• Pandemic Problem Solving

    While the coronavirus pandemic is not necessarily causing relationship problems, it can aggravate existing issues. Increased proximity and overtaxed patience make it difficult for some couples to cope. Now is a good time to “level up” and become a problem-solving power couple with advice from a couples therapist.

    “Couples typically get ‘stuck’ on issues around finances, health, kids and school,” says John Gallagher, M.A., of couplestherapyorlando.com. “All of those things have been intensified by the pandemic, but usually it’s not problem-solving skills that are the issue. Rather, it’s the partners not feeling a strong emotional connection.

    “When one or both partners see an issue as a win-lose or are competing to prove who’s right, that’s when problem solving breaks down. One of the strengths of the couple is you’re engaged in it together — two minds with different perspectives working to solve the problem,” Gallagher says.

    Gallagher practices Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT) and has three tips for couples navigating contentious issues:


    Tip #1: Choose Your Time and Place

    “When couples have a problem, they often fail to set a specific time and place to discuss it,” he says. “The time and place choose them, and they may not be in a moment where they’re able to put their energy into it. They may be dealing with other things, such as someone has to do online school or go to work. One partner confronts the other — why didn’t this bill get paid? — and the discussion is already off to a bad start.”

    So, the first tip is to choose your time and choose your place to have a discussion. Pick a time when you’re likely to have some privacy, such as a nap time, after the kid’s bedtime or before the day starts.


    Tip #2: Connect Before You Converse

    “Second, before you get into the nuts and bolts of problem solving, spend some time connecting emotionally: Show some appreciation for the other, share a positive feeling or a more vulnerable emotion, like a fear — a fear of what you’re about to do. That sets the climate. If the couple can make and maintain that connection, even if things get rocky, the chances of successful problem solving are much better.


    Tip #3: Have a Plan B

    “Third, have a plan you both agree on if you do get stuck. For example, you could agree to take a break and set a time and place to revisit the issue. Without that plan, if you get stuck and one partner walks away, the other may perceive it as an insult or a sign that they’re not important.”

    Maintaining an emotional connection throughout the process is key,” Gallagher says, “and that need is rooted very deeply in our psyches.”


    Avoid Primal Panic

    “If you look at our evolutionary history,” he says, “we require emotional connection to feel safe. Cave people alone were weak animals and not at the top of the food chain. Or, look at child rearing, which can require parenting for 20 years. Our programming says we need connection with others. If we’re not connected or our relationship feels threatened in the moment, we can experience primal panic. To try to connect, we may do things that look confusing to the other partner — like yelling, asking questions, approaching.”

    While Gallagher believes most couples have the skills to overcome such challenges, an EFT-trained therapist may be able to help if tensions are building. “A couples therapist helps them expand their awareness of what’s inside them and between them, and helps them share things,” he says. “Once they learn to connect emotionally in those rocky moments, they don’t need me anymore.”

    If you’re experiencing frequent or serious problems in your relationship, you can receive Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy in person or online via teletherapy. Visit couplestherapyorlando.com — or call 407-579-2070 for a free consultation or more information.

    Therapy services available via Telehealth.