Siedah Spencer-Ardis is a therapist with the Focus Therapy Clinic in Birmingham, who specializes in working with women, girls, couples and blended families. She joined our Coffee & Conversation session today to talk with us about navigating our relationships at this time.

There are three main relationships to focus on – with our spouse or partner, with our children, and with ourself. All three of these relationships are under stress as all of us cope with a new way of living our lives right now. The important thing to remember is to try to highlight the positives that are coming out of this situation. Though we may have challenges, there are good things we can look for and incorporate into our relationships for the long term.

Our relationship with ourself is perhaps the one that sets the tone for the rest of the relationships in our life. There are several ways to stay healthy and happy.

  • Create space for yourself. Many of us are used to having at least some alone time every morning, (driving to work or taking the kids to school) when we can sip coffee, listen to the radio, and/or just be alone with our thoughts. Find a way to recreate this time every morning by being alone for a bit. Meditate, read, exercise, or play some music.
  • Be okay with asking for the time you need. Communicate with your family about your needs and listen to theirs. Be honest.
  • Be patient with yourself. Accept that you can’t do everything for everyone, and that you will have bad days.
  • Many of us are struggling to stay focused and get things done. Figure out when you work best (morning, evening, etc), and set aside that time to do the most important things on your list. Then focus NOT on the things you didn’t accomplish, but on the ones you DID. Use a “to do” list, or an app like Trello, and check things off as you get them done to see your progress. Forgive yourself if your progress isn’t always what you wanted it to be.
  • Tips for managing anxiety:
    • Focus on the things you can control, not on what you can’t (your behavior rather than what others are doing or not doing – for example, if people at one grocery store are not good about wearing masks, choose a store that requires it).
    • Get off the “hamster wheel” of repetitive worrying thoughts – watch less news or take a break from social media. Use an app like Calm for staying in the moment or quieting your thoughts.
    • Look for ways to feel like you’re doing something that makes a difference. Donate to a nonprofit, say thank you to an essential worker, look for groups on line who are doing good things and join them. (One to check out: Frontline Healthcare Workers Appreciation Group: We’re Showing Up.)

The relationship with our spouse or partner is also under stress. We are probably spending more time with each other than at any time in our entire relationship.

  • Communication is essential. Determine your “sweet spot.” When and where do you and your spouse communicate best: over morning coffee, during an afternoon walk, while having a drink after dinner? Make an effort to talk then.
  • By the same token, if you’re feeling like you cannot talk at a given moment, be honest about that.
  • Create a vision board for your relationship – write down your mission statement as a couple, and flesh out plans for sticking to it. Include what you both need, now and into the future.
  • Create time for the two of you. Have a date night (send kids to a different part of the house or put them to bed early) and spend time doing something you like to do.
  • Socialize with other couples via Zoom – try the apps for group karaoke or card or other games – there are apps for everything from euchre to Pictionary.

Family relationships can actually benefit from this time of enforced togetherness if we navigate potential difficulties carefully. We can learn about one another and our relationships can improve from that knowledge.

  • Communication, again, is vital. Have family meetings regularly.
  • Having a consistent structure around who is responsible for what will help ensure that everyone can to pitch in, and will ensure that no one is shouldering the entire load when it comes to running the household. Discuss and agree on what will work, and create a chart or list.
  • Make time for fun together.
  • Recognize the gifts or talents each person brings to the family and talk about them. Appreciate each other. The time we are spending together can make these gifts easier to spot than when we are all off in our own separate worlds.
  • Your children, like your spouse, will have times that they are better able to focus, or to talk calmly. Discuss these things as a family.
  • Be forgiving. Every day won’t be perfect. Understand that just as we are stressed, our children are, too. Help them talk about it.

In closing, there are two things we can really focus on when it comes to relationships while we are all Staying Home and Staying Safe: looking for the positives, and talking honestly with one another. And remember, if you or your spouse or kids need help getting through this, there are many options out there. Don’t hesitate to reach out to a professional. Most are working via phone, and they can make a difference when things are tough.

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