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How to keep your marriage healthy amid COVID-19 crisis

Relationship expert Dr. Julie Gottman shares strategies for keeping a happier home while under quarantine.

SEATTLE — Dr. Julie Gottman is the co-founder of the Gottman Institute and has studied the science of love for more than 40 years. She says the realities of COVID-19 can take a toll on our closest relationships.

"People who are constrained inside four walls or going to feels stressed over time, especially with the additional fear of getting sick or losing jobs. We know that stresses like this virus are terrible for relationships."

But there are things you can do to make a difference. She shared 5 tips with us that all center around how to have stress-reducing conversations: 

1. Listen

Your partner may feel anxious or really stressed, perhaps worried about finances. Gottman says one person must be the speaker. The other must listen or ask questions to better understand how their loved one is feeling.  "The job of the listener is not to fix the other person's problem or bring up their own problems," explains Gottman. 

2. Show empathy

Dr. Gottman says people often think empathy means showing pity or feeling sorry.  "It's not that at all", she says, "Empathy means guessing what your partner is feeling, naming it and then saying 'I get it', that makes perfect sense to me.  This is the best way to reduce our partner's stress because then they don't feel alone in their feelings." 

3. Look for what's right

Dr. Gottman says it's easy when stressed to hone in on what is annoying about your partner. She says resist the temptation and instead notice when your partner does something right and then call it out. For example, " You just made coffee for me. Thank you."

4. Express love

Let your partner know you find them beautiful, handsome, caring. Call out what you love about your partner, not just what they are doing. But their traits. "It's sweet, it's tender. It's a way of gesturing with love to your partner," according to Gottman. 

5. Timeouts work for adults, too

Gottman points out that with the COVID-19 crisis, arguments could get more heated.  She says it's important to know when to take a break. "Ask your partner to give you 30 minutes so you can calm down. Go to separate places and don't think about the fight. Don't think about your rebuttal. Don't even pray for an answer.  Instead, do something distracting. Read a book or listen to music. This is the only way your body can calm down where you are no longer in fight or flight.  You can think clearly again and return to the conversation with a different brain, explains Gottman. 

One last tip during conflicts, remember "I feel" statements. "Instead of saying you're too lazy. You can say 'the kitchen is a mess again. I'm feeling upset. Would you please clean it up for me'?" 

We asked Dr. Gottman if there was anything else we should consider during this time and she wanted to encourage everyone to allow yourself the freedom to be a little crazy right now.

"Experiment with cooking, painting, singing crazy songs, whatever is fun, playful, and delicious." It's a way to have fun and be creative even while restricted to four walls.  For more resources on this topic, check out the Gottman Institute's website.

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