Looking after your relationship through tough times

Pablo Vandenabelle
Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK
28 July 2020
Next review due July 2023

For many of us, the last few months have put pressure on our whole lives – including our relationships. Maybe you’ve been more anxious, having more rows, or feeling misunderstood by your partner. If you’ve been finding things tough in your relationship recently, you’re not alone. The following advice can help pave the way for communicating better with your partner and improving your relationship.

Take stock of the situation

It’s no wonder you’re struggling with your relationship right now. Relationships are not usually built around spending 24/7 with each other, as many of us have had to do over the last few months.

There are lots of factors that have made things difficult, such as:

  • working from home together
  • unemployment
  • being furloughed
  • money worries
  • looking after children at home
  • the stress of the pandemic (which has affected sleep, anxiety and worry)

The following tips can help you understand your partner better and help you communicate.

Coping methods

How you cope with a situation may be different to your partner. For example, one of you may need to vent or talk about things a lot, whereas the other may withdraw and go quiet. Or it might be that your partner wants to check the news frequently, but you’d prefer not to. It’s important to recognise that there’s more than one way to cope. Try and be patient with each other.

Time to talk

Have dedicated time to talk and share your feelings with each other. Set some ground rules. For example, allowing each other to share without being criticised, told off or judged. This will help you to feel closer to one another and feel understood.

It can be easier to have a conversation about your worries when you’re doing something else, like going for a walk together. See what works for you.

Roles and routines

Your role may have changed within the relationship because of changes in other areas of your life. You might be schooling your children or looking after vulnerable family members. Acknowledge that your relationship may have needed to take a back seat for a while because of this.

If you’ve both been working from home, your routine is likely to have changed a lot. It’s a good idea to talk to each other regularly about how you’re both finding this. Make adjustments and changes where you need to.

Managing conflict

If you keep arguing about the same thing, it might help to call a truce for the time being and come back to it when you’re feeling less stressed or upset.

If your partner is irritating you, or vice versa, remember these key things.

  • It’s not the end of the world. It’s not pleasant but it doesn’t necessarily mean your relationship is in trouble.
  • Give yourself and your partner some space. Have some time for yourself to relax and take a breather.
  • Speak to your partner if you feel that there is a deeper problem. Use ‘I’ statements to communicate how you’re feeling. For example, ‘I feel’ or ‘I think’. This will keep any sense of ‘blame’ out of the conversation.
  • Remember that over exposure to anyone can bring about irritation. Focus on the positive things and plan some nice ways to spend quality time with them.

Active listening tips

If your partner is upset or anxious, there are ways you can support them.

  • Have a daily check-in so that you both know how each other are feeling. Morning might be a good time for this so you can face the day ahead together.
  • Listen to your partner and show them that you’re there for them. Active listening can go a long way to helping someone in distress.
  • Try and stay calm if your partner is anxious. Your steady reassurance and non-judgement will help them.
  • Look after yourself. Make sure you’re taking care of your health and wellbeing too.

Asking questions

Some good open questions to ask can be things like: ‘What does that feel like?’ or ‘What happens when you feel like that?’ Your partner may then feel able to express themselves and you’ll be able to get a better understanding of how they feel.

It can be very hard seeing a loved one in distress and a natural reaction is to want to try and ‘fix’ things. But try not to do that. Unless they ask for your advice, just try and be there for them and give them a safe space to be supported and heard.

Pablo Vandenabelle
Pablo Vandenabeele
Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK

    • Nurturing our relationships during the coronavirus pandemic. Mental Health Foundation., last reviewed 9 July 2020
    • Maintaining your relationship with your partner. Relate., accessed 15 July 2020
    • Tips for talking about mental health. Time To Talk., accessed 16 July 2020
    • Dealing with irritations in your relationship. Relate., accessed 15 July 2020
    • Supporting an anxious partner. Relate., accessed 15 July 2020

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