Mental Health: Couples at home during the pandemic

Mental Health: Couples at home during the pandemic

By Dr. Alan Leavens


Since we started this “shelter-in-place,” my husband has been driving me crazy. He’s restless, bored, anxious (although he wouldn’t admit that), and constantly wanting to be busy with activities that include me. I need some space. Help! What do I do?


We are experiencing a new and different way of life that involves far more inactivity and togetherness than we ever imagined. Couples typically share different life-space situations that include being together for periods of time and being apart for similar time lengths. When at least one person works (if not both), then there are 8-10 hours of being apart. This allows couples to look forward to getting together at the end of the day. But what if both are working from home or retired and not working from home? This situation requires some planning.


I’m a big believer in schedules. I believe that if people plan things, then they are more likely to make them happen than if left to chance or “spontaneity.” I would start with both members of a couple setting a schedule for themselves, then creating schedules together for meals, games, sex, conversation, whatever. Part of that schedule has to be separate time. Just because a couple is home together all day doesn’t mean they have to spend the majority of that time together. Some of that time may feel much more valuable and valued when they have been apart for a large part of the day, just as they were when they were working outside of the home.


It’s also very important to be able to let each other know what you want and what you need. That allows the other partner to respond with what he or she wants and needs. A meaningful conversation is far more effective than guessing or assuming, and I recommend that this conversation be scheduled! There’s no reason why couples can’t put aside an hour or two a week to discuss what is going on between them and what needs to be altered or changed. If both parties are willing to be honest about their feelings and their desires during this discussion, the success rate can be enormous.


It’s constructive to establish some rules and an outline of the talk. The first rule is that anything can be asked for and anything can be denied. But accepted or denied, the request needs to be acknowledged and addressed. The second rule is that the requester cannot be disparaged, criticized, demeaned, or punished in any way simply for making the request. Limit the time of your talk to one hour per week and agree that any open issues need to be resolved by the following week. I have a few more basic rules that I have used during my years of practice, but I’d like to hear your thoughts.


Alan Leavens Ph.D., is a California licensed Clinical Psychologist, living and working in SMA. For questions or concerns that you wish him to address, please

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