Love in the Time of COVID-19: Coping With Separation From a Partner

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a drastic impact on all of our daily lives. While many can stay at home with their partners, other couples are separated indefinitely while restrictions on travel are in effect, or as a means to prevent transmitting the virus to a partner who is especially vulnerable to developing a critical illness. It can feel especially isolating to be apart from a partner at a time like this when we most need support from loved ones, especially when the duration of the separation is unknown. Here are some tips for managing this difficult situation:

1. Find ways to maintain your connection while you are apart

Some things to consider:

– Technology now offers a variety of ways to engage with someone remotely. In addition to phone calls and video chats, consider multiplayer online games as an option. These are not limited to traditional video games. Some of these games allow you to simulate playing a board game or completing a puzzle together!), or websites that will enable you to stream the same video together. 

– Rituals can feel grounding at a time like this; consider having a shared mealtime or coffee over video chat, or making a point to wish one another good morning and good night each day. 

– If possible, consider having some of your partner’s favourite snacks or other things they enjoy delivered to them.

– Discuss what each of you needs when it comes to communication. What works best for each of you in terms of scheduling and other commitments? Having a conversation together helps to mitigate the chances of misunderstandings and hurt feelings in this stressful time.

2. Take things one day at a time

It is natural to worry about how long it will be before you can see your partner again, or what the worst-case scenario could be. Still, these worries often contribute to high levels of stress while not helping us to adapt to the situation at hand, especially as it has been rapidly evolving. What can you and your partner do to keep yourselves safe while staying connected today and in the near future? What are the things you can be grateful for, even in these challenging times?

3. Take time to speak about your concerns about the pandemic and how it will impact you or others

Understand that your partner may have very different concerns from your own, as this pandemic is having a range of impacts on people. Some may be worried about their health or the health of loved ones, others may be struggling with lost work or other financial difficulties, and still, others may be distressed about missing important events. Be sure to take time to talk about these concerns so that you can support and validate one another.

4. Take time to speak about literally anything else

While it can be challenging to maintain a sense of normalcy and to maintain your connection as a couple, it’s also important to talk about things other than the pandemic: different aspects of your daily lives, your hobbies, and interests, your hopes and wishes, etc. Consider whether there may be opportunities to talk more deeply about some of these things than you might typically, given the extended time apart and disruptions to your routines and way of life. While you may not be able to avoid a painful time away from your partner, are there ways you can use this time to develop your relationship in a new way?

5. If you live alone, identify others around you who can provide help if you need it (for example, if you are ill or otherwise self-isolating and need someone to run essential errands for you)

Our partners often take on these tasks for us, and it can be anxiety-provoking to be without them at a time when we may need such help; neighbours, extended family, friends, or coworkers may be able to help if asked. If you do not have a robust social network in your area, look into community resources that may be able to help those in need. If you are healthy, also consider whether you might be able to volunteer to provide help for others in your community.

The pandemic has spun the world into a challenging time, and it’s okay not to feel okay being away from your partner right now. In addition to these tips, be sure to take care of yourself and reach out for (and provide, as you are able) support from others in your life, to help cope with this difficult time.

Clinicians at CFIR can work with you to collaboratively set treatment goals to ensure that you or you and your partner’s concerns and needs are adequately addressed. Secure and confidential video and phone treatment options are available. Contact us today.

Dr. Tracy Clouthier, C.Psych. (Supervised Practice) is currently practicing under the supervision of Drs. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. and Aleks Milosevic, C.Psych at CFIR (Ottawa) provide psychological treatment and assessment services in both English and French to adult clients facing a variety of difficulties, including depression, anxiety, relationship challenges, concerns related to self-esteem and identity, difficulties with emotion regulation, trauma, and challenges adjusting to life transitions and other stresses.

7 Signs Your Relationship May Need Help

by: Joshua Peters, M.A., R.P.

Relationships have never been easy and now it seems we’re in a space and time where technology and the way we connect are continuously growing and changing. The intimacy we have with someone can mean so much, yet it seems we consistently struggle to maintain the bond. How can we know if we are “getting it right” in our partnerships?

In speaking about the complexity of our relationships, famed relationship expert, Esther Perel notes that “companionship, family, children, economic support, a best friend, a passionate lover, a trusted confidante, an intellectual equal […] we are asking from one person what an entire village once provided.” In this paradigm, it can be hard to understand when our partners and our relationships maybe failing us. 

Here are some signs that indicate your relationship may need some work:

1. Lack of Communication 

In a world bursting with ways to communicate, it may be surprising to learn that ineffective communication remains a common issue in relationships. It’s impossible for your partner to know all your needs, feelings, and thoughts without talking about them. Communication is essential in overcoming relationship wounds, and very few relationships can survive without it.

2. Arguing with No Repair

Though constant arguing can sometimes be indicative of relationship distress – unrepaired conflict may be the real culprit. Arguments, when done sympathetically, are an essential part of relationship satisfaction. Repairing from a dispute allows partners to accept each ones’ differences and re-establish their love for one another. 

3. Loss of Curiosity

We are continually growing and changing as individuals and it crucial we remember to remain curious about our partners as they grow. The experience of curiosity and surprise is one of the essential processes in maintaining long-term desire. Partners in healthy relationships are happy to explore their partner’s unique perspective of the world.

4. Mind Reading

This familiar refrain, “Look, I know you’re angry…” exposes a common misstep in many relationships. Often experienced in conjunction with a loss of curiosity, partners start assuming they are always in each other’s “bad books” even before a problem is revealed. Stay tentative about your perceived experience of your partner, especially in times of distress. You might be surprised by the difference between how they feel and how you thought the feel!

5. Loss of Priority

It can be hard to find a balance between work, children, friends, and family in today’s busy world. How you prioritize your relationship may look different to you, so it’s crucial that you discuss this with your partner. Failure to explore this in a discussion could leave your partner feeling unloved and unimportant. 

6. No Hurt – Only Anger

When we’re most distressed it may feel instinctive to get angry. Though anger is an important emotion in that it tells us something isn’t working, it isn’t usually helpful in resolving conflict. Instead, opting to express our more vulnerable and hurt emotions allows our partner to understand and ultimately care for us when necessary. 

7. Blaming your partner

It takes two to tango! Though one partner may sometimes be experiencing more distress, it’s beneficial to recognize that your relationship is co-created by both of you. Take note of how you may be contributing to the dynamic between you and your partner.

Couples experiencing any of these relationship difficulties at heightened levels may feel like they are insurmountable problems. However, exploring these issues can provide a needed check-in for your relationship. Moreover, what you discover can inspire you and your partner to reimage what your relationship could become. Couples therapy offers an excellent opportunity to explore these struggles and move towards growth. The skilled clinicians at CFIR can help you and your partner better understands your current distress and support you to build a more resilient and healthy relationship.

Improving Your Sex Life: How We Help You

by: Dr. Lila Z. Hakim, C.Psych. & Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.

Sexuality is an essential part of who we are. At CFIR, we promote healthy sexuality. A crucial first step is to ensure that individuals and couples have access to accurate information about sex and how our bodies work, and an understanding of the physical (e.g., contraception, sexually-transmitted infections) and emotional risks involved in expressing ourselves sexually. Healthy sexuality also suggests being comfortable with ourselves (i.e., liking our bodies, finding ourselves attractive, being aware of and accepting our desires and fantasies, feeling capable sexually, knowing our sexual boundaries and asserting our limits), being able to experience sexually arousing feelings, communicating our sexual desires, and engaging in satisfying intimate-sexual relations with others. 

Sexuality, however, can also be a source of great distress. Distress can occur when we do not have accurate knowledge or information or are experiencing sexual functioning problems or sexual and pornography addictions. Some of our sexual issues flow from a lack of, or inaccurate, learning about how our bodies actually function, or distress over fears of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections. A lack of knowledge can create anxiety about decisions and choices and sexual expressions. 

Sexual functioning problems related to desire, arousal, and orgasm are also a source of emotional distress for individuals and couples. The causes of such issues are vast. Sexual functioning is affected by a wide range of organic, biological, and medical issues, as well as social, cultural, and psychological factors. Some of us become overly consumed by negative thoughts and emotional reactions about oneself (e.g., our bodies, genitalia, sexual performance), or our sexual partner. We may also engage in relationship or sexual patterns that diminish arousal and the desire or interest in sex. Some individuals experience sexual pain or other difficulties during sexual intercourse due to a complex blend of physical or psychological factors. 

Some individuals will struggle with sexual or pornography addictions, including the use of internet porn, massage parlours, or risky sexual encounters. In these situations, individuals and their relationship partners may experience significant distress. Sexual functioning issues, regardless of their origins, can block an individual and couples from experiencing positive feelings, such as joy and pleasure, within the sexual aspect of the relationship. Sexual issues can also spill over into other aspects of the relationship, including emotional and physical intimacy. 

Psychologists and clinicians at CFIR have published research and theoretical articles in peer-reviewed journals, and written book chapters in the area of couple and sex therapy. We help you by providing a comprehensive psychological assessment to help you understand the causes of your sexual difficulties and then develop the most appropriate treatment plan to address underlying causes. We are well-informed about contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and the physical aspects of sexual functioning, and the psycho-social issues associated with these topics. We also support clients to develop sexual authenticity by helping them to clarify desires and remove blocks to the expression and assertion of their sexual needs in relationships. We also help to resolve sexual functioning issues to restore one’s sexuality as a source of joy, sensuous pleasure, and connection. 

The Sex Therapy Treatment Service at CFIR offers clients comprehensive assessment, psychotherapy, and counselling to address a wide range of relationship and/or sexual issues for both individuals and couples. Regarding treatment, we offer individual, couple, and group therapy to help you to develop stronger relationships, heal relationship injuries, improve or add new relationship skills (e.g., communication, problem-solving and negotiation skills), and address sexual issues that interfere with sexual satisfaction and fulfillment, regardless of sexual orientation. 

Read more about our Sex Therapy Treatment Service

CFIR OTTAWA is moving to its new home JULY 4TH, 2022. Click here for more details.