Sometimes too much of a good thing can be stressful. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, couples and families may be facing a surplus of time together. Adults may be forced to work from home or be on leave and children may not be able to attend school or go to childcare. So, what can couples do to manage all of this togetherness?
Iowa State University Extension and Outreach will be providing a series of short virtual meetings over seven weeks with information and suggestions to help couples thrive in this new reality. The information presented will be based on ELEVATE, a relationship education curriculum developed by the National Extension Relationship and Marriage Education Network.
Anthony Santiago, David Brown, Rosa Gonzalez, Michelle Schott, Brenda Schmitt, Joy Rouse, Barb Dunn-Swanson, Malisa Rader, Danielle Day, Dawn Dunnegan, Lori Hayungs, and Mary Tuttle — all human sciences specialists and staff with ISU Extension and Outreach — will be leading a series of short, virtual meetings beginning Wednesday, April 8 from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m. CDT via Connect at https://connect.extension.iastate.edu/healthy-relationships/. During each of the seven Wednesdays, the specialists will review a different tool that couples can immediately use to improve their relationship during this challenging time.
“We encourage you to join us seven Wednesdays at 12:30 p.m. Central Daylight Time to elevate your relationship,” Santiago said. The following topics will be discussed.
April 8: Empower – When individuals in the couple relationship function well, the relationship functions well. “By taking care of your physical, emotional and spiritual needs, you can better care for the relationship with your partner,” Brown said.
April 15: Lay the Foundation – “Researchers Marshal and Goddard say that ‘in marriage, the grass grows greener on the side of the fence you water most.’ So, like a nice lawn, relationships require nourishing on a consistent and conscientious manner. Even during COVID-19 challenges, what makes the difference are the intentional choices each partner in the relationship makes every day,” Santiago said.
April 29: Enlighten – Being enlightened requires couples to be in the know with each other. This is an ongoing process. “Particularly in challenging times such as we are in now, the need to be in the know becomes even more crucial as people’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, hopes and dreams do not necessarily stay the same. You can’t assume that you know all you need to know about your partner,” Brown said.
May 6: Value – “Showing that you value your partner means you focus on the positives of your partner and the relationship. Expressing the positives is like making deposits in your partner’s emotional ‘bank account.’ Particularly in challenging times, making investments into your partner’s emotional bank account can help maintain a positive outlook on the situation,” Santiago said.
May 13: Attach – Research shows that couples who interact in loving ways and maintain these efforts do much better over time in their relationships. Essentially, it is the couple sharing of themselves, with each other, and together that contributes to the wellbeing of their relationship as a couple. Because of COVID-19 many couples are finding they now have more physical time with each other. Couples can use this time to develop a close friendship, nurture positive interactions with each other, build a meaningful sense of couple identity, and spend meaningful time in each other’s presence, Santiago and Brown noted.
May 20: Tame – It’s not the conflict that’s the problem, it’s the way the couple manages the conflict that is related to couple satisfaction and stability. How couples manage negative emotions, soothe physiological responses, create positivity in the relationship, accept differences, use forgiveness, adopt a willingness to accept influence, empathize, and work together can lead to successful and effective conflict management, the specialists added.
May 27: Engage – “Antoine de Saint-Exupery has said, ‘Life has taught us that love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.’ Being connected is an essential part of a healthy relationship in normal circumstances, but during COVID-19 this need has become even more prominent. During this time couples can learn to draw strength from others, look for meaning and purpose, and reach out to others and their communities, albeit virtually in many cases. In doing so, they can help themselves, their relationship, and their communities to be resilient,” Brown said.
Iowa Concern, offered by ISU Extension and Outreach, provides confidential access to stress counselors and an attorney for legal education, as well as information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. With a toll-free phone number, live chat capabilities and a website, Iowa Concern services are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week at no charge. To reach Iowa Concern, call 800-447-1985; language interpretation services are available. Or, visit the website, https://www.extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern/, to live chat with a stress counselor one-on-one in a secure environment. Or, email an expert regarding legal, finance, stress, or crisis and disaster issues.
211 is a free, comprehensive information and referral line linking Iowa residents to health and human service programs, community services, disaster services and governmental programs. This service is collaborating with the Iowa Department of Public Health to provide confidential assistance, stress counseling, education and referral services related to COVID-19 concerns.