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Coronavirus Couples’ Therapy

By Jennifer Blot

Evie Talmus. (Iris Lei)

Love: Evie Talmus offers advice for relationships on the brink.

San Francisco’s shelter-in-place has forced many cohabitating couples to change their patterns, which for some, means friction; for others, a renewed connection. We checked in with Evie Talmus, a licensed marriage and family therapist who has been working with couples for 25 years. These days, she’s conducting sessions remotely via FaceTime and Zoom.

Many couples are working from home now. Has this been a challenge? When couples are working from home, it’s: How do you have your phone and Zoom meetings without getting in each other’s faces? Couples who are actively parenting face added challenges besides work pressures: How do you get to be effective at both? That dilemma is always in operation. Now with shelter-in-place, you’re on the frontlines 24/7.

What’s your definition of “frontlines”? It’s being “on.” Having to show up and be ready to accomplish what you need to accomplish. Now we all have a third job, especially those with children at home: work, parenting, and now household. Who does the cleaning? Cooking? Many couples I work with are used to ordering in or going out.

I’m guessing there’s a lot of anxiety. It’s really hard right now. You might not even be aware of how hard your psyche is working to maintain your equilibrium. Almost every client mentions being more unfocused and tired than usual, even after eight hours’ sleep.

I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democrat, the news is depressing, infuriating, scary. If you don’t already have a way to stabilize your own mind — meditation, yoga, exercise or any of the things that people normally do — and you’re trying to operate “business as usual,” you’re going to have a really hard time. If partners are not used to checking in in a deeper way and just ask, “What did you do today?” this is going to be especially challenging at times when we would benefit from deeper, state-of-the-being conversations rather than transactional ones.

Some couples have said: I would have thought we’d be having sex more often because we’re home more. And then they start worrying that they’re not having more sex. Sex is usually one of those ways that you judge yourself as a couple.

What are your suggestions for the day-to-day? Get outside and exercise together — even if it’s just for a walk. Drive along the coast or where it’s green. It will give you some perspective, whereas being trapped in a house, no matter how big, you’re still bordered by walls. Create structure that bookends your day: “Every day we get up, we meditate, we exercise, we have breakfast, we write down three goals, we cook dinner.” It can help make order out of chaos and lead to feeling safe and connected.

Pay special attention to what you’re feeding your mind, the same way you try to do with your body. I’m a big fan of listening to and reading positive material like the Ten Percent Happier podcast with Dan Harris, Pema Chodron on YouTube, and the book Our Pristine Mind by Orgyen Chowang. Start a daily meditation practice — even two minutes of focusing on your breath makes a difference.

Date night can be a relationship spark: “Let’s get dressed upon Saturday night, have a special dinner, work on a jigsaw puzzle together. Just you and me, babe.” Schedule Zoom cocktails with other couples, exchange recommendations for binge-worthy TV, easy recipes, new music.

Are any couples doing better than before? That’s the silver lining. Often, one partner really struggles with the lack of connection and the other may feel criticized: You’re never home. You just seem so checked out. For those couples, the person complaining about not enough connection may now be getting that particular need met. They’re cooking together, gardening together, going for walks together. One of the silver linings is the increased intimacy. Some couples are having more sex. And dreaming out loud about future vacations — and even overall lifestyle change.

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