How to help your relationship survive and thrive through the coronavirus pandemic

HOUSTON – A lot of information we get about the coronavirus pandemic comes from other countries that were hit before, such as China (where it started) and Italy.

In China, they saw a spike in divorces that was blamed on the strict measures to stay home. Houston doctor Emily Jamea, PhD LMFT, said she sees some of her patients struggling through the stay home order here, too. However, she says others are thriving with more time together.

“For a lot of couples, the added pressure of having to renegotiate schedules, learn how to communicate about that and just dealing with the problem that none of us have any experience navigating has added a lot of tension,” Jamea said.

That can be especially true for couples who are already on the brink of splitting up.

“I always tell couples to do two things… and that is: communicate and negotiate and renegotiate and communicate again," Jamea said. “That is so essential right now. Even my husband and I are sitting down once a week and just talking through what’s working and what’s not working, what modifications we need to make ... I think that just setting that time aside that you can go through all of that, create a safe place where you can vocalize any feelings that may come up but also express appreciation.”

The number one thing she recommends to make sure your relationship thrives is actually taking care of yourself first.

“We have a tendency to lose ourselves in the process as we are just trying to put out all of these fires. So, I encourage people to try to establish a routine every day,” Jamea said. “The second piece of advice I would give everyone is to spend a little bit of time outside each day. You know, the physical distancing doesn’t mean that we have to stay in our house 24/7. It’s so important to get outside, get some fresh air and get a little bit of vitamin D, go for a walk together.”

Jamea recommends taking time to cuddle on the couch, hold hands and be close.

“Spend time cuddling (and) touching each other," Jamea said. “There are so many wonderful neurochemicals that are released when we engage in physical touch, so this is an opportunity to break that pattern of living like two ships passing in the night. Sit together on the couch, cuddle up, embrace. That releases oxytocin, it releases endorphins, it releases all of these things that can help us feel wonderful despite some of the stress that we’re under.”

For more advice from Jamea, you can watch her online blog, YouTube series and workshops through her website: Emilyjamea.com.