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Managing Relationship Stress at Home, in the face of COVID-19

When our choices and freedoms are limited, our world becomes smaller and more confined. Being at home with a partner and children is a mixed blessing – on one hand there is plenty of scope for quantity and quality of family time, but on the other the usual escapes and routine breaks are missing. Life can become a little mundane, as the days blur into weeks. There are fewer outlets for expressing our physical and emotional energy, which becomes all the more stressful when we are living in fear for our own health, or that of those we love, and are helpless to do much in the way of protection and preservation.

These stresses are bound to create some relationship fall-out. Periods of silence or withdrawal, or a lack of sufficient patience and regard. It is a very normal response, in abnormal circumstances, because we have so little control. Events are happening, and we need to duck, avoid and sidestep them. We need to be one step ahead of the ‘enemy’ which is an invisible virus that lingers in the air, and may catch us unawares at any moment.

So, heeding the scientific advice is key – regular hand washing, social distancing and sneezing or coughing into tissues. The need for face masks is not currently being advocated, save for the front-line social care and health staff. When we keep to the guidance, some sense of control returns, but it is thin at best. The relational strain may still show itself, and most likely does. What can we do about that?

We need to remember that;

"We all need to love and feel loved"

This is the basis for our sense of security and felt happiness and joy. Our relationships are of course central to this need – they need to be nurtured and protected as much as we take care of our physical health and wellbeing. When things feel as if they can’t get any worse, the best thing to do is STOP. Take a pause, rather than letting your emotions and thoughts run away with you. Breathe, before using the strategy that is explained below….

The approach I’d like you to try, is known as ‘appreciative enquiry’. It is based in the deliberate cultivation of respect and admiration for those around you. When we consider what makes someone special within themselves, and by extension to us, we set in play a remarkable process in which our way of looking changes, and the content of our interactions becomes wholesome and positive. Through a quiet, loving respect it becomes possible to acknowledge others for what they bring into your life, and also bless them for it. The person who receives your appreciative looking, will feel good for it, and wish to reciprocate in kind.

Perhaps that’s why Nelson Mandela once said,

“It never hurts to think too highly of a person,

often they become ennobled and act better because of it.”

Give it a try – wake up tomorrow with the express intention of looking for the goodness in people around you. Notice what you think is special about them – their beauty, their contribution to running the home, their thoughtfulness, the happiness they bring you and so on. Even if there are some seemingly troublesome traits, that challenge you, consider if there might be a way to put a positive connotation to them – for example, lazy could be seen as laid back; argumentative could be standing up for themselves, obsessional could be seen as determined and frequently crying could be regarded as emotionally sensitive! Consider what attracted to you to this person when you first saw them, There is very little in the way of relationship problems that doesn't dissolve away, when a little loving light is shone on the issue. As the saying goes,

"If it feels dark, turn up the light"

This isn’t about excusing abusive behavior which needs to be addressed and stopped. Rather it is about seeing if you can present someone in your mind’s eye as being a gift to you, for which you can be thankful. You may just find that it raises the harmony and love in your home, which is a much-needed development in this bleak time.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you feel anything can be improved, do please get in touch. Otherwise, do feel free to share it with friends and colleagues who may benefit. In the period of social distancing, we have a range of remote therapy and counselling sessions available. Feel free to get in touch if we can be of ay help 0121 777 1675 or

Dr Bobby Sura

Consultant Clinical Psychologist and Psychotherapist

Dr Bobby Sura is a Consultant Clinical Psychologist specialising within the field of lifespan and family based mental health needs. He has over 20yrs NHS experience and 16yrs in the private sector, being the founder of Clinical Psychology Direct and Director for Solihull Well Being Clinic. Bobby is Chartered with the British Psychological Society (BPS), Division of Clinical Psychology (DCP), Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) with eligibility for registration with the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP) and Association of Family Therapy (AFT). He manages a large service in Hall Green, Birmingham, with a range of Counsellors, Psychotherapists and Psychologists who offer their services on a private, fee paying basis.

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