preamble," says Nic, "Clearly state the positive thing you're trying to achieve - like, 'Hey I know I've been distant and I don't want to be like that, so I want to talk to you about something that's bugging me. But I don't want you to feel attacked…I'm asking you to change something but it's not because you're wrong, it's just that I'm not dealing with it very well."

Conflict resolution

When arguments do happen, it's more important now than ever to learn when and how to disengage, rather than escalate.

"When we feel trapped we're more likely to operate from the primitive self-protected part of our brain, the limbic system," says Nic, "You need to get away from each other to let that part of the brain settle down."

Easier said than done during a lockdown, but there are still options open to you.

"Have a shower or a bath, listen to some calming music or relaxation programmes or sounds on your device. These are all quick ways to change your mood state," says Verity.

Going for a walk or a run is also a great option.

"Movement reminds the limbic system that we're not trapped, we have choices," says Nic.

Do remember to come back together when you're calm and try again. Many couples swear by a regular check-in, where grievances can be aired and worked through when everyone's feeling up to it.

Just make sure you're both getting a say.

"Shutting down or going on and on - talking 'at' the other person or needing to talk a tonne - are two different ways of dealing with anxiety and stress. Neither are that helpful, so try not to do either of these two extremes," says Verity.

Physical intimacy / sex

The relationship between stress and sexual intimacy is complicated - for some, stress causes their sex drive to shut down, where for others sex is an easy and natural way to seek reassurance and closeness.

If your sexual responses to stress aren't matched then likely you've already noticed it before this, but lockdown is likely to exacerbate the situation.

"Of course, the answer is to have a conversation about it where, as always, no-one is made to feel wrong for being the way they are," says Nic.

"If you're someone who shuts down sexually under stress, then your partner is going to experience that as control and resent it, unless they understand it's not something you're choosing to do, it's just the way it is."

Nic likes to point out that there's a difference between "feeling like sex" (as in being turned on) and "wanting" to be sexual, as in wanting sex to be a part of your relationship or part of your life. If you do want sexual touch to be part of your life, that's a place you can work from together.

"Generally speaking, shutting down verbally or sexually is not that smart during tough times when staying connected as a tight team is wise," says Verity.

You may prefer one form of connecting over the other, but it's worth putting effort into the one that doesn't feel so natural to you.

"Find space to talk some, be affectionate some, be sexual some. It doesn't have to be all about intercourse and orgasm… Just making out or sharing a hot bath or shower, or giving a massage… Take it slow for the person who does not normally seek sexual connection when things are stressful. Be spacious, relaxed and maybe laugh a little," says Verity.

The silver lining

While isolation is understandably causing street and anxiety for many, Verity and Nic are also finding that a lot of couples are pulling together better than they usually do.

"Maybe they're doing it for the kids or because the situation feels so critical… But regardless, they're getting used to striving to be calmer, steadier and kinder than they normally aim for," says Verity, "I'm urging them to try that hard once this is all over!"

* Melody Thomas is the creator of RNZ sex and sexuality podcast BANG!, sometime-presenter for Music 101, and a writer for various print and online media.

While an increase in relationship tension during isolation is normal, it should never be used as an excuse for physical or sexual violence. If you're feeling unsafe, reach out to one of the organisations below.

HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 - 0

Shine: 0508 744 633

Women's Refuge: (0800 733 843)

Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00



Self Isolation with your significant other

Posted on 21 April, 2020 at 22:40

This is the second interview by my colleague from" target="_blank">Couples Therapy New Zealand Perry King, who offers advice on how couples can work together in self isolation.  

Perry is a specialised Relationship Therapist working with couples and individuals. Check out her website" target="_blank">here 

Self-isolation with your significant other: advice from a couples therapist

By MiNDFOOD | MARCH 30, 2020


As we all adjust to life in lockdown, it’s bound to put pressure on your relationships. From spouses dealing with the pressure of looking after kids, to couples experiencing living together for the first time, many relationships will be feeling the pressure.


We spoke with Perry King, a Relationship Therapist for her advice on what couples can do to navigate this time.


How can couples support each other during this time?

There is no doubt the current changes we are experiencing have been rapid and stressful for many, which can lead to increased anxiety, reduced tolerance and a lot of pressures on couples. Couples may feel this relationally and also because either may also experience personal, professional and wider relational impacts such as wider family impacts.


For those many couples who are not used to spending so much time together and supporting each other, finding a way to navigate through this time is important for everyone’s wellbeing. For many couples this will require putting their issues and difference aside.


It is important to negotiate clear boundaries around working from home, couple time, family time as well as individual time.


Be thoughtful, clear and explicit about your wants and needs are during this time. It is helpful to recognise your partner too will have certain needs and wants. As such be open to discussing situations calmly and non-defensively as you negotiate with your partner what ideas and suggestions be can implemented and how. Think “team work” as you support each other to find positive outcomes.


Of equal importance is being aware of how you are personally being impacted by the current changes and challenges and the effects they are having on your own behaviour. Take responsibility for yourself and how you are interacting with your partner. Take note if your tolerance fuse is short and you are easily irritated or triggered and make time to talk to you partner about what you are noticing and explore what YOU can do to support yourself and manage situations differently.


What are some relationship challenges they might face?

Spending so much time together creates the potential for differences to become more visible which can then lead to creating tension and conflict. It is important to try to appreciate each other’s differences rather interpreting them as problems and resist the need for right and wrong.


Try agreeing to differ. If your partner needs a bit more alone time that you do, don’t take it personally, try to remember we are all different and we manage stress differently.


Changes in routine can add to the stress and working from home can present additional challenges for couples, particularly if they have limited space or children at home. It is important to try to create clear boundaries and divisions between work and home. If you don’t have a home office or spare room you can use try to find an area that you can temporarily demarcate and dedicate for work. Co-creating the routine for this new normal AND regularly reviewing this weekly or more often as the need arises within this changing situation will help immensely. Flexibility is a key.


Create structure and routine in your day to support self-confidence and a sense of purpose. Define clear working hours and manage expectations of the time partners have available for each other, particularly if one partner is working and the other is not. Taking regular breaks from work activities can help maintain focus but be aware of being distracted by household activities when you have a job to do.


Finding ways to effectively switch off at the end of your working day is important. For many the drive home from the office would have provided the opportunity to change hats and let go of the work issues to help you be more present to your partner and family. So be creative, taking a quick walk around the block, whilst adhering to the rules of social contact during this time. Knowing how your partner likes to do this and actively supporting them can enhance the relationship.


It is common for alcohol consumption to increase when we are off work, however, couples need to be mindful of their alcohol consumption during this time as alcohol can contribute to anxiety, stress, depression, domestic violence and to an escalation in conflict.


What is important to communicate to each other?

It is important to be clear about your expectations. Be open to hearing each other to discuss things calmly and be prepared to negotiate with your partner to find working solutions.


Create the space to be able to talk about your worries, fears and concerns with your partner. It is helpful to be present and really listen to each other, this requires slowing down and checking in with your partner if it is a good time to talk, switching off the TV, putting down cell phones and other distractions and facing each other.


Another really helpful approach is letting go of the idea that you need to be able to come up with solutions or required fix for what your partner wants to talk about. Most people feel much better as a result of just feeling heard. However, it is also helpful to time box these conversations, endlessly focussing on worries and fears can create more anxiety which can become counterproductive. Being an effective and empathic listening is key at this time, most of us do not want a problem solver at least not at the start!


A good exercise is to set aside time for each partner to talk for ten minutes about whatever they want to say, while their partner listen calmly without interrupting, judgement and problem solving, they are looking to understand and have empathy. Once the ten minutes is up swap roles and the next person then says what they would have said if they had the chance to go first.


Be aware of when you are being triggered and take ‘time out’, give each other space when stress and pressures start to escalate to prevent regular blow ups.


What are some ways couples can create moments of joy and fun during this hard time?

It is time to start being creative in the way you spend time together – we are only limited by our imagination. Cooking together with a theme, eating alfresco by candlelight, walking at sunrise, star gazing, dance off’s and the list goes on.


Of course this can also include connecting with extended family and friends. If you are normally a very sociable couple arrange dates online together, you can meet up virtually for a coffee or sharing a meal together.


How often have you wished you had more time to engage in a joint activity like cleaning the garage or re-organising your wardrobes, or start planning a new project together for when things pick up again, the time is now!


It is helpful to take time daily to express your appreciation and gratitude for your partner and family and what you both enjoy in your life. Look for ways to bring humour into your home, watch comedy shows and uplifting movies. Be kind to each other.

A therapists advice for caring for kids in lockdown

Posted on 21 April, 2020 at 22:35

My colleague from Couples Therapy New Zealand has been interviewed for two articles for Mindfood Magazine. In the first one Perry King focusses on caring for children. 

Perry King is a Relationship Therapist in private practice who works with couples and individuals, supporting them to find their way through life’s challenges and the difficulties they face in relationships. She uses a variety of approaches to help clients re-engage and connect with each other, improve their communication skills, develop emotional and sexual intimacy, repair relationship hurts and build stronger more sustainable relationships. She has a long background of working with families in a community agency. 

You can read more about Perry on her website" target="_blank">A therapist’s advice for caring for kids in lockdown

By MiNDFOOD | APRIL 1, 2020


Self-isolation puts pressure on many relationships - particularly couples with kids. With children at home, it can put added pressure on the family dynamic and lead to tensions between couples. We asked Perry King, a registered Relationship Therapist for her advice.

Start with a plan – and create structure

With kids out of school and learning from home, negotiating how childcare is going to be managed is the top priority, says King.

“Discuss the expectations you both hold regarding your availability as this might otherwise create unnecessary tensions when trying to manage working from home.”

We can all go a bit stir crazy and stuck inside – and children are no different. Creating structure during the day can help make things more manageable, says King.

“This can be a great time to get involved with your children’s interests and encourage them to join in with some of the daily activities as much as you can,” she says.

“Get their buy in and encourage them to come up with creative ideas to beat boredom. Children thrive on quality time, try to make time and space to spend with them one-on-one as it will help them feel settled.”

Remember, you’re a team (and be patient)

Working and having children at home can mean there is a lot more for couples and families to juggle. “It is important for teamwork and time to negotiate the division of labour, household chores, cooking and childcare,” explains King.

“Be more forgiving, tolerant and flexible. Turn a blind eye when chores or tasks are not up to your personal standard, appreciate your partner or children are sharing the load.”

Make a point of knowing when your partner is having an important meeting for work and ensuring you are available to help minimises noise and interruptions. “Having a routine is important to help everyone know when it is the end of the workday and when you are available for them,” she adds.

Watch your words

Language is a powerful thing and kids pick up on it pretty quick. Chances are, like us, they’ll be feeling a little scared and anxious during this uncertain time.

“Watch your languaging around children and try not to use words that pass on your fears or anxieties to the children,” says King.

“As far as possible limit children from watching the news and if you want to have conversations about COVID-19, fears around money and job security make sure it is not when the children present or within earshot. This is to minimise burdening children with issue that they have no control over, as it makes them feel powerless.”

Let them socialise

King recommends organising virtual playdates for younger kids to ensure they remain connected with their friends.

When it comes to teenagers, she says to talk to them about their fears, concerns and try to understand what their needs are. “For many teenagers their peers are hugely important in their lives and social isolation for teens can potentially be very difficult,” she says. “Allow them time for social interaction with their friends and try not to be constantly on their case.”

Open communication, she says, is key. “Understand that fear and anxiety can look like anger in children and teens. Give them some privacy and individual time, they often need it in the same way adults do.”


Ways for Couples to Connect During Sheltering in Place

Posted on 21 April, 2020 at 22:30

A colleague of mine at The Couples Institute has written two helpful blogs to support our relationships during this stressful time.

In this second one, Stacy offers 75 different ways to connect whilst staying at home with your partner (and family) over this time. This article can be of great use with or without this crisis and gives you an opportunity to review your relationship connection skills. Have some fun, great connection is good for our mental health and immunity so check this out here

Stacy Lee - Stacy Lee, LMFT, has been employed at The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, CA, since 2008. She has trained with relationship experts Ellyn Bader, Ph.D and Peter Pearson, Ph.D. to provide innovative tools to couples and individuals. In 2019, Stacy became the Clinical Director of the institute’s therapy services. She is passionate about providing people with quality resources which includes building a network of skilled therapists to reach more couples and individuals.


I’m sure all the streaming services are going to be well used during this time. Many people will binge on shows they have missed and movies they have wanted to watch. Yet, it’s also a great opportunity to do other things together and to even get to know each other more. Couples and families can actually use this time to build fond memories. And to be honest, down the road, when this is over we aren’t going to look back and say “Hey, remember during the COVID-19 shelter in place when we binge watched tv…that really brought us closer together.” Take a moment to look at the videos online from Italy and how creative they have been in connecting through music and playing sports window to window…those are memories that will bring neighbors closer for years to come.

So, what can we do, while we are hunkered down and working to keep ourselves and communities safe? I have brainstormed a list here so you don’t have to, some of the ideas are silly, some more serious, but all give you the opportunity to create memories, connection and hope during these surreal times. Some you can do alone, as a couple or with the whole family. Also, if you don’t like anything here you can come up with your own.

One thing that may be fun is to write the ideas you like down on individual pieces of paper and put them in a bag or jar. Then when you get bored, pull one out and do whatever it says…you will be bound to have some fun, laugh and create memories and connection during this difficult time.

75 Creative ways to spend time while sheltering in place:

1. Get creative with technology. Have a double-date or an outing with friends and family through video apps like Zoom.

o Examples:

 Cook with someone: the other day I video chatted with my mom while she walked me through cooking a new recipe.

 Get some friends on a video chat and have a drink or meal together just like if you were out at a restaurant.

 Have a video chat party, several platforms like Zoom have the option of inviting multiple people into the chat, get a big group together, maybe even people you don’t normally get to see because life is so busy, and connect. A client shared that someone in their office set up a “virtual kitchen” chat. It is open throughout the day for coworkers to stop by and catch up.

 Get a friend on the phone or video call and do something fun, watch a show together and chat about, do pedicures and talk about things that interest you, play a board game you both have.

2. Bake or cook together

3. Draw together, you don’t have to be artistic to do this. In fact, it may even be more fun if you aren’t because it brings more humor into it. Maybe even draw portraits of each other.

o An interesting experiment to do with this is pick and object to each draw. A tree out the window, a vase, a pet, etc.

o Don’t show your drawings to each other until you are both done. Then share.

o Notice things your partner paid close attention to that you didn’t and what you have in greater detail than them. Are either of your drawings really wrong? Or are they just different?

o When you can see that your drawings are both accurate but different, it can give you a deeper view into how you and your partner see the world differently. Then take it one step further, if you have different perspectives on something simple like drawing a picture of the same object imagine how you may have other perception and detail differences in bigger situations.

o If you really want to push yourself, think about a few specific situations where you and your partner get stuck…try to see it from the place that no one is “wrong” you are just different.

4. Dance together. Put on some music, whether it’s slow or upbeat…just have some fun. If you have kids include them. You don’t have to dance well, just have fun.

5. Listen to new music and talk about what you like and don’t like. Share your favorite song right now and ask each other questions about them. Why do they like it? What emotion does it bring up? Does it bring up a specific memory?

6. Exercise together. You can do this in serious ways by running or looking for intense programs online. You can also do it in a silly, fun way. Each of you look up “weird workouts” individually and then try them together. I’m sure you will laugh.

7. Get outside. Spend some time on a patio, balcony, or yard. Breathe fresh air. Point out things you notice in your environment. Do the 5 Senses Count down.

o 5 Senses Countdown. This is a way to notice what is in your environment. It’s often used for people with anxiety or panic issues to ground them, but let’s be honest we can all use some grounding right now. It’s pretty simple: you have 5 senses, smell, taste, touch, sight, and hearing. You start with 5 and 1 of the senses, you list 5 things in your environment based on the first sense you picked (example 5 things you see), then you go to 4 and pick another sense (example 4 things you hear), then 3 and another sense (example 3 things you smell), and continue all the way to 1. You can use the senses in any order. Also touch can be what you feel on your skin, like a cool breeze or a soft shirt.

8. Build a fort together and watch a movie in it.

9. If you have an outdoor space, play a game, Frisbee, horse shoes, catch, etc. If you have a tent go camping outside.

10. Make a funny video or a music video together.

11. Pick some home projects you have been putting off, put some music on and be productive together.

12. Listen to a new audio book or podcast together. Talk about it.

13. Plan a future trip together.

14. Play a board game.

15. Do a puzzle.

16. Play strip poker.

17. Appreciate the sky. Watch a sunset or sunrise, look for shapes in the clouds, at night look for stars.

18. Have fun with Nerf war with the kids…or without the kids. Set up a Nerf shooting range. Use paper to make targets, set up toys or lightweight items to shoot down.

19. Sculpt with playdoh.

20. Use clean socks, roll them up individually and have a “snowball” fight.

21. Do a blindfolded taste test to see how many foods you can each guess correctly.

22. Get in your PJs and have breakfast in bed for dinner.

23. Write a story together, one person starts with 1-2 sentences and then the next person continues it…you can go around and around until you feel done. This is great to do as a family.

24. One person draws a cartoon and then the other person adds the words.

25. Send a surprise package to someone you know.

26. Read a book together or even start a book club with finds online.

27. Look up fun science experiments you can do at home

28. Have a picnic inside or outside.

29. Each individually picks a documentary or Ted Talk and then watch them together. Tell your partner why you picked it and then each share your thoughts about it. What was surprising? What did you find interesting? What feelings did it bring up?

30. Use what you have in your closet and have a dress up party.

31. Have a thumb or leg wrestling competition, the winner picks the movie, game or movie.

32. Interested in getting a pet? Spend time researching them together.

33. Play indoor hockey or golf. Set up goals or holes (cups) to shoot into. You can use brooms and mops as sticks and a cotton ball or a rolled-up sock as the ball.

34. Find a new video game to play together or to play online with friends.

35. Social Media or Screen detox.

36. Visit a museum, aquarium or zoo online.

37. Lip-Sync or karaoke using YouTube or a music streaming program, grab a hair brush or spoon as a mic and go to town. Sing solo, sing together and have fun.

38. Declutter something. A junk door, closet, cabinet; you will leave sheltering in place feeling lighter

39. Write love letters to each other.

40. Write a story about what you remember about your first date and how you remember feeling.

41. Take the love language test, share your results and share more specific examples.

42. Take an online class together. Learn a new language, a cooking class, art class.

43. Take a temperament test and share your results: Enneagram, Myers Briggs, there are a lot out there.

44. Give each other massages.

45. Have fun with questions. There are tons of links online for questions to ask on date night, so you don’t even have to be creative.

46. Document your experience through this time. Create your own “captains log”, use pictures and videos. Be serious, be silly.

47. Try meditation. There are YouTube videos and apps that can take you through guided meditations.

48. Learn about mindfulness and practice it.

49. Purge…look for things to donate. Clothes, shoes, home goods.

50. Color in a coloring book or print out a free coloring page for each other to color.

51. Make a list of your favorite 10 memories and share them.

52. Take dance lessons using YouTube.

53. Make a couple’s or individual bucket list.

54. Make a vision board for what you want the rest of your year to look like. Apps like “Wishboard” are great but you can use old magazines too.

55. Teach each other a skill the other doesn’t have. I don’t know how to BBQ so maybe I will have my husband teach me. I know more about home improvement so I can teach him something there.

56. Tell each other jokes, riddles or ghosts’ stories.

57. Make a time capsule of your time together, write letters to each other. Pick a date in the future to open it. You can use a box or bag but seal it, date it and sign it. Then put it somewhere safe and set a reminder on your calendar to open it.

58. Have a paper airplane competition. Bet something that the winner gets.

59. Think and plan a few random acts of kindness you can do now or in the future.

60. Play a trivia game.

61. Go window shopping online for something you want to save for.

62. Make an indoor scavenger hunt.

63. Play a game from childhood: hide and seek, charades, truth or dare, would you rather

64. Build a Lego set.

65. Play balloon volleyball.

66. Learn a magic trick and entertain each other.

67. Tell each other about your favorite childhood books and retell each other what you remember about the story. Share a memory you have of reading the book or who read it to you. What feelings does it bring up?

68. Make a list of local restaurants and activities you want to do when life returns to “normal”

69. Watch comedians online; laughter is so important during times of stress.

70. Re-watch your favorite movies. From childhood or more recent. Talk about what you like about it. Anything you notice this time that you didn’t see before. How old were you when you first saw it? What was going on during that time?

71. Spend time cuddling and exploring each other’s bodies

72. Read and try this article, “The 36 Questions That Lead to Love” you will ask 36 specific questions and then make eye contact for 4 minutes. Once you are done, share your experience with your partner.

73. Incorporate a new habit. It’s said it takes 30 days to establish a new habit…you have the time.

74. Practice gratitude. Watch our blog on the Top Three. A great way to learn about and practice being mindful and grateful.

75. BREATHE! Learn how to take deep calming breaths, do it alone, with your partner or as a whole family


Relationships, Covid-19 and Sheltering in Place

Posted on 21 April, 2020 at 22:15

A colleague of mine at The Couples Institute has written two helpful blogs to support our relationships during this stressful time.

Stacy Lee, LMFT, has been employed at The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, CA, since 2008. She has trained with relationship experts Ellyn Bader, Ph.D and Peter Pearson, Ph.D. to provide innovative tools to couples and individuals. In 2019, Stacy became the Clinical Director of the institute’s therapy services. She is passionate about providing people with quality resources which includes building a network of skilled therapists to reach more couples and individuals.

In her first blog she raises our awareness of the normal struggles that we may face whilst in voluntary isolation (or in lock down) and offers tips on how to avoid these. She also highlights the relationship gains that can come from working as a team.

 What to do, what to avoid, and how to find opportunities in disguise - by Stacy Lee

The outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) has our communities facing several rapid changes. The shortage of basic goods, social distancing, and the order to shelter in place have caused intense emotional reactions and a strain on many parts of our lives. Most employees are working remotely for the foreseeable future. While others, like first responders, have to continue to go out and be of service during this time of great difficulty. Some are far away from elderly loved ones and are feeling powerless to help them. Schools are closed and young children don’t understand why, causing them to struggle emotionally and perhaps creating acting out behaviours. Only stores considered essential are open, but even then, they are low on goods. The list of changes goes on and on. There’s no doubt that many of these changes are putting pressure on all of us-professionally, personally, and relationally.

On the other hand, it can be possible to experience positives through these difficult times. I have talked to several people that are more than happy not to have a long, daily commute. I had a client express how interesting it has been to see what her husband does on a day to day basis for work; explaining that seeing how much he has to talk all day explains why when he came home, he was often not in the mood to talk to her. This was so different then how she spent her day, so she was always ready to talk. Seeing this difference helped her understand a difficult pattern in their relationship and has shifted her thinking. We could have talked about her experience in session but it was so much more powerful and meaningful for her to see it first-hand. Seeing things from a new perspective can offer potential for a deeper sense of understanding, empathy and hope.

Let’s take a moment to look deeper at some of the struggles and benefits of sheltering in place.


Let’s start by looking at a few of the potential problem areas and ways to avoid them.

1. No clear divide between home and work. Getting caught up with home chores or your partner hopes that you being home means more help during the day. Partners or kids interrupting you for questions or conversations because you’re easily accessible. Or even the partner that is normally away starts micromanaging the partner that is home more. There is more time for differences to come up and create conflict; parenting, chores, meals, etc. When you’re both working from home how do you know who does what? It can also be difficult to switch roles so quickly in the course of just minutes. How you navigate these transitions are important. I had a client share she noticed that when she talked to her partner during the day he would respond more as if she was his coworker or subordinate. Issues like this will continue to build tension in the relationship and if left undealt with will create breakdowns in communication and connection.

2. Time blur between home and work. Not stopping your work day “on time”, not disconnecting from devices leading to ignoring your partner, family or home responsibilities. It’s easy to get caught up in “work zone” mode. If you are working on a project and you find yourself in the zone it’s hard to walk away if you are not thinking of commute time and picking up kids or dinner. This is not a new problem for some couples, many I work with bring up a partner being too plugged into work as a problem. Yet, with the new requirements to work from home this could increase those issues, creating more conflict.

3. Feeling stuck. Isolation and uncertainty can lead to increased stress, agitation and restlessness. One client shared that he is seeing behaviors from his partner he had never seen before and he is struggling with ways to accept them when he is already so stressed. Other clients have shared that they don’t feel as worried about the situation but their partner is extremely worried. This may look like the more concerned partner being glued to social media and news sites getting as much information as they can and then crying or panicking about what they are learning. The less worried partner then feels concerned for their loved one and overwhelmed by not knowing how to help them. This leaves everyone feeling stressed, exhausted, and often disconnected.

4. Extra Tasks. No child care, no school, both people working from home. Having to plan for 3 meals a day for you and your family. For some people who are used to working in large companies that provide food, coffee and refreshments this may feel like a big shift. Obviously, I think even they would agree that in the scheme of things this is not huge. Yet it’s amazing how these little daily shifts can cause extra internal stress. It can be like throwing a pebble in a small pond and watching the ripples grow. Beyond that if there are kids home, they have needs, needs that in a home where both adults work are usually handled by a childcare provider or school. Now all these extra tasks, meals, school work, changing diapers, potty breaks, etc. all fall to them. This creates extra tasks for both partners and can strain even the couples who do teamwork well.

5. Sweatpants Effect. I didn’t create the phrase, I read it somewhere, but it’s the perfect description. If we’re not going into the office or seeing anyone most people will not get dressed or primped for work in the same way as when they have to leave the house. In all honesty I can admit that even when I see clients online there are times that I look “business ready” from the screen up but I have sweatpants and the unicorn slippers my kids gave me for Christmas on. What is important to look at is how this might affect not only how attractive your partner feels towards you but how you feel about yourself. If this goes on for weeks it can feed into your self-esteem and emotions.

Helpful Steps To Avoid These Potential Problems.

1. Boundaries. Setting boundaries can help in a number of ways.

o Set up separate work spaces. Even in the smallest homes you can have separate spaces. Be flexible to use areas that you may like to keep “work” free as options right now. If you only have one table and you both need it create a partition with a box, sheet or pillows. This has nothing to do with how much you like your partner, but instead has to do with distractibility.

o Headphones. If you need background noise and your partner doesn’t use headphones. As someone who struggles with focusing when there is too much background noise, like right now writing this article my husband is on the phone. I often will put my earbuds in and put calming sounds like “spa” music or nature sounds on. Nothing with words just enough to drown out the talking so I can focus.

o Be clear on what work hours are and what “home” hours are. During home time disconnect from text, email and work. If you have a job that requires you to work on and off all day then set aside a chuck of time that you know you can disconnect and be fully present with your family. This will help your connection with them but it’s also really important self-care.

2. Timing. Whether it’s setting up time to spend together, alone, or specific work requirements, be clear about what you need and work together to include it in the schedule. Clients recently shared an experience of some miscommunication they had around expectations and time. They said the most important thing they learned from that is “Don’t assume your partner is on the same page. Be thoughtful and explicit about what you need and want.” Remember none of us are mind readers so if you have a request or need when it comes to timing, communicate. Whether that is communicating that you need to create some individual time, uninterrupted time for a work call, have an online outing with a friend, or if you need more fun time together that isn’t about COVID-19, sheltering in place, or daily obligations. Also look at ways that both being home gives you more opportunities for spontaneous time together.

3. Team-Work. Situations like this really push our ability to practice teamwork. Sitting down and setting up a calendar with your important work calls to make sure that someone is available during those times to manage the kids’ needs so you can focus on the call. Or if you have a late online meeting and the other person needs to be in charge of dinner that night. Divide and conquer! You can create a list of daily obligations from chores, meal prep, homeschooling, and child care. Then take time to be purposeful about what tasks each of you are taking on. The most important thing here is FOLLOW THROUGH. Right now, trusting our partners is even more important. With our world so uncertain, if your partner feels like they can’t rely on you to do what you say you’re going to do then their anxiety, agitation and stress will increase. So, if you sit down and divide up tasks, FOLLOW THROUGH, and if for some reason something gets in the way communicate to your partner what your plan is or ask for help.

4. Travel. No, this is not ignoring the announcement to shelter in place , because I’m telling you to travel in a way that you don’t even leave your seat. Travel into your partner’s experience of the current situation. As mentioned above many couples are finding that they have very different outlooks on the current state of affairs. This may feel frustrating at times, but it can also be a gift. If both parts of the couple were extremely anxious, then there would be no balance. Here is how you travel:

o Set aside a specific amount of time to travel into each other’s experience and thoughts. We will use 30 minutes in the example.

o Take turns. 15 minutes each. Partner A starts and Partner B listens and recaps back what Partner A shares. Partner B doesn’t give their own opinion during this time. Partner B is traveling into Partner A’s world for a tour.

o Switch. After Partner A shares for 15 minutes. Partner B goes and gives a tour of their world. This is not a point by point rebuttal to what Partner A shared. It’s what Partner B would have shared if they went first.

o Remember the fact that you see things differently can help bring balance to your home; this is not about proving who is right. I had a client share that listening to his more anxious partner made him take action in ways he wouldn’t have on his own, which he is now grateful for. His partner shared that at times when she is “freaking out” about something, hearing him say “It’s ok” helps decrease her worry. It’s just like traveling to the beach then going to the mountains, each place is different and each place can be appreciated on its own.

o It can be helpful to end your discussion by sharing 3 things you are each grateful for

Recently, Dana Hartman, a CICS therapist shared this in an email “Anxiety is a normal and natural response to new situations, and setting aside scheduled worry time prevents an over abundant amount of anxiety from sneaking in throughout the day and getting in the way of important life tasks that need to be done as well as maintaining a mindful state.”

5. Goodwill. Defined as a friendly disposition; desire to do good to others; and kindness. Be patient with each other. There are bound to be bumps and hiccups during this process. No matter how much we try to schedule, communicate and use teamwork we are going to miss opportunities and make mistakes. Yet if you choose to believe that your partner is good and is simply struggling, like all of us, you will be more likely to see their mistakes as just that; an error in actions not a lack of love. Go slow with judgements and reactions. Use these missed opportunities to learn about each other, your needs, and how to better navigate this difficult time.

6. Disconnect. Put the screens away! Find time to stay off the news or social media and enjoy something that we all have a limited amount of; time together. Also, I would encourage everyone to stop looking at the news at least 2 hours before bed. Taking in a lot of the information that stimulates your brain and may create anxiety right before bed won’t lead to a restful night of sleep. Be thoughtful about how you spend your evening hours. The news and social media will still be there in the morning.

7. Fun and Connection. It’s so easy to get overloaded with everything going with COVID-19 and needing to shelter in place. We’re inundated with information, much of it stressful. We have to be mindful about not going so far down the rabbit hole of COVID-19 and all that accompanies it that we forget to enjoy time together, laugh and connect.

o Set aside time to connect. Even on the busiest days you can find 10-15 minutes at the end of the work day to do a check in. Ask each other what is working and what isn’t? Find ways to work together against the current situation.

o Don’t just talk about COVID-19. Talk about some nice things around being at home together.

Examples from clients.

• “We’re happy to not have to get up as early, which also means we can stay up a bit later after the baby is down and enjoy a glass of wine and show together.”

• “We’ve had more time to be intimate”

• Many said they were able to get some home projects done that they’ve been putting off.

• Others report they have more time to spend alone which is helping them feel less tense with their partner.

Take a moment to note what positive impacts you’ve experienced?

More Potential Benefits and Opportunities

1. Decreased stress from not commuting and an increased time to focus on tasks and home life.

2. Being able to take breaks and spend spontaneous time together. Lunch breaks, day sex, staying up later.

3. Opportunity to get to know your partner in a different way by learning more about what they do during their day.

4. Gain more insight into the patterns that exist in your relationship and find ways to depersonalize them. For example: Do you remember the story above about my client who learned how much her partner had to talk during the day for work? Well, in the past she would feel let down and hurt when he would come home and not want to talk. It’s easy in that moment for her to internalize that as meaning something about their relationship or his feelings for her. Yet, now that she has had this realization it will be easier to remember that when he ends his work day and doesn’t feel like talking that is about him feeling overwhelmed. She no longer has to make it about her and so they can talk about ways to work together and give him space to recharge and her space to connect.

On a personal note, as hard as this is, I’m also filled with hope seeing the strength individuals, couples and communities are showing. We are facing uncertain times, but one certainty we have is that we have choices; choices in how we act, react, spend our time, and treat those around us. We can come out stronger than when we went into this crisis.

If you want creative ways to stay connected and make some memories while sheltering in place check out this article, Ways for Couples to Connect during Sheltering in Place.