Are marriages a casualty of the pandemic?
To say that COVID19 has many far-reaching consequences than just the impact on health and the economy would be an understatement. While many social issues are unravelling as a result of the pandemic, stress, fear, and anxiety have also caused many couples to rethink their relationships, with many opting for divorce.
How is it that a pandemic can severe relationships and tear families apart?
To be fair, all relationships has its share of ups and downs. But during the unprecedented pandemic, the emotional and financial burden experienced became too much to bear.
With many couples being stuck in the house, homeschooling children, and facing added financial uncertainty, the strain on struggling relationships became more evident and further exposed issues that run deeper.
For the first time, couples with underlying relationship issues are being forced to confront each other with nowhere to hide as activities and routines that used to offer an escape to go away and regenerate are either limited or no longer accessible. This causes even further stress.
The fact of the matter is, men and women react very differently in stressful situations. They also have differing coping mechanism. When couples do not understand what they are dealing with, the breakdown happens as a result of misinterpreting it.
Biologically when the body experiences stress, it releases a number of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline increases your heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boosts energy supplies. Cortisol, referred as the ‘stress hormone” produces the body’s natural “fight or flight” response. Here lies the problem though, the body does not know the difference between being in danger and being stressed out.
When couples talked about unrealistic expectations or COVID or quarantine, their bodies automatically interpret it as dangerous. Interestingly, this fight or flight response causes men and women to react differently.
In men, it signals the production of testosterone to counter the built-up of stress.
Men cope with stress by resting, relaxing and forgetting about the problems of the day. For example, when men sit and watch a football game on TV, their body is literally rebuilding testosterone levels.
But unlike men, women are not able to just shut off once work is done. In their mind’s eye, they have an inexhaustible list of items to be checked out. Just anticipating what she has to do upon returning home at the end of the day, is enough to have her stress level shoot up even higher than at work!
In times of stress, women cope by turning towards nurturing activities and by connecting with others. A stressed-out woman needs to talk about what’s bothering her because bonding and nurturing type of activities stimulates the release of the brain hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin, fondly known as the love hormone, helps lower stress in women by counterbalancing the effects of cortisol.
To put it simply, both genders are looking for their emotional needs to be met as a coping mechanism for stress – For women, her emotional needs for affection, sharing, romance and intimate communication, along with the increased need for independence and self- expression, creates more oxytocin; while for men, the need to feel successful and appreciated for their attempts to fulfill their partner’s emotional needs along with their own needs for increased independence and self-expression helps with testosterone building.
The differing coping mechanism from both genders occasionally causes friction in the relationship, but COVID19 came along and blew things wide open. Couples who are not equipped to handle these dissimilarities will likely not see their relationship last during difficult times.
Relationships are a two-way street. It takes two to tango. Here are some relationship insights and communications tools to support couples to experience greater connection and intimacy together:
- Behind every complaint is a request for a need – something that he or she wants. Be open to listen to it.
- Your partners are not mind readers. Be specific with your requests.
- When a request is not handled or met, set up a safe space to talk about it. Do not bottle things up!
- Men bask in accomplishment and success. They have one purpose in a relationship, and that is to make their woman happier. Remember that!
- Men perceive complaints as their partners being unhappy. When men don’t believe that they can be successful in making their partners happier in the relationship, they stop trying. In his mind’s eye, he is thinking, “ I’m not going do that because no matter what I do, she will not be happy.”
- The best way to support a man (when his testosterone level is low) is just leave him alone.
- Women can increase their oxytocin level by practicing self-care.
- Women do not like to ask for help. But here’s what’s interesting. When you ask for help – oxytocin is produced. A lot of women don’t want to ask for help because they want to feel independent. It’s not about needing the man. It’s about asking for help! The minute you asked for his help, his testosterone goes through the roof (men needs to feel needed).
- When a woman feels alone or ignored or unsupportive or rushed or overwhelmed – her oxytocin is low. So men, take it as a cue to go out of your way to be supportive, and be present to her needs. Offer a hug and asked about her day so that she can offload her stress. You’ll be pleasantly surprise how these simple gestures can do wonders for her.
When you are stressed, your hormones are out of balance. The secret to improving relationships, is understanding how men and women cope with stress. By learning these powerful tools in communication, couples have the opportunity to find harmony and fulfillment.
About the authors: Terence Tan and Jacy Wee are Certified Mars Venus Relationship Coaches. Together with Jeamie Lee, they have co-authored an e-book titled The Dance of Intimacy- 3 Steps to Rekindle Intimacy with Your Partner.
Find out more about their course on “Build Better Relationships: How Stress Affects Men and Women” at this link: https://emotebreakthrough.com/courses/improve-your-relationship-how-stress-affects-men-women/