Tips for staff at home: How to avoid couples’ quarrels amid COVID-19 crisis
By Adina Bresge/The Canadian Press
Relationships can be challenging at the best of times. Throw a society-shifting pandemic, economic turmoil and a new confined lifestyle into the mix, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for couples’ quarrels.
The Canadian Press asked Steve Joordens, a psychology professor at University of Toronto Scarborough, for tips on how to keep the peace while in shared isolation. His answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
CP: Why do you think this could be a challenging time for couples?
Joordens: When people are isolated and have cabin fever, they get moody, they get irritated, they get frustrated. Now, we have that in a climate where we’re all feeling hyper anxious, because we have so much uncertainty about what’s going on.
CP: How could that lead to more conflict?
Joordens: We have two modes of being _ they’re called the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic kicks in when we’re relaxed, when we’re just kind of chilling and taking it easy.
If we ever feel a threat of any sort … then we kick in that sympathetic nervous system.
(Our body) compels us to either fight this threat and take it down, or run away from it and get safe. Then once the action is done, it’s meant to disappear.
The problem in the current state is the (COVID-19) threat is not going away… and so we have this ‘fight or flight’ system kind of engaged all the time, humming along in the background.
A little spark of the wrong sort can push us over that edge, and suddenly, our emotions take over … so we’re primed to have some sort of quarrel.
CP: What can partners do to cool off or de-escalate a fight?
Joordens: There are many resources online for guided relaxation… If you (practise), it will start to become a skill you can use in different contexts.
When you’re there with your significant other, they say something that kind of pisses you off, you start to feel that emotion rising … that’s a tool you can have in your back pocket.
The first trick is to try to preempt the loss of emotional control. That’s when listening comes in.
Too often, when we argue, we have something in our mind that we want to say … and it can totally eclipse our ability to listen to what (the other person is) saying.
If I can say, ‘I’ve heard what you’ve said, and from your perspective, this is what the situation looks like. Now, let me give you my perspective.’ Then we can talk it through and somehow find some middle ground.
CP: Are there steps couples can take to avoid conflict?
Joordens: To the extent a couple can anticipate friction points, it would be really good to talk about them beforehand. You can say, listen, we’re going to have to be together for a long time, and so how will we come up with strategies to try not to get on each other’s nerves?
(That) could include separation. Some people just can’t be around their partner all the time. So building that structure … into the home might help.
CP: Are there ways the COVID-19 situation could bring couples closer together?
Joordens: (The problem) is that no one knows how this is going to play out.
It’s certainly the case that any time a group of people faces some common enemy, and works together to defeat it, that tends to bring those people closer together.
But the longer this goes, the harder it’s going to be to defeat the common enemy, or to feel like we have. And if we don’t feel like we have, then all bets are off. I’m not sure what happens if it feels like the common enemy beat us.
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