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Love, marriage & a pandemic: A relationship expert weighs in on keeping your marriage healthy

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BY DONNA DUARTE-LADD

We are now coming around to one full year of being in a full-blown pandemic. Perhaps you were the kind of partner that pre-COVID knew you loved your spouse yet were OK with the work travel their job requires. Or you took turns spending an evening out with the girls or boys where you socialized and unwinded. These were pockets in your lives where you both had a welcome breather and, for the sake of being real here, one less person to worry about in the day to day of marriage and kids. Fast forward to the last year, where couples have been more together than ever and under tremendous circumstances.

We recently touched base with Dr. Venus Nicolino (“Dr. V”), a renowned relationship expert and the bestselling author of “Bad Advice: How to Survive and Thrive in an Age of Bullshit.” Dr. V answers New York Family’s questions and shares on how to get your marriage to a healthier state, reconnect again and keep it intact.

As quarantine and the pandemic lingers on, how does one not let it ruin your marriage?

The COVID Quarrel is very real. But couples aren’t meant to be pent up for an entire year, are you kidding me?! You can’t do the stuff you normally do for fun, money is tight, and the world is falling apart. We’re not damn superheroes. Not even superheroes could do this!  

This pandemic has taken so much from us; don’t let it take your marriage. You and your partner can make it to the ever-drifting finish line together, I promise you. When you’re feeling like the stress and madness in your relationship is just too much to handle, remember to find some perspective. As heinous as this advice sounds, taking some time to remember how horrible everything is around you right now can save your marriage. And that’s not to invalidate how annoying your partner putting their soggy towel on your side of the bed every night is; it’s to validate how insanely annoying everything else is. And don’t be fooled — because you’re forced to spend so much time with your partner, you believe you’re learning “who they are.” You’re not. You’re learning who they are during a deadly pandemic that’s taken over 400,000 lives and frozen life as we know it. Trying to reflect on who they are as a person fundamentally right now is like looking at their image in a funhouse mirror (that’s not fun at all).

You want an extra perfect relationship in the middle of a deadly pandemic? Well, guess what! You’re both humans with emotions, and your external environments can wind up shaking the foundation of a relationship that typically has had a cool, peaceful core. Stand together as much as you can, but don’t deny yourself the right to be extra imperfect. They say to never make decisions about relationships in a heated moment. Well, I say we’ve been living in a jacuzzi that was set way too high for the last year and it isn’t very fun for anyone right now.

Being with each other and kids 24/7 can take even the healthiest relationships to a rough patch. How can one salvage the damage of poor behavior, words said at low moments in the past year? 

Everybody slips up, but 2020 was a whole year of banana peels. And sadly, it looks like 2021 might be more of the same, at least for a little while. If your relationship has experienced some harsh words and low moments, I say you’ve got to remember that they’re just that — moments. The best thing you can do right now is trying to see beyond those moments because they don’t define your partnership. Don’t let them turn into something bigger than they are. Just because we’re all at home binge-watching Netflix dramas, doesn’t mean you need to star in your own every day.

If damaging words were said or done, I want to direct people to the power of a sincere, “I’m sorry.” Not the thing you say in that sarcastic, passive tone — the thing you say with intention as you’re looking your partner in the eye, and after you acknowledge the harm that was caused by your behavior. At the end of the day, humans want to feel seen. We want to feel like we’re not screaming our needs into a void because our partner retreated into the bedroom to rage-watch “The Bachelor” after a fight. Instead, be present, and share your side of the story, too. We all know the truth is somewhere in the middle, and just because you were an asshole doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be heard, as well. Finding common emotional ground with each other gets you off those islands you’ve been floating on solo in the sea of conflict.  

The pandemic brings on unprecedented stress; how can a parent who has not many options of places to go to and has children to watch make sure they don’t lose it on their partner?

This is the oldest trick in the book — before you say that mean thing, you’ll wind up regretting half the time, take 10 seconds to breathe and ask yourself, “Is this worth escalating right now?” And that’s hard to do. Exercising impulse control in an argument can feel like trying to not rear-end the guy who cut you off just for the rage of it. There is a middle ground between sticking up for yourself and not causing a full-blown couple crash. Science shows that hurtful words said in even just one argument can have a lasting impact on how someone feels in the relationship forever. You don’t want that, especially if it’s not how you’d normally conduct yourself. Everyone’s experiencing some kind of elevated stress right now; don’t let it mess up your life any more than it already has. 

  • If a breath exercise sounds like some new-age crap you’re not trying to do, then you can just take a breather. Excuse yourself to the other room for a second. Nobody said it has to be graceful. You can just zip it and zip it to the closet for a moment. And if your partner tries to follow you?
  • Even if you think your partner is being an unfair jerk about things (I see you Mr. “How many times can my temple take running into the corner of this open cupboard”), try to verbalize to them that your goal is to work through this heated hang-up together. Letting them know that ultimately their side IS your side can be incredibly disarming and instantly switch up the confrontational energy of a fight.

How can you reconnect with your partner while still in a pandemic?

You’d think couples would have an easy time connecting in the pandemic given the roof they share 24/7. But as anyone knows that’s been stuck with anyone for too long, we can start to resent that roof and find escape through things like our phones and the never-ending scroll of social media. Believe it or not, you can make hanging out with your partner fun again. Get dressed up, order takeout from your favorite restaurant, drink too much wine, and then order pizza (or more pizza, if you’re fancy and had it for your main course). Download an app that gives you and your partner prompts to share stories and preferences that you’ve somehow never even heard them say yet. For example, name of app + funny prompt/answer. Get outside. Plan walks to your local park. In many ways, COVID’s left us with some of the most fundamentally connective things to do with our SOS. And you know what might help you feel even more connected? Take a break from one another sometimes. Eat your dinner separately one night. Stay up late playing your kid’s favorite video game with them. Have a dad / mom-daughter / son hangout. Allowing your relationship some space to breathe can be a breath of fresh air that’ll leave you excited for the time you get to spend together. 

Dr. Venus Nicolino, best known as “Dr. V,” is a renowned relationship expert, media personality and host of WeTV’s Marriage Boot Camp, which just aired its 8th season. Dr. V recently became a bestselling author and debuted at #1 on the LA Times with the release of her first book, “Bad Advice: How to Survive and Thrive in an Age of Bullshit”. The New York Post called it one of “five books that will change your life.”

This story originally appeared on QNS’ sister site newyorkfamily.com

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