December 03, 2020
Guys, do you find yourself getting a little testy lately? Maybe with your colleagues at work? Perhaps while ordering take-out from someone who just can’t seem to understand that you don’t want onions on your salad?
Or, maybe, just maybe, it’s with your spouse or significant other?
As the months go on, the COVID-19 pandemic seems to have penetrated into our psyche with annoying disruption that has many of us at wits' end and testing our most important relationships.
The current wave of COVID-19 has Americans looking even deeper within themselves for the strength to carry on in what is the not-so-new normal. Stress, in all forms, is exceeding what we experienced in the spring. While the prospect of a vaccination provides a glimmer of hope, a lengthy rollout means that the restrictive measures in place will still be with us for months.
The pressure at home, work and in our relationships can be brutal. A man’s bond with his spouse or significant other is among the most vulnerable. The strong connection between a man’s health and happiness suggests that any diminution in the quality of these important relationships can also represent a threat to a man’s physical and mental health.
In a study published in the journal PLOS, researchers found that individuals with good relationship quality showed better mental health than individuals with poor relationship quality or no relationship.
With the potential for COVID-induced turmoil to impact both the social and physical elements of a man’s life, men would do well to consider relationship strategies to combat this latest onslaught of the pandemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stress during an infectious disease outbreak like COVID-19 can cause any number of physical and mental health problems, including difficulty sleeping or concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, and increased use of tobacco, alcohol or other substances.
Psychologist and relationship expert Chris Kraft, of Johns Hopkins Medicine, notes that even the most devoted couples can become a little stir-crazy after spending day after day in the same place, and that the stress is very real – particularly when with dealing with financial concerns, job loss or illness.
And, according to Katherine M. Hertlein, a relationship therapist at the University of Las Vegas, the pandemic has impacted many a romantic relationship. One of the more significant impacts Hertlein highlights is a change in relationship roles where partners are suddenly forced to change roles because one was laid off.
The significance of these threats to relationship quality is borne out in indicators of divorce in the U.S. and the COVID-19 experience in China.
In the U.S., there are conflicting opinions of a forthcoming spike in divorce, as many reports of a surge in COVID-induced divorce seem to be based on pop-culture findings and anecdotal opinions rather than hard data from known sources. Some suggest that a lack of data showing an actual increase in filings is the product of closed courts and other COVID-related impediments.
Consequently, many look for other indicators. One such barometer is a report from LegalTemplates, a firm that provides legal contracts. The company says that they have seen a 34% increase in sales of their divorce agreement this year compared to the same period in 2019 and suggest that this is a harbinger of a future spike.
Still, others look to China as a precursor of what may happen in the U.S. There, divorce filings started rising in March as couples emerged from quarantine. These COVID-related findings add to an existing inventory of relationship risks, such as gray divorce – the doubling of divorce rates among those over 50 and tripling among those over 65.
All in all, the combination of COVID-19 and these pre-existing challenges to our relationships screams for serious attention if we value these partnerships.
So, if you are a man committed to maintaining healthy relationships, whether with your spouse or others in your life, what do the experts advise? How best can you make it to the pandemic's finish line?
Here are some strategies that can help:
Give some space
If couples are feeling too much tension, relationship expert Bill Chopik, a psychologist at Michigan State University, suggests they might want to try to give each other some space. For many couples, the time spent away from each other at work fuels the conversation that happens together.
Shift the focus
The U.S. Air Force provides information intended to nurture healthy relationships among its wingmen. Among their recommendations:
• Focus on achievable goals: Set short-term goals and develop plans together to establish a routine and help ground each other by focusing on what can be controlled, like how to safely shop for groceries together.
• Focus on the positive: Positively acknowledge the actions of each other. A few words of encouragement can go a long way in lifting spirits.
Barbara Rickey, MS, LPCC, of Samaritan Behavioral Health, advises couples to talk to about their feelings and worries. "Don’t assume the other person knows something is bothering you," Rickey says. "They can’t read your mind. You have to verbalize."
Broaden your support system
Kraft, at Hopkins, reminds us that our partner is just one person and, no matter how amazing, advises against leaning on any single individual for all your emotional needs just because you’re under the same roof. He suggests that it is important for both people in the relationship to stay connected with family and friends who can be available for them, especially as time wears on amid continued physical distancing measures.
Relationships anchor our health and well-being. As we sludge through what are hopefully the final months of the COVID-19 journey, these strategies and others can help protect your most cherished relationships from becoming a casualty of the pandemic.
Louis Bezich, senior vice president of strategic alliances at Cooper University Health Care, is author of "Crack The Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50." Read more from Louis on his website.