Assess and Address Pandemic Relationship Problems

Without question, the past year has been a tough one. From our finances and careers, to our personal lives and key relationships, it’s safe to say that not a single circle of the seven key areas of our lives have gone unscathed. As we look with a hopeful eye toward the future, now is the perfect time to take stock of where we are and where we want to go. Are there parts of our lives that need some work?

Relationships deserve a hard look.

Successful relationships always take work. But in times of stress or change, many of our relationships were put through the ringer in ways we’ve never experienced before. Luckily, there are ways to address these issues and support our relationships moving forward.

Too Much Distance

Feeling like we’re missing quality face-to-face time isn’t a new issue. Pandemic or not, we’re all busy. In any given year, most of us would likely admit that we don’t see our family and friends enough. But until recently, we’ve generally been able to adapt our lives to account for the ebb and flow in our various relationships.

For instance, while we may not typically get to see our close friends and family as much as we’d like, we usually get to enjoy casual interactions with other people in our lives. As Harvard Business Review reports, on any given day, we interact with anywhere between 11 and 16 people, whether it be on the way to work, in between activities, or while running errands. These carefree connections fill our need to be social when away from our loved ones.

This year, however, those outlets haven’t existed. Gillian Sandstrom and Ashley Whillans emphasize this impact, stating that our “once-common interactions have been eradicated, and we no longer have physical reminders that we are part of a wider social network.” When our casual relationships take a hit, it’s only natural that we start to put more pressure on our closer relationships. Yet, when these also remain at a distance, it can add strain.

Studies show that over the past several years, people have started spending more time texting and less time on the phone. In fact, since 2014, texting has been the primary form of communication for people under 50. This statistic isn’t surprising. Over the past year when 86 percent of people reported fewer face-to-face interactions with the people they care about –texting didn’t help them feel any closer to their loved ones. There are a few reasons for this. For instance, what we try to convey to our friends over text may be perceived differently on the other end, leading to disjointed conversations. Also, it’s unlikely we’re getting the same emotional energy from a text message. After all, you can’t hear your friend react with a loud laugh after you tell a great story when you send it over text. You simply get more out of a phone conversation than a text message. As Atlantic Monthly sums up, “spoken conversation accomplishes far more in a shorter amount of time.”

It’s time to re-establish those connections that have been affected by this past year’s distance. Start by committing to reaching out to your loved ones to share how you’re feeling. As Tracy Gleason, psychology professor at Wellesley College suggests, “A big key to friendship is self-disclosure—sharing thoughts and feelings and ups and downs… The friendship will last if those thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are being shared over the distance.”  Make a phone call, schedule a video chat, and ask about your loved ones’ lives. Doing so will help you to re-establish common ground, despite the distance between you, and retain your connection.

Too Much Togetherness

Too much togetherness is the flip side of the relationship-problem coin we’re currently experiencing. In normal times, relationship experts always seem to tell us to have our own hobbies and interests, and to spend time together and apart from our loved ones. However, that hasn’t been an option for many of us recently. Lock downs and quarantines have put some of us under the same roof with our loved ones 24 hours a day. With shared virtual work and school environments in our homes, we’ve been left with little private time or space.

This is a tough situation. After all, the saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” exists for a reason. No matter how much we like being around someone, when we are with them all the time, we don’t have time to miss them. Little annoyances are more frequent. And we react accordingly.

Too much togetherness is a problem that retired couples often face. Because jobs no longer account for much of their day-to-day lives, they often find themselves “attached at the hip” and far less happy than if they continued to explore their own personal interests. That’s why, during this time of 24/7 togetherness, we recommend approaching your relationships with the same advice given to many retired couples. As author Maryanne Vandervelde explains, this approach requires getting in touch with your inner toddler and embracing the concept of “parallel play.”

In parenting speak, this type of behavior is when a child plays on their own while being near to and observing others. It’s a highly beneficial part of childhood interactions and can be just as beneficial for adults. During the pandemic, this could mean something as simple as recognizing that you have different interests than your loved ones. With this acknowledgement, you can come up with a plan of how and when to give each other the space necessary to explore these interests on your own.

While it might sound paradoxical, one way of tackling pandemic relationship problems is to be more purposeful about communicating. Time together isn’t the same as spending quality time together. If you aren’t careful, you can spend hours near your loved ones without uttering a single word.

This is where having a heart-to-heart chat comes in handy. Discuss the challenges you’re experiencing, how you’re handling the current situation, and what you need from one another to cope. Having a shared understanding of one another’s personal difficulties will enable you to be more observant of your interactions with one another and more empathetic each other’s needs. And it will set your relationships up for future success.

Regardless of whether you are spending too little or too much time with your loved ones, it’s safe to say that current times have had an unprecedented impact on our relationships. We want to hear how you’re assessing the relationships in your life. Chime in on our Facebook page and let us know what you’re doing to nurture and improve them during these unusual times.

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