MINNEAPOLIS — Just three days ago, Bloomberg came out with this headline:
Kinda scary to think about. The article talks about how a woman was tired of her out-of-work husband after two months of each other in isolation due to the coronavirus. It also says some cities have reported record-high divorce filings in March.
Reading an article like this, you can't help but get a pit in your stomach. With couples spending record time with each other, University of Minnesota's Dr. Bill Doherty says it's no surprise things might get irritating for couples here in the U.S. as well.
"Most people like being around other people but not necessarily just their mate," Doherty said. "So we need more variety of other people than we're getting right now."
All of a sudden, the way your partner doesn't close the cabinets all the way is a bigger and badder crime. The conference call he or she is on sounds louder than usual. The TV sounds loud too.
Communication about discomforts is good but Doherty says in an extraordinary situation like this, consider making the change within yourself first.
"See if you can solve the problem without talking about it first," he said. "In other words, you just sort of rearrange your schedule. If someone is irritated because you're not cleaning the counter the way they like, maybe you should just cleanup the counter differently."
If the issue does need to be verbalized, Doherty suggested leading with feelings, rather than accusations.
"In couples therapy, there's something called a soft startup, rather than a harsh startup," he said. "So, 'there's been something bothering me a little bit, I know you're not meaning to irritate me but there's something I wanted to mention...' is a soft startup. As opposed to, 'you know I don't like that, why are you doing it?'"
However, Doherty acknowledged that there may be couples right now who are past the point of no return but stuck with each other for the duration of the stay-at-home order.
"What I advise is to just imagine that right now there's a crisis," he said. "Most couples are able to rally to put their problems on a shelf for a period of time, not solve them and to get through this."
He said it's important to remind yourself that the coronavirus is the common enemy you both are fighting. Doherty said, while the world is searching for a cure to COVID-19, we might have found the cure to something else.
"It's like we got this big dose of medicine against over-scheduling," he said with a laugh.
As for Doherty and his wife, he said routine has always kept them strong. However, he explained there is an additional thing they do now, each night.
"We kind of check in with each other about our stress level," Doherty said. "How we're each feeling about this pandemic and about our health, family. So a little bit more of 'how are you doing?'"
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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.