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Three tips to improve relationships coming out of the pandemic

Dr. Shonda Craft said conflict simply means there's a difference of opinion or experience that you and your partner need to talk about.

MINNEAPOLIS — The world is coming out of a unprecedented pandemic. It changed our lives in many ways, and one place where it took a toll for many was in their relationship with their partner. 

Dr. Shonda Craft is a licensed marriage and family therapist and the dean of the School of Health and Human Services at St. Cloud State University.

Wherever you stand in your relationship with your partner, it's always good to get some help if you don’t want to break up.

"The more disconnected we are, the more that we have room for stress and strife to enter into our relationships," Dr. Craft said.

Dr. Craft said there are three themes she saw magnified during the pandemic. One, she said partners are trying to negotiate being parents with both at home.

"That became very stressful to decide, 'OK, well who’s on right now, who's responsible for making sure the kids are on online school?' or how are they balancing their own work responsibilities with home responsibilities," Dr. Craft said.

Dr. Craft also saw couples who were navigating dating and people trying to balance their own wellness while also trying to honor their relationship.

1. Talk

While there is no one-size-fits-all answer for couples, Dr. Craft shared a few basic tips. Her biggest piece of advice is you have to talk.  She said when you do, use "I" statements.  

"Being able to own your feelings, so to speak, and so 'I feel frustrated when this happens' or 'I am sad when you are doing this thing,'" Dr. Craft said. "It takes away that blame and the shame from the other person."

Dr. Craft said also be honest, but give each other space to make mistakes. She adds, be specific.

"'I would really appreciate if you could help with the dishes two nights a week or three nights a week,' or 'I would really love for us to trade off on putting the kids to bed,' you know, something that feels very concrete, very specific and measurable honestly," Dr. Craft said.

2. Allow time to recalibrate

Her second tip is to allow yourself time to recalibrate coming out of this pandemic.

"It’s almost like many of us have been in this hole and we haven’t seen light in a long time, we’ve been hibernating and now if you think you can just step out into the brightness, it’s gonna hurt your eyes," she said. "You have to give yourself some time to reenter into your life." 

3. Ask for help for yourself

Finally, there is no shame in seeking individual help.

"If there are things that have just been weighing on you and maybe you didn’t feel like it was an OK time for you to do anything because you just had to be in go mode, now that things have slowed down a little bit, give yourself some time to say, 'OK what do I need?'" Dr. Craft said. She said this makes you a better partner for the person in your life.

Dr. Craft said one thing to avoid is extreme language. Those are words like "always" or "never."  

She also gently reminds us that conflict is not always bad. Don’t be afraid to be in conflict.

"Conflict simply means that there's a difference of opinion or experience that needs to have some light put on it so that you can understand the places where you're not incongruence with each other," Dr. Craft said.