Stress is a normal part of all couples’ lives, but it can be especially prevalent while handling the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Everyday struggles like worrying about money, pressure at work, struggles with extended family, or organizing kids’ schedules can all have an impact on our stress levels. Add in to the mix returning to a job after furlough, making new childcare arrangements, or getting a child back into a school routine, and stress can easily start to feel overwhelming.

But know that you are not alone. Not only are there concrete ways to help relieve stress, but there are also opportunities for growth as a couple during times of stress.

Recognizing signs of stress as a couple

For some couples, stress is so much a part of everyday life, they don’t see the signs of it or recognize the toll it’s taking on their relationship. Signs of this may be if you and your partner are arguing more, not enjoying your time together, or feeling as though you’re not on the same page. You may feel as though you are ships passing in the night instead of partners. Or you may be so focused on the stress you’re under that you spend little time supporting each other.

Stress may be manifested physically in these ways:

  • stomachaches
  • high blood pressure
  • insomnia
  • weakened immune system

Some signs that it is affecting you or your partner emotionally are:

  • irritability
  • tearfulness
  • sadness
  • low self-esteem

It can also manifested in your actions such as:

  • avoiding others
  • poor judgment
  • increased use of alcohol, drugs, or nicotine
  • fidgeting
  • procrastinating

It’s also important to recognize that stress can have an impact on you relationships and how you treat others, including:

  • avoiding intimacy
  • irritability
  • blaming others

Even if you are not the one who is experiencing stress, you may still experience some of these signs due to your partner’s stress levels. Like all emotions, the emotions that come from stress can be contagious.

What can you do about stress in your relationship?

Be aware. Simply acknowledging the stress in your life by giving it a name and accepting that it is legitimate is important.

Communicate with love. If you feel stress or see signs of it in your partner, ask, share, and put it on the table for discussion. Make a commitment to connect with each other—even if it is just 10 minutes each day. Be patient and come to your conversation from a place of love. If you’re feeling frustrated, take a couple of deep breaths and try and think about what your goal is with the conversation. Be open to the possibility that your partner may be feeling something other than stress, such as fear or hurt.

Work as a team. Your greatest asset in reducing stress is your partner. Talk about what the major stressors are in your lives, what your common values are, and what has been going well. Understand that you might not be able to control everything that’s going on in your environment such as which self-isolation measures are being relaxed, but together you can decide the best course of action to take about the things that you can control.

Where to find help

If you or your partner are finding the stress your experiencing overwhelming or it is negatively affecting your relationship, there are things you can do to help.

Use the support network you both already have. Reach out to friends or family you can confide in. Keep in mind that if you’re under a lot of stress, the people you love have probably noticed it and they likely want to help.

Consider couples counselling. You might benefit from working with a therapist to help you get through this stressful period in your relationship. Look for counsellors who are able to do sessions virtually.

Seek support from your faith community. Many clergy members provide counselling for couples who are under stress.

Look for individual support. You might benefit from working with a counsellor one-on-one. Call your assistance program to speak to a caring counsellor.

Talk with your health care provider. Talking with your family doctor can help with ways to improve your general health as well as provide guidance in emotional support as you manage your stress.

Remember that this too shall pass. It’s natural to feel particularly stress as life changes as you adjust to a “new normal” that is life after the COVID-19 pandemic. But as self-isolation lifts, your world will eventually feel less frenzied and you can refocus on your relationship.