Surviving the Coronavirus: 9 Practical Steps for Couples

Couple sitting on the floor, drinking coffeeInstead of our usual date, we embarked on a nighttime adventure to Costco. It was the last task before my husband, Bob, and I hunkered down in our condo. We are both marriage and relationship therapists and made the decision to do sessions virtually for the next week or two.

COVID-19, the coronavirus or the novel coronavirus, also known as a pandemic, had arrived in the U.S. with a bang.

My thoughts raced: Do we already have it?

We are over 60, so we’re in the high-risk group with elderly people in their 80s and 90s. Wow, I never thought of myself or Bob as that old. We still work full-time, are in pretty good physical shape, and lead a very active life.

My next thought: Will we survive?

As marriage and relationship counselors, we see lots of couples as a team every day in our small, cozy office. Before we packed up to leave, I actually measured the distance between our chairs and the sofa where clients sit. To my dismay, it was only about 5 feet. The experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say we’re supposed to stay at least 6 feet away from others to minimize the risk of catching the virus.

Next, I wiped down door handles, bathroom fixtures, desks, office equipment, telephones, and anything else I could find that people may have touched. Our suite of five offices had more “surfaces” than I ever imagined. Was I overdoing it? I do have some obsessive tendencies.

I left each of the ten therapists who work in our suite a precious gift, a bottle of hand sanitizer.

I left each of the ten therapists who work in our suite a precious gift, a bottle of hand sanitizer. The bottle I’d placed in our waiting room somehow disappeared. Thank goodness I ordered them before all the stores were sold out.

9 Coronavirus Survival Tips for Couples

Back to survival. Bob and I had food, shelter, sanitizer, and so far, no symptoms of the virus. During the first 48 hours home, we immersed ourselves in “breaking news” to make sure we were fully prepared for the coronavirus onslaught. Of course, there was nothing else we could do to prepare. We did get one thing from watching all that news: anxiety and fear that went through the roof.

  • What was going to happen?
  • Were we getting the facts?
  • Were my elderly relatives going to die?
  • How would they cope with visitors not being allowed in their retirement community?
  • Should we see our millennial kids, since they might unknowingly carry the virus without symptoms?
  • Would we lose our entire nest egg since the stock market was down and our business might suffer?
  • Was this going to affect the election?

I could have obsessed for hours. I used my relaxation app and finally got to sleep, only to have dreams about other disasters.

This morning when we awoke, Bob and I decided we were going to stop freaking out and do what we tell our clients to do. Here are the nine practical steps we came up with to survive the coronavirus–for ourselves and for you:

1. Limit the amount of time you spend watching news.

We need to stay informed, but overdoing it is not healthy. Bob and I, like many of you, at times become obsessed with the news. We watch it hoping to hear something that will give us a sense of relief. However, that rarely happens. Watching too much news often creates more anxiety, fear, and helplessness.

We are choosing to tune in to one or two news shows per day and otherwise listen to music, find some shows to binge watch, or catch up on movies.

Decide how much news you need to watch.

2. Stay present and practice mindfulness.

We all tend to get stuck in our “what ifs,” and linger in the question. When my mind starts fixating on the “what ifs,” I answer the question.

Of course, the worst “what if” is, “What if I or a loved one get the virus and die?” Here is the answer I give myself: “If I die, I will have nothing to worry about,” and “Heaven forbid someone I love dies, I would have to bear the grief, and life would continue.” I don’t mean that to sound cold, but that answer helps me stop obsessing. Then I remind myself that the chances of the worst happening are low, and I bring my mind back to the present to focus on what I can control.

Being mindful means being fully present and aware of what is happening in the moment. Bob and I practice mindfulness and meditation.

3. Focus on gratitude.

When we’re in crisis, we tend to focus on the negative, which can lead to a general feeling of doom and gloom.

When we recognize this happening, we know we can refocus on what we are thankful for: my health today, my family members, my friends, my ability to work from home, having food and sanitizer. The list could go on.

Create your own gratitude list or journal.

4. Focus on what you can control.

When you catch yourself caught in the cycle of fear about what is out of our control, refocus on what you can do.

This morning I super cleaned our condo. I called family and friends. I decided to write this article. I made a decision to use this time to further our business and create some eBooks on relationships. I will practice the piano, one of things I never get to do.

Identify what you have control over. Then immerse yourself in those things.

5. Make a plan.

Bob and I brainstormed ways to use this time productively. We plan to do some projects at home that we never seem to prioritize. In addition, we are going to work on redoing our website and creating some products that couples can use.

Since we don’t want to go to the gym and my exercise classes were cancelled, we committed to doing some type of exercise daily.

We don’t have children at home, but I know many people do. Make a list of ways you can keep your kids productive and entertained. Talk to your partner and friends about ideas. Work with your partner to build in alone time for each of you.

Plan to make the best use of your time.

6. Schedule your activities.

When you create a schedule for yourselves and your kids, there is often a greater sense of organization. We are more likely to be productive when we have a schedule. If your kids are old enough, they can participate in creating this.

We are scheduling wake up time, work time, exercise time, movie time, and bedtime. It’s important to have a routine and stick to it. This is what we have control over, and it will help us stay focused on the present.

Post your daily schedule in the kitchen.

7. Offer to help others.

There is so much need out there. We called some of our neighbors, especially the ones who live alone, and told them to call on us if they need food or other supplies.

Being concerned and compassionate toward others stops the preoccupation with our own anxieties and puts the focus outside yourself. Connecting with others reminds us we are not alone. We are in this together.

Figure out who you can be of service to.

8. Have virtual dates with friends and family.

We thought we would have to cancel the dates we had planned with friends and family. Then I had an idea. We can keep those plans and have “virtual dates.” Using Skype or Zoom, we can actually prepare dinner and then have a meal and talk, “as if” we were out to dinner. Connection decreases feelings of isolation and gives us a greater sense of calm.

Make some virtual dates for yourself.

9. Love each other.

I’m referring to love as a verb. This is a great opportunity to connect with your partner, emotionally and sexually. Giving and receiving love is like food for the soul. And who knows, maybe in nine months we’ll have a generation of post-coronavirus baby boomers.

Let’s hope this pandemic gets under control and subsides sooner rather than later. In the meantime, use these steps and the support of neighbors, friends, family as well as your virtual therapist to get through this storm. The sun will eventually shine.

Start your search for a telemental health provider here.

© Copyright 2020 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, therapist in Owings Mills, Maryland

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Leslie

    Leslie

    March 16th, 2020 at 4:09 PM

    Leave it to you, Lori, to make some timely and productive suggestions!! Doing is far more therapeutic than just sitting, helpless and victimized. Making the most of the time we always wish for is here and now. I’ve been working on clearing clutter but stop when we start to binge on a show we meant to watch. I have priorities !!
    And, thank you , in advance, for the coveted hand sanitizer!! Who could have predicted how valuable this would be? It will have a special place in the office or in the home and a special place of gratitude. You are always so very thoughtful and helpful. And, I can say this after 20+ years of being suitemates!!
    Be well and safe and inject as much fun as possible!!

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    March 18th, 2020 at 2:18 PM

    Thanks so much for your kind words! We are working on other ways to support people through this crisis. It’s good for others and it’s also good for us. As we know the best medicine is staying connected. Stay well!

  • Debbie

    Debbie

    March 21st, 2020 at 7:23 AM

    Great article Lori!! Very practical and smart ideas. Just yesterday my husband was saying it’s time to turn the news off. I am prone to anxiety myself and having a posted schedule has always benefited me. I have heard other therapists talk about virtual meeting with family and friends. There is something powerful about seeing a friend’s or loved one’s face. We plan to Face Time a good bit. We will put it in our schedule:)

  • Lori W Hollander

    Lori W Hollander

    March 21st, 2020 at 10:14 AM

    Hi Debbie, Thank you for your response! Glad you are turning off or turning down the news. I, too, notice every time we watch, my anxiety meter goes up and when it is off, I can focus on being more productive and helping others. Yesterday I heard we need “Physical Distance and Social Connection”! A more accurate statement than social distancing. Stay well! Lori

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