COVID 19 has pulled back the curtain on relationship problems. Couples are extra-stressed during the shutdowns, school closures, quarantines and uncertainty of the COVID 19 outbreak. In close quarters with new expectations and shattered normalcy, families are forced to re-organize the family dynamic. The old routines just don’t sustain the family during extensive chaos and insecurity. Work-from-home and extra parenting duties put extra force on already stressed emotional pressure valves.
While partners may have been able to overlook or avoid addressing problems in the recent past, they now have nowhere to hide or escape. The circle of support from work colleagues and extended family and friends are gone from daily rituals. Defensiveness replaces respect, and disappointment leads to anger, loneliness, and unbearable frustration. Such dysfunctional relationships seem impossible to sustain. Changes are inevitable. Decisions are needed.
When the weight of interpersonal tension, arguing, and negative emotions eventually becomes untenable, it may be time to give yourselves permission to surrender to separation. Even in the confines of stay-at-home orders, separation is possible. Even under one roof.
If you are thinking of separating or divorcing during the stay-at-home orders, here are 7 things you must do to re-organize your family structure in a healthy way:
1- Give yourself a break
The weight of the relationship is hard enough; don’t make it harder by feeling guilty that you are stressed. Allow yourself to face the current reality and simply feel what you feel. Coming unglued is scary; beating yourself up for it makes it scarier. Take a breath and keep moving.
2 – Give your partner a break
We tend to judge others by their actions and judge ourselves by our intentions. When your partner behaves in a way that sets you off, it is easy to judge them negatively. During this time of extra stress, just know that you don’t know their intentions or motives. Focus on your own self-care and calming thoughts. Allow your partner to take a breath and keep moving.
3 – Call a truce
Surrendering means releasing blame, and admitting the relationship just isn’t working. This may be the time to shift into survival mode where the tension doesn’t have to be anyone’s fault. While blame and judgment bring temporary relief to an exhausted ego, the effort it takes to win a war of being right requires energy that is in short supply. Save your energy for protecting children from conflict and for taking care of your basic needs.
4 – Create a separation plan for your physical space
Make a plan to share the space, even in a small home or apartment. Take turns using the kitchen and other shared spaces. Some couples find two places for sleeping rather than trying to sleep in one bed during the high tension. Or, take turns sleeping in the bed and other space such as an air mattress or sofa. Separating physically even under one roof can give you each a chance to reset and recharge.
5 – Create a separation plan for your parenting time
When couples separate or divorce, they create a specific time-sharing schedule when each will be responsible for the children. Start your parenting plan right at home. One night Mom is responsible for school work, dinner and bed-time, giving Dad a break. And the next night Dad is responsible for the tasks at hand. Stay out of each other’s way and let the parent-on-duty make the decisions for how things are done. If you are both needed every night, let one parent take charge and ask for help as needed. Trust both of you are doing your best.
6 – Get support from a coach or therapist on-line Click here
Many coaches and therapists are working on-line using video platforms such as Doxy.me or Zoom. With the support of a neutral third party, partners can come to understand what each other needs most during this time of crisis in the relationship. The professionals can help support each of you in creating self-care and stress management plans. We offer virtual services at this time to keep everyone safe.
7 – Let your mediator or Collaborative Divorce team get to work
Couples can begin organizing finances and making plans for a permanent separation or divorce. A qualified mediator can facilitate all the decision making on-line that is needed to end the relationship. Or, a Collaborative divorce team of attorneys, family coach, and financial neutral can work with both partners using on-line meetings to make all the necessary decisions and even file the documents in court. Talk with professionals in your local area for details of what legal processes are possible on-line rather than waiting for normal face-to-face business to resume.
Most of all, recognize that even during times of intense stress, you have choices. Keep self-care a priority so that you can give focused attention to others. When pulling together as a couple is not possible, accepting a new reality and letting your relationship end may allow a much needed shift in your energy.
Amy Armstrong is the co-founder of The Center for Family Resolution empowering couples going through separation and divorce through parent coaching and mediation. Amy also serves as a coach on Collaborative Divorce teams in Central Ohio. For further coaching, mediation and divorce or separation services, see www.thecenterforfamilyresolution.com.