Keep Your Relationship Healthy – Premarital and Marriage Coaching Advice During COVID-19
By Heidi Gessner, NC Wedding Officiant and Certified Life and Relationship Coach
Heidi, MDiv, BCC, completed the Master of Divinity degree at Campbell University Divinity School and is an Ordained Minister with the United Church of Christ. She currently serves as the Palliative Care Chaplain and Bereavement Coordinator for UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. She developed and created Bereavement Support Services with the goal of attending to the emotional pain and transformation that is the result of illness and loss. Heidi provides emotional and spiritual support, as well as grief counseling to patients, families and hospital staff.
Life as we know it has changed. Our daily routines have been completely transformed as the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread. While confined to small spaces at home, people face big challenges: career uncertainty, loss of income and more time spent with (or without) family members.
As couples experience an unprecedented amount of stress, I want to offer premarital and marriage coaching to the Triangle area. Together, we can add tools to your relationship toolbox that will serve well into the future. And the payoff is greater resilience!
Developing your relationship skills now will help you become more resilient in a post-COVID-19 world. Your wedding vows will predict (or have already predicted) a moment just like this one. You vow to journey through life together for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. Here are 19 ways to maintain a healthy relationship during COVID-19:
- Practice Patience – Being patient and empathic with your partner is critical. We all need time to readjust and realign as we discover the new normal. The latest news updates leave us feeling unsure about what to expect, which may make us more self-centered and less tolerant of others. Remember, we’re all doing the best we can. Be patient with yourself and be patient with each other.
- Set Clear Boundaries – Working from home can obliterate a structured workday. It can also blur the boundaries between work and home. Make sure you have rituals in place that help you make that distinction. For example, at 5:00 p.m., close your laptop and transition intentionally into spending time with your partner. What they need most at this time is your undivided attention.
- Social Distancing, Not Emotional Distancing – Find time that allows you and your partner to be alone and also together. It’s like a carefully choreographed dance. We all need space to be quiet and alone, and we all need time together. In small confined spaces, you’ll need to get creative and intentional.
- Be Teammates – Try to assume good intent. Your partner is doing the best they can to navigate rough waters. We’re surviving, not thriving. Be on each other’s side – make the pandemic your problem to figure out together. Remind each other, no matter what’s happening out in the world, you’ve got each other’s back.
- Lean In – Become curious when your partner is struggling. You don’t need to fix anything, just listen. We are all in survival mode, so listening might come as a challenge. Do your best. Again, what your partner needs is your undivided attention. Eastern thought suggests that pain + resistance = suffering. Most people don’t handle emotional suffering well, whether it’s the fear of illness, financial strain or having to postpone a wedding. We would rather lean away from that which scares us. With most of our favorite distractions currently unavailable, the unresolved issues in your relationship take center stage. So, instead of leaning away – lean in.
- Nonviolent Communication (NVC) –If you’re unfamiliar with NVC, here’s a necessary skill that every couple needs to have in their relationship toolbox. NVC helps you learn how to hear your own deeper needs and those of your partner. Click here for information on NVC.
- Lookout For Anticipatory Grief – Knowing that people we love might get sick or die as a result of COVID-19, may cause the pain and sorrow of anticipatory grief. Confronted with the reality of lost income, it’s also normal to feel a tumultuous set of feelings. With anticipatory grief, feelings of loss and pain stem from imagining what life will be like if we experience a significant loss. The uneasiness of anticipatory grief has a positive side; it helps couples prepare for what will occur, presenting them with the opportunity to speak and listen deeply.
- Check-in With Your Body – Your body acts as an early warning system. Pay attention to it. Sometimes we don’t realize that the physical discomfort we are experiencing – such as headaches, backaches, stomach pain and tense neck muscles – is connected to your emotional state. You might want to try a Body Scan Mindfulness Exercise. The purpose of the exercise is to develop a mindful awareness of your body in the present moment. A body scan is a great way to release tension you might not even realize you’re experiencing.
- Mind Over Matter – Shakespeare said in one of his plays, “Nothing is either good nor bad, but thinking makes it so.” Ask yourself, “How would I experience this moment if I didn’t add any unnecessary thought?” Become aware of your self-talk. There are two things here to consider: The reality you find yourself in and the narrative you spin around it. The stories we spin help us make sense of our current situation – but when we get stuck in fixed ideas of how things should be, we miss out on the opportunity to lean in and accept things as they are.
- Power in Presence – The average person spends half of their life lost in a compulsive thinking mind. We are either fixated on the past, or lost in thinking about all of the what-ifs and worst-case scenarios. You and your partner live and love in the present moment. Learn from the past and plan for the future, but make it a habit to spend most of your time in the present moment. Give your partner the most important gift you can offer – your undivided attention. Before the day is over, give your partner five minutes of your undivided attention and see what happens.
- Name Your Fears – In a COVID-19 world, it is important to recognize our fears. Let yourself be vulnerable. As you notice your stress level going up, your chest tightening, your blood pressure increasing, ring the imaginary bell in your head. Name your fears, bring them to the level of conscious awareness, and then care for them. One of the best (and scariest) ways to care for your fears is to share them with someone else.
- Forgiveness – There are moments when we’re not going to get this right. Talking will be difficult, so will listening with care. Both you and your partner will make mistakes. With forgiveness, we prevent resentment and anger from simmering and coming out sideways. Forgiveness also releases healing energy that allows us to protect both ourselves and our partner from harm.
- Mindful Intake of Media – The Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh said in order to live each day well, “It’s really important to guard your mornings and to start your day gently.” But that’s hard when your rhythm is thrown off. He goes on to say, we have to be mindful of what we’re consuming. Fear, anxiety and despair may be fed by what we read, hear and see. Likewise, our compassion, trust and gratitude can be fed by inspiring music, blogs and art.
- Monitor Screen Time –Another thing that could affect your relationship is how much time you spend on your screen. Experts say we spend an average of six hours a day on our devices, and the total rises to 10 hours if you include all of the COVID-19 Netflix binge watching. Working from home requires lots of digital fasts. Make frequent use of airplane and “Do Not Disturb” modes. And when 5 p.m. arrives, turn off your computer, close your laptop and give attention to your partner.
- Get Outside – We don’t have churches, temples or synagogues to go to, so let nature become your sanctuary. Discover the wonder and beauty of earth’s natural and healing rhythms. As far as I can tell, birds, trees, spring flowers and sunsets don’t seem to notice the current crisis. Nature will help lower your blood pressure and stress hormones, and keep your heart rate normal. Unplugging from your self-isolation and getting outdoors will allow you to focus on the present moment, quiet your anxious mind and leave you feeling more generous and more connected to those around you.
- Connect With Others – Establish the intention to reach out with compassion and kindness to friends, family, colleagues and total strangers. One easy spiritual practice you can do is called the three circles meditation. Draw three circles on a piece of paper. Write the name of one person you want to reach out to in each circle and extend them care and compassion. This gives you the opportunity to text or call three people and let them know you’re thinking of them. If you do that over the course of a week, then you’ve extended love and kindness to 21 people. Let this also be a cue to extend loving kindness to your partner. May my partner be happy. May my partner be safe. May my partner be free from harm. May my partner live with peace.
- New Intentions – What if you took 30 seconds or 5 minutes each morning to pause and mindfully consider the following questions: How do I want to feel today? Am I living in a way that expresses my values? Am I focusing time on what makes me authentically happy, nourishes me, and gives my life meaning and purpose? New intentions may include trying not to get caught up in the chaos of working from home or losing touch with what matters the most to us – time with our partner, caring for those who are sick or afraid, rest and spiritual practices.
- Practice Gratitude – Research shows gratitude motivates us and helps us to make gestures that bind us more closely with our partner. Start practicing gratitude first thing in the morning, before you get out of bed say to yourself, “Thank you for bringing me my person, the love of my life.” When we cultivate feelings of gratitude toward our partner, we do the opposite of taking them for granted. When we express gratitude, we make our partner feel valued and begin a chain reaction of love and affection.
- Find Beauty – When your mind gets anxious, stop. Take several deep breaths, and notice one thing in your space that is beautiful, smile and remember, you’ve handled difficulties before. If possible, share the beauty with your partner!
Local Marriage Coaching Services
The coronavirus pandemic can and will reveal existing problems and areas that we need to work on within our relationships. Believe it or not, this can actually be a good thing! Here’s the good news: you don’t have to do it alone! In addition to being an Ordained United Church of Christ Minister, I am a certified life and relationship coach.
During premarital and marriage coaching sessions, I help many couples communicate and learn more about each other during and after their wedding planning. This sets them up for success! As a certified life and relationship coach, I’ll help you nurture and grow your connection as we find a clear path through this transition. What you do for your partner, you do for the world. It’s your gift to the world, and it makes you more compassionate and resilient. Let’s do this together.
For more information on how we can work together, please visit my website at www.heidigessnerweddings.com or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.