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Life with Covid has changed the way we live our daily lives. I think most of us remember the moment in March when the “lockdown” was first ordered. It quickly became apparent this was going to be a “novel” experience indeed. It was a bit surreal when the country seemingly hit the “pause” button. Jobs were lost while essential workers continued on despite worries about keeping themselves and their families safe. School shut down while other supportive networks seemed to evaporate just as quickly as the virus appeared. Many of us were forced to stay at home which meant spending more time with those closest to us.   Now that we are entering our seventh month of the pandemic and we re-integrate into a different normal; it might be a good time to hit our own personal “pause” button. Perhaps there is an opportunity to evaluate where we are in terms of our own close relationships, our own physical and mental well-being and to consider how we can make them both a little better.  Relationships are vital to our mental and emotional well-being. Research has shown that healthy relationships can boost the immune system and lessen stress (which is a quite a perk as we ward off a virus). While some people have enjoyed a slower pace and more time at home with loved ones, others have experienced fractures in their important relationships. The pressures of working from home, overseeing remote learning for children, as well as social isolation has challenged even some of the most solid relationships. People who were in a good place before the pandemic will likely have an easier time managing these stressors, while those that were already struggling can benefit by using the time to work through some problems.     What can we do to ensure that we and our loved ones emerge from this experience with strengthened relationships and feeling well, both mentally and emotionally? Conflict resolution strategies are always a good place to begin when we want to strengthen relationships and enhance self-confidence. Conflict is a natural part of any relationship and is often more prevalent during times of stress. How we manage conflict determines whether our relationship will benefit or be harmed. It also influences how we feel about ourselves and our ability to be successful. Drs. John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute have been doing marital and parental relationship work for over 40 years and they believe conflict is a catalyst to achieve happiness in your relationships and life. Although the skills they teach have focused on marital and parental work they can really apply to any relationship.     First of all, the Gottmans say that the way we start our communication is very important. They recommend leading with a soft approach. “It’s true conversations usually end on the same note they began”, so start softly with the intention of cooperation and understanding if you want a good result. They also suggest waiting to address a situation that may cause uncontrolled feelings of anger, since it is likely the interaction would cause harm to the relationship rather than foster the change that is really desired. If a conversation becomes too heated, they advise taking a 20 minute break or agree to revisit it at a later time.  Also, as Covid restrictions have been lifted and people have begun to return to some former activities, people are grappling with strong emotions and opinions as to what constitutes safe behavior and what does not. Some examples would be couples who may not agree on attending social events, or parents struggling with the competing needs of their children being safe while not missing out on academics and social connections. These decisions can be difficult and evoke strong emotion. By acknowledging that the process of figuring out our differences will be uncomfortable, we actually become more comfortable and open to effective communication and problem solving.  Housekeeping grievances can often become an issue for most of us who live with other people. Little things like (insert your pet peeve here) can quickly escalate, especially in times of Covid when we are spending so much time together and nerves are getting stretched very thin.  According to the Gottmans, a good way to start a conversation about a grievance would be to state your complaint with an “I statement”, not placing blame, while also inviting a solution. For instance, (I will borrow from one of my own pet peeves): “I noticed there were clumps of toothpaste in the sink this morning. I would appreciate it if you cleaned that up.”   Try to keep focused on the opportunity that having more time together right now provides to your relationships, even though that might also mean some added annoyances or giving up some other things.  It’s also best to practice being empathic towards one another as you are sharing space. Refrain from storing things up and then coming to the other person with a long list of complaints.   The goal of a conflict resolution conversation is to strengthen your alliance first and foremost and then tackle the problem solving.  If a conversation goes poorly you can always do what the Gottmans call “repair and de-escalate.” This means if something that was said seemed harsh or not exactly right, you can just try again, apologize, or ask for a do-over.   It is also very important that we care for ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally during these trying times. Now is the time to treat ourselves as gently as we treat our loved ones. Physically, exercise will release endorphins which will trigger positive feeling in your body. Getting adequate sleep helps you stay healthy and reduces stress. When a living space feels crowded, it is important to find a place of mental respite and to be alone if that is what you need. Probably the easiest way to do this would be to go out for a walk. Being outside allows you to enjoy the calming, healthy benefits of fresh air and nature. Researchers have found that listening to music helps us emotionally as it may reduce depression and anxiety while improving your mood and invoking pleasant memories.   Having dedicated time for relaxation needs to be a priority. This might be as simple as going to bed a little earlier to start a book you have been meaning to read. It is true that little changes can bring big results. And don’t forget to take a pause….breathe and know that things are happening for you not to you.    References: -For Better or for Worse: Conflict and Connecting in Crisis -Conflict is a Normal and Natural Part of Your “Happily Ever After” -Love in the time of COVID-19: The four behaviors that can spell doom for a relationship


Learn more about the author of this post: Marsha Brock, LCPC


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