Welcome to Q&A Today, the third edition of a new column designed to answer your questions regarding challenges and concerns in everyday life, from family to coping with current events. A popular topic today revolves around the coronavirus. All questions are fair game. Just send me an email with your questions or concerns, and watch for the answer in upcoming editions of the Tasmanian Times. Q&A Today is published on the first and third Sundays of the month. If your question is printed, only your first name will appear in this column. Email me at: tas@LensonLifeCoaching.com.
Q: My husband has been instructed to work from home because a colleague tested positive for coronavirus. This 24/7 togetherness with him is really stressing me out. I am a stay-at-home mother with two year-old twins. To be quite honest, our marriage worked better when my husband was home for breakfast and dinner, but not for lunch… and certainly not home all day long. He has uprooted our routine, expecting me to keep our sons quiet when he’s on work-related calls and then wanting to play with the kids when they need to be headed down for a nap. I don’t want to be in a tug of war with my husband, but I’m frustrated and I can’t wait for him to go back to his office. – Olivia
A: Hi Olivia,
The fact that you’re not finding all this togetherness with your husband to add up to domestic bliss is not surprising. This major change in your husband’s job has caused the comfort of predictability in both of your daily routines to evaporate.
What is important to recognise is that it isn’t just having your husband home that is likely creating stress. Many other changes have been brought on by this pandemic at a lightning fast pace, resulting in uncertainty in many important areas of your life. As a wife and mother of two toddlers, you may be anxious about becoming ill, family finances, missing meaningful social connections for yourself and play dates for your sons.
We all respond differently to uncertainty, but when life is so unpredictable, we tend to feel out of control and react with fear and worry. We find ourselves more easily frustrated and less tolerant and understanding of those around us.
Routines you are comfortable with have been shattered. As you struggle to re-establish a sense of normalcy in your life, things that may have mildly irritated you about your husband, or unresolved conflicts, are intensified. If increasing awareness of your husband’s annoying behaviours results in you becoming angrier, then your tension will rise to a toxic level, which is not good for you, your husband or your children.
Ignoring this problem won’t make it magically go away. You’ll have to consciously plan on how you’re going to get through the rest of these turbulent times together.
Rather than focusing outward on what you can’t change, which will only make you feel increasingly frustrated, resentful and isolated, I suggest you reflect on what you are doing to improve your own emotional well-being. In doing so, perhaps you can find ways to rejuvenate your emotional connection with your husband and reduce the challenges imposed upon you from his now having to work from home due to COVID-19. Please consider the following:
1. Decide that being annoyed with your husband about minor things won’t change your current situation, but definitely will sap your energy and pile additional stress on both of you. Instead of focusing on the negatives, collect a list of the positives. This will enable you to veer off the dangerous path of negative thinking that could make you feel unhappy. Instead, you’ll find your perspective changing and more inclined to notice the good and experience greater satisfaction with your husband.
2. Discuss with your husband ways to establish new schedules that will take into consideration everyone’s needs. Talk about how you can provide each other more support. Perhaps that means redistributing responsibilities in housekeeping and help with childcare. This means that each of you will need to compromise at times so that your spouse can create space in his life to meet his needs, while you can also be assured of time being created for your needs.
3. Having your family live together as a unit 24/7 has upsides. One evening, after the kids have been put to bed and you both have some adult time, find a relaxing place in the home to have a chat. Ask your husband to join you in identifying the ‘gifts’ that this challenging time together offers your family. Mark some time on the calendar to engage in fun activities, establish new traditions, etc.
4. Practice self-kindness. Give yourself permission to not accomplish as much as you did previously. When you find yourself getting upset, schedule down-time so that you can prevent your emotions from becoming a runaway train. Write in a journal.
Practice deep-breathing. You will find yourself in a better place emotionally and able to make decisions that are less reactive and wiser for you.
Practice kindness towards your spouse by catching him doing something nice for you and expressing your appreciation, either verbally or in a love note.
Have your ‘go-to’ emotion be that of empathy rather than displeasure when he expresses a thought or idea with which you are not in alignment. You don’t have to agree with what he said or does. Rather, demonstrate that you are there for him by validating his feelings. The two of you will be able to address the issue together versus pursuing a path that results with a winner and loser.
5. Plan time with other couples. Social distancing does not mean social isolation. You can create new rhythms in socialising, be it in Zoom cocktail hours with friends, or sitting two metres apart from each other in the driveway. These relationships can help us in small ways and large and provide us with the inner harmony and strength we need to draw on when encountering everyday challenges.
6. Keep in mind that I certainly am not suggesting this will be a time of rainbows and pink lollipops! Allow yourself to grieve what you’ve lost. Doing so won’t drag you down. Rather, recognising that you have a right to feel the full range of your feelings will enable you to let go of them faster than if they were repressed. You’re now inundated with changes and realise that you don’t have the certainty you experienced in your life just a few short weeks ago. Call a friend and talk about your feelings. Write them down. Just don’t keep them bottled up inside.
Be well and be safe.
Eileen S. Lenson, MSW, ACSW, BCC is author of Overcoming Adversity: Conquering Life’s Challenges, by Australian Academic Press. Eileen is a life and business coach and public speaker residing in the United States. She has spent her professional career working in medical and psychiatric hospitals and in her private practice, counselling people experiencing emotionally traumatic events.
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