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August 13, 2020

Relationship resiliency: A key to staying happy, and healthy, amid stress

Tips for creating new habits and routines to strengthen bonds

Men's Health 50-Plus Men
081320 Relationships COVID-19.jpg Nani Chavez/

Building habits and routines to improve physical, mental and social health can boost resiliency and help sustain relationships.

Resiliency is getting a lot of attention these days. There is high demand for the ability to keep going when things get tough and you need to adapt to what life, or a pandemic, tosses your way.

Whether it’s COVID-19 fatigue, economic hardship or more serious health challenges, Americans are feeling unpresented stress and looking for ways to cope.

COVID or not, it’s our relationships that reside at the epicenter of resiliency; an individual’s capacity to sustain happiness and, ultimately, healthiness in the midst of disruption. I have previously documented how this is particularly true for men, outlining numerous studies that show the links between relationships, happiness and healthiness.

Applying this succession to COVID raises several questions. Can you can maintain your most cherished relationships in the context of COVID’s pressure? Will adjustments help you endure the pandemic? Could your coping strategies help you form a stronger and permanent level of resiliency?

Based on my own experience and the advice of experts, I offer one approach to building your own resiliency plan.

Habits, Routines and Rituals

Among the tactics I’ve found particularly useful, and endorsed by experts, is the adoption of habits, routines and rituals. Nothing exotic, new or untested. Just day-to-day fundamentals that form the guardrails of behavior with the power to strengthen discipline and enhance your relationships.

Overall, I feel fortunate. The disruption of COVID has not included any serious medical impacts in my immediate family. Still, I have been forced to adopt new habits in my personal life. While a bit daunting at first, I have come to embrace the new routines and grown to enjoy them as much, and possibly more, than my former practices.

My wife and I have reworked our weekend dinners and created a new home-based take-out and a movie format. It’s something we look forward to each week. And quality time with my sons and grandson, initially reformatted into socially-distanced outdoor visits, now includes creative personal contact. Together, the new routines have enforced my most precious relationships, and all parties seem to have a fuller appreciation for the time spent together.

So, what can you do to use habits, routines and rituals to build relationship resiliency? What are some of the best practices? Here is what the experts say, starting with some basics.

Sleeping and Eating

According to Dr. Chris Kraft, a psychologist and expert in relationships at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, it’s important to establish and maintain some kind of a routine. He recommends sticking to regular sleep hours, waking up on time, making the bed and getting dressed each day. Eating nutritious foods is important too. Kraft also suggests that couples that are more sedentary start a healthy habit, such as a regular walk outdoors.

A study conducted in the United Kingdom showed that, on average, it took adults 66 days before habits became automatic when they sought to implement dietary or physical behaviors they did not currently practice. Not an insurmountable benchmark.

Getting Closer

Relationship therapist Katherine Hertlein, of the University of Las Vegas, also suggests that disturbances in sleep can ultimately lead to conflict in a relationship. On improving sexual connections, Hertlein offers alternatives to putting expectation on super huge moments. Her advice is to take that interaction down to something subtle throughout the whole day. Maybe just rubbing backs or holding hands or sitting next to each other—a continued physical connection instead of putting a lot of emphasis on bigger moments.

Balancing Space and Togetherness

Social scientist Cezanne Elias, of Purdue University, encourages partners to avoid getting bogged down by common stressorssuch as work or financial-related issues, intimacy or communication difficulties. He adds that some partners may want more space while others want more togetherness. She suggests a focus on positive time together, activities that interest both people and the acknowledgement between partners when they are feeling upset, bored, frustrated or sad.

Your Resiliency Plan for Sustained Relationships

COVID serves as a microscope, amplifying a host of pre-existing behavioral needs, like resiliency, that have come to the forefront under the strain of the pandemic. The degree to which we can leverage the clarity of this microscopic insight to endure the virus is critical to our well-being. 

Whether these immediate remedies can be sustained more permanently in a post-COVID world is an equally important question. Summarizing a trove of academic and practical insights, here is my take on short- and long-term resiliency and sustaining your most important relationships.


Self-care is high on the list of experts for both personal well-being and the health of relationships. Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help you weather the storm of disruption, give you the strength to persevere tough times and maintain a level of positivity in your interpersonal relations. Running, walking, swimming or resistance training – find whatever works for you. Consistency is the key. If you can maintain your new routine for a couple of months, you will be on track to keep these behaviors permanently.


Mindfulness is another frequently-cited strategy to alleviate the feeling of being overwhelmed. With much at stake these days, maintaining a balanced perspective is critical to navigating COVID and maintaining our relationships. Adopting mindfulness as a routine can serve you for a lifetime. It goes hand-in-hand with a healthy practice of authorizing yourself to a break now and then against the onslaught we all face.


Social resiliency is the product of adopting good physical and mental habits. Together, these routine groups can generate a positive state-of-mind in the midst of otherwise challenging circumstances. In this state, you are positioned to optimize the emotional yield for all parties.

Like a formula, the combination of these three habit sets will form the foundation of a resiliency plan that serves as your coping mechanism right now, and ultimately, the impetus for life-long behavioral change. And that is the silver lining of COVID.

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."

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