How to Fortify a Relationship Amid the Pandemic Chaos

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by Dr. C |

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My wife and I left our New England home on April 4 and moved into a St. Louis home on the 22nd — a total of 18 days in the dark, cramped quarters of various motel rooms. We have almost 50 years together and communication is one of our strong suits. But these 18 days were unusually difficult. We learned a few strategies that might make it easier for other couples who end up in quarantine or self-isolation.

The experience of dealing with the COVID-19 restrictions is not unlike managing Parkinson’s disease. The same principles are vital: sharing or asking for understanding and accommodation, making time and space for individual needs, and paying attention to communication. One could surmise that our life with Parkinson’s perhaps prepared us, in part, for the “new normal” imposed by COVID-19.

First, and probably not foremost in the minds of some, being confined to close quarters with your intimate partner tends to increase intimacy frequency. If you prepare for this, the experience can be more enjoyable. The usual diversions of life routines no longer distract. The need for intimacy may increase to help you connect with each other and express support and understanding. It can reinforce that the relationship is more accepting of the frailties of disease or ageing, and therefore that the physical person is as important as the emotional or psychological person.

Second, more time must be given to communication. You might think that you have more access to knowing the other’s needs because you are living in a confined space with your partner. Maybe that can happen when the world is not in COVID-19 chaos, or when Parkinson’s progression hasn’t created new chaos in our lives. Right now, though, so much emotion is swirling around because of the pandemic, which easily leads to misunderstandings. We found ourselves making assumptions about the other’s needs and then being wrong. Extended, close human proximity does not equate to more human understanding. That wisdom is found within a healing relationship, which is erratic and elusive during these apocalyptic times. The extra time spent by honestly and calmly asking and answering, “How are you doing?” will pay off rich dividends for the relationship.

Third, use phrases like “I feel” or “I need,” rather than “you did” or “you don’t” statements. Seems simple, but the louder the stress and chaos, the harder it is to do this. The accuracy of statements that express how you are feeling or what you need relies upon the accurate identification of emotion. Emotional intelligence is widely varied, but there is usually someone near to you who has a high EQ. It is often that person you know as a “good listener.” There are also 1-800 helplines. In these times of social distancing, with short fuses everywhere, more precise descriptions of emotions are needed. It’s not easy to stay in touch with feelings when there is a livid internal eruption happening every day. Practicing threshold management along with accurate and compassionate “I feel” statements has made our 18 days a bit easier. Mistakes will happen. These are tough times. We had our quarrels, but we tried our best not to end the day angry at each other.

In addition, we divided the room in half — my space, your space. We also tried to have a normal daily schedule, despite how obviously abnormal the situation was. We set aside time where one partner supported the other for half the day. This routine included wellness activities. We had to be flexible with the half-day guideline because on some days one partner needed more time. We took turns throwing each other life preservers when the darkness began to engulf.  We tried to be patient and be there for each other while also being open to asking for and receiving compassion.

Throughout the whole ordeal, we kept telling each other that we knew this move would be tough, but also brief, and that we didn’t want 18 days to ruin 50 years of partnership. We continue to discover new possibilities that will be useful years after COVID-19, and we seek to continue as partners living with a chronic disease.

Do you have any tips to share?


Note: Parkinson’s News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Parkinson’s News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Parkinson’s disease.


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