The COVID-19 pandemic is hitting a lot of us hard. Couples are uniquely affected, feeling the strain of spending so much time together in close quarters. Thanks to the stress, they’re also arguing more. How can you and your partner weather the storm and overcome these conflicts? Some useful advice can help you handle the stress and find healthier ways to resolve your disagreements.
Why Are Couples Fighting More?
It’s no secret that stress can worsen an already bad situation. Whether you’re stuck inside with the same people day after day or you’re forced to go out and risk exposure, this pandemic feels like a pressure cooker. Besides good old-fashioned cabin fever, there’s also moral fatigue. It’s already a thing among healthcare professionals, but it’s now spread to the rest of us. As The Ethics Centre explains, we experience it when there’s no clear answer about “the right thing to do.” There are too many choices and endless consequences, and none of them are ideal.
If moral fatigue isn’t dealt with in healthy ways, it can lead to panic and selfishness. It also contributes to more arguments between couples. HuffPost’s Kelsey Borresen points to suppressed pandemic-related stress – “emotions have been begging for an outlet,” as therapist Abigail Makepeace puts it. New York Times commentator Stephen Marche also mentions excitatory neurotransmitters and hormones, produced during times of stress and conflict. They make us more likely to see threats, but we can also misconstrue our loved ones as threatening when they’re not. With these conditions and fewer stress relief outlets, minor annoyances turn into major battlegrounds.
What Are They Fighting About?
What do many couples argue about? Money, household responsibilities, sex, in-laws, lack of communication, and children usually top the list. Social media usage is another typical source of conflict. Right now, COVID-19 stress heightens already-existing tensions about these issues. Abigail Makepeace lists six major marital conflicts in 2020:
- How to handle finances
- Acceptable pandemic-related risks
- Lack of alone time
- Educating children virtually or in person
- Perceived lack of partner support
- Blaming one’s partner for problems
How Do These Fights Get Worse?
With stress and anxiety brewing under the surface, the last thing you want to do is add fuel to the fire. But as Cleveland Clinic’s guide to pandemic fights points out, some common human tendencies can and do make things worse: criticism, stonewalling, defensiveness, contempt, blaming, shaming, and refusing to help solve the problems at hand.
To be clear, conflict isn’t always a sign of relationship trouble. In his New York Times piece, Marche emphasizes that pandemic fighting doesn’t always point to severe issues or inevitable splits down the road. We don’t need to avoid arguments, but we should steer clear of harmful behaviors that invalidate our loved ones.
How Can Couples Have Healthy Arguments?
We can think more clearly when we’re not emotionally agitated. Before tension causes an interpersonal explosion, stop it from building. Step away for a few moments: Try going into another room or taking a break outside. NYT contributor Christina Caron suggests defusing anger with humor, if you can do so in a healthy manner. Marche also cites Dr. Stan Tatkin, who says you must communicate in verbal and non-verbal ways that you’re not a threat. Once tensions have cooled, take the time to work toward an equitable solution. Time contributor Carly Breit recommends focusing on requests instead of complaints. You can communicate your needs in this way without hurting or putting your partner down.
Nearly all couples fight, but these fights have gotten more frequent and intense during the global pandemic. Stress comes at us from all directions, but healthy arguing can help keep a relationship solid. Conflict resolution isn’t about winning or being right: It’s about harmony, mutual respect, and sound solutions.