Managing Relationship Stress During the Pandemic

Managing Relationship Stress During the Pandemic

Living in quarantine with your significant other isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Some days or moments can be really tough. Our host’s wife, Sue Hallowell, LICSW, joins Ned for a conversation about the ups and downs of married life when neither partner can leave the house. They share some real examples of the struggles they’ve encountered over the past few weeks, and offer ideas on how to manage parenting, jobs, and relationships when you’re stressed to the max.

Reach out to us! Write an email, or record a message using the voice memo app on your phone and send it to [email protected]

Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is Sarah Guertin (@sarahguertin) and our recording engineer/editor is Pat Keogh.

Learn more about our newest sponsor, OmegaBrite CBD! Dr. Hallowell takes the supplement every day because it’s safe, 3rd party tested, and it works. Shop OmegaBrite CBD online at OmegaBriteWellness.com.

Do you know a high school or college student with ADHD or other learning difference? Tell them about our sponsor, Landmark College, in Putney, Vermont. It’s the college of choice for students who learn differently. Find out more HERE.

Check out this episode!

A transcript of this episode is below:

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

This episode of Distraction is sponsored by OmegaBrite CBD, formulated by OmegaBrite Wellness, creators of the number one Omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. OmegaBrite CBD, safe, third party tested, and it works. Shop online at omegabritewellness.com. And by Landmark College, offering comprehensive support for students with ADHD and other learning differences. Learn more at lcdistraction.org. Landmark College, the college of choice for students who learn differently.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

You have a couple who are already struggling with day-to-day life with each other and all of a sudden they’re both trying to work from home, if they’re lucky enough to have jobs. If they have children, their children are all at home, supposedly doing their homework or we’re learning whatever they’re supposed to be learning, and you’re all trying to manage that and there’s absolutely no way to get away from each other. And so it can be a really challenging time for couples to figure out how to manage all that.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Hello, this is Dr. Ned Hallowell and welcome to Distraction. Every time I have a guest on, I always say this is a very special guest and in fact all our guests are very special, so I’m not exaggerating. But I think today’s guest does qualify as the most special guest. It’s a repeat appearance, but each time this guest comes on this guest does qualify as the most special guest we ever have on this podcast. Now who do you suppose that is?

Well, of course it’s none other than my own very special and only wife by the name of Sue Hallowell. In case you don’t know, Sue is a licensed independent clinical social worker, otherwise known as LICSW, and truly the most skilled therapist that I know. Nobody does it better than Sue when it comes to psychotherapy. She also manages this family and believe me, even though our kids have grown up and moved out, they still need managing, she manages me, which believe me, even though I’m grown up and not moved out, still need managing, and she manages the office that we have in New York City and helps out with the office in Sudbury and tonight she’s going to make a special dinner of tamales, which she already gave me the recipe for this-

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Enchiladas.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Enchiladas. Oh, Tamales, Enchiladas, Tacos, all the same thing. But I’m not skilled enough to know. Anyway, she and I are at home in our house in Arlington doing the quarantine thing that one is supposed to do. But I persuaded her, at the very last minute, she had no idea she was going to do this, to come on the podcast because we get feedback whenever she comes on that she is indeed the best guest that we could ever have. So, with no further ado or introduction or babbling on my part, let me introduce my wonderful wife of 31 years, mother of our three children, Sue George Hallowell.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Hi, honey.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Hi, Sue. You’re down in the kitchen and I’m up on the third floor. So Sue, we agreed that we would talk about how it is to live together as a couple where one person has ADD, namely me, and the country has a pandemic of the coronavirus. Is that what we agreed to talk about?

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Well, or when one or both people have ADHD or couples in general. What it’s like to be together when you’re struggling already, or maybe even not struggling, and living together in this crazy time.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yes. And just so our listeners know, Sue actually does a private practice and specializes in couples therapy where one or both partners have ADD.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Well, also I see other couples as well.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yes, yes, you have a veterinary practice on the side, right?

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

No, but I do see people who don’t have ADHD, I’d just like to be clear.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yes, yes. You’re a full service general practice LICSW.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Yes.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

And you see me every day.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

I see you every day.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

So you see individual patients as well. Somehow you keep me kicking along. So how would you like to jump in? What do you think is the greatest stress on couples now on top of the ADD with the pandemic that we’re living with?

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Well, I think that all of the challenging traits that we have are exacerbated when you’re living under stressful circumstances and when you can’t get away from each other, both of which are true during this pandemic. So, you have a couple who are already struggling with day to day life with each other and all of a sudden they’re both trying to work from home, if they’re lucky enough to have jobs. If they have children, their children are all at home, supposedly doing their homework or learning whatever they’re supposed to be learning. And you’re all trying to manage that and there’s absolutely no way to get away from each other and so it can be a really challenging time for couples to figure out how to manage all that.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Wouldn’t you say a first suggestion would be to reduce your expectations? It’s only normal to feel irritated and irritable and short tempered and try to cut each other some slack?

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

I think that is clearly the number one answer. Everybody is feeling stressed and cutting expectations is really important and being kind to each other. But I think that one of the key things is that we have to reduce our personal expectations. I think that a lot of people are feeling like they have to be functioning at the same level that they always function.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

I think that when you have those expectations for yourself, then you are going to have those same expectations for your partner. And when that happens, tension is going to ensue. So, one of the things that we always talk about, Ned, I know one of the things that you always talked about, is good enough. And I think that during this time that has to really be the key statement.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Everything has to be good enough. We can’t expect ourselves to be able to be perfect parents, perfect workers, and perfect partners at this time. Wonder if we gave ourselves permission to say, “Maybe I’m not going to be giving 100% at work.” Or, “Maybe I’m not going to be that 100% perfect parent who has their child’s day perfectly mapped out with enriching activities and no screen time.” I think that we have to give each other a break.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Okay. Hang onto that thought.

I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about a new product created by one of our sponsors, OmegaBrite, and it is their OmegaBrite CBD. I started taking it myself about a month ago and it really does make a difference in terms of creating a general feeling of calm. And it is in fact organically grown. The product was derived by careful research done by Dr. Carol Locke, who’s a Harvard Medical School graduate and faculty member.

And I know because I’ve known her for a long time, she has a true and honest commitment to excellence. Now the background of the CBD, OmegaBrite had been making the Omega-3 fatty acid product for 20 years and they had, I think, the best product in the business. And now they’re getting into CBD, which as Carol said, it’s like the West out there.

So, she wanted to do it carefully and deliberately, which she did. And they have set the standards for purity, as I said, organically grown, free of pesticides, safety, rigorous testing standards and inherence, and that’s Carol’s absolute trademark. And most important, I suppose, efficacy. Does it help? Yes, it does. I’m here to tell you, it helps. So go to OmegaBriteWellness.com and look for OmegaBrite CBD. You’ll be glad you did.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Well, you’ve been very good at giving me a break over the weekend. I was saying, “I have to work on this book cause I got to get this book done.” And you were saying, “No, you really should take a rest. You can’t push yourself too hard these days.”

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

That’s right. That’s right. You’ve been seeing a lot of patients. You’ve been seeing so many people and working so hard and I think that when you put that kind of stress on yourself, you start to take it out on other people. I think also it’s really important for people to really acknowledge the importance of each other’s work and each other’s time, right?

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

You really try to work out a schedule for each other that is realistic for both of you. Understanding that these children need to be taken care of, but if you’re both working, it can’t fall on one or the other. It’s going to require some kind of schedule or managing it that’ll work for both of you. Trying to take some downtime and just have fun.

I have a client who basically has been under so much stress, she has been working and then basically just wanting to go to bed because she’s so exhausted and then she lies in bed fretting and anxious and can’t sleep. I said, “Look, watch a mindless TV show. Have a glass of wine and chat with your college age adult children.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Why don’t you tell the listeners the ritual that you and I have developed after dinner?

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Well, we go into our living room where I’m trying to maintain six feet away from Ned at all times since I was in New York City and I’m quarantining myself. And we watch a movie every night. We alternate because in good couples practice, he likes action, adventure, and I like comedies, particularly romantic comedy, mindless things. And we’re alternating. It’s something that in our day to day life, I’m working late or he’s working late or we’re both so busy, that we often get into bed at 10:00 or 11:00 o’clock and I fall asleep immediately. But now we’re trying to set aside our evening to sit down and watch a show together, which gets our minds off of the day and all the challenges. It lets us and have fun and we’re spending some really nice time together.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

As well as arguing about the choice of movies.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Well, that’s why we’re alternating.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

I liked a couple of the rom coms we watched.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

There you go.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

You definitely did not like one of the action adventure we watched.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

No, but I’ve liked some of them and that’s awesome.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Yeah, and you did hang in there. You dozed off but you, you hung in there. But it’s nice just being with you and I think you don’t have to be necessarily in conversation just to be with your partner, what have you. Just the connection is good to enjoy.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

I think that’s exactly right. I think that’s exactly right. And getting outside. If there’s a place around you, can walk without many people, just to get some fresh air is so important. Another issue that I find that’s coming up with couples who are in the house all the time together, particularly around parenting, but other things as well, is that if they have different ways of doing things and they’re trying to share responsibilities, it’s hard not to interfere with what the other person is doing.

I had a couple the other day and when the dad is on, when he’s doing the parenting, the mom is up supposedly working, but they have different ideas about what’s important. She’s very into the child has to be on a schedule and the child has to eat vegetables and the child has to exercise and the dad thinks all that’s important too, but the kid is pretty difficult and he thinks maintaining a relationship with the kid is more important and he has to pick his battles about what he’s fighting with.

And how do you let parents, even though they’re in the same house and closer than they are at other times when you don’t see with the other parent is doing, really understand that you have to divide up those duties? And when one is on the other has to let the other one do it, whether it’s the way you would do it or not.

Giving them the autonomy even if you have to hide upstairs. There was another couple who I was talking about where the worry is, is that the mom would never be able to work because as soon as the children see her, they want mom. And these are littler kids so you’re able to do this. And there was a lot of tension developing between the couple because the mom was like, “Why can’t you just keep the kids away? I need to work too.” And the dad said, “Once they see you they don’t want to be with me and that’s a problem.”

And so the solution they came up with was the mom gets up really early before the kids, goes and hides up in her office, and doesn’t come back until 2:00 o’clock that they really feel like that she’s not there in a very different kind of way. So, it’s how can you be resilient? How can you think outside the box during this time to be able to get each other through and be supportive of each other?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

You can take care of things that maybe you’ve been putting off. Just before we came on the podcast, you and I did something that we’d been meaning to do for 20 years, namely update our wills. So, we got this attorney on the line. Last time we spoke to him was 1999 and we were sort of sheepish about it. But we slogged away at updating the will. I do think it was sort of ironic that during a pandemic we’re updating our will, but let’s hope that’s not anticipating any terrible event. But the point being you can take care of things that maybe you’ve been putting off taking care of.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Well, I also think that it’s about what are your priorities, right? And thinking through what our priorities are and what’s important in life. I was in a peer supervision that I do and we were talking about what are the silver linings? When we slow down, if we give ourselves permission to slow down and not rush, maybe there are points of connection that we can make that we’re too busy to do and enjoy both ourselves and our children in a way that we normally aren’t.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Getting things done we haven’t, you and I were talking about how we watch TV. I will say one of the most interesting things to me is I have seen in our neighborhood more families out walking or biking together than I think I’ve seen in my entire life.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

People of all ages.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

People of all ages. And I think that that’s a positive thing and really understanding, I have had some people say, “You know, we could die. People could get sick and do I really hate you as much as I think? Are you really as annoying as I think you are? What are the things that did bring us together?” And I do think that the slowing down may give us an opportunity to be able to do that.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

All right, we’re going to pause right here for just a moment.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Joining me now is Scout MacEachron, a former student at Landmark College, our wonderful sponsor in beautiful, beautiful, bucolic Putney, Vermont. So Scout, thank you for joining us for a couple of minutes. And could you please just tell us about your experience at Landmark College and why it worked for you?

Scout MacEachron:

Sure. Happy to be here. So, I attended Landmark from 2011 to 2012, I graduated with my associates degree and I ended up at Landmark after failing, for lack of a better word, out of traditional college. I’m diagnosed with ADHD and mild dyslexia and a few other learning disabilities. And yeah, regular college wasn’t working so well for me. So, I ended up at landmark where it was just unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I was suddenly surrounded by a bunch of other kids who thought differently, like I did, and a bunch of teachers and staff who were really well equipped to be supportive in a way that I would think most traditional college professors and what have you might not be.

So, it really helps me, boosted my confidence I think would have been one of the primary, biggest things that I left Landmark with. Also just all those basic skills that might come easily to some but not all of us, like writing a college essay or managing your time outside of class. Really all of that, I found support for there and was taught how to do in a gentle but firm way and I graduated with straight A’s and went on to finish my BA and I’m at a different school in New York and yeah.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Wow. What are you doing now?

Scout MacEachron:

So, I’m a journalist. I’m a video producer for a company called Now This News.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Oh, cool. Based in New York City?

Scout MacEachron:

It is, yeah. Although I’m based in LA. We make news videos for social media.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Oh my gosh, that’s wonderful. So, Landmark really turned it around for you.

Scout MacEachron:

It really did. I went in there hating college. I’d spent some time working as a waitress and I thought I wanted to be a photographer and I really just didn’t think college was for me. But after Landmark, I just left with this whole new found sense of confidence and I actually enjoyed the things that I was learning again. And I remember reading a book for school for the first time and actually enjoying it and finishing it and not just telling my teacher I finished it. It was a great place for me.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

That’s a wonderful. I’m a huge fan. In fact, I have an honorary degree from Landmark College.

Scout MacEachron:

Oh wow, that’s neat.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

I’m a big fan of it. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story and I know firsthand that there are many, many, many more stories like yours, but there’s nothing like hearing it from the actual person.

Scout MacEachron:

Absolutely. Well, thank you for having me.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

If you’d like to learn more about the college of choice for students who learn differently, namely Landmark College in beautiful Putney, Vermont, go to lcdistraction.org. That’s Landmark College, to learn so much more, and our thanks to Scout MacEachron for so eloquently representing what Landmark College can do for you.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

So, do you hate me as much as you think you do?

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Oh, stop.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

But I am as annoying as you think I am, I’m aware of that.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

You can be be annoying, and I’m sure I can be annoying too.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

No, you’re never annoying. One of the things whenever Sue and I do these podcasts together, she always wants to be sure that we don’t make it sound as if we’re the perfect couple, that we acknowledge that we do argue and can annoy one another and I think that’s true.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Well, we do and I think that’s important because, again, I think the message has to be is we all have these challenges and it’s how do we manage them and how do we try to get through them in the best way we can.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

I will say, one of the advantages of having ADD is a tendency to focus and get organized in times of crisis. So, I have found myself a little bit more energized during this period, a little bit more focused than I normally am. I don’t know if you’ve noticed that.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

You definitely have. And that really has been interesting that you’ve been able to do that. And I think you’re right, it might be the high stimulation of it being a bit more of a crisis, because I do think that for some people with ADD, one of the challenges has been the lack of structure of being home.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

And I think that particularly if people … if your job is increased because of this. If you’re extremely busy, like you Ned, you’re seeing lots of patients who are very anxious and upset or I have a client who works in communications around the virus, so then I think that this sort of high stim pushing it is easy. But for some people their job, don’t have a job, or their job is much less busy because they’re working from home.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

And I think that that can be a challenge to figure out how to develop routines or how to develop structure if you’re not good at doing that by nature. And that, again, can cause stress between couples if one person is very structured and wants you to be more structured or if one is working very hard at their job and needs a lot more structure and you’re struggling with that lack of structure. That’s a real challenge for people.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

How do you advise people to work that out?

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Well, I think it’s really hard because if it’s someone without ADHD you say, “Well, develop a routine, develop a structure for yourself.” But we know that that’s not always easy for people with ADHD because they don’t have those internal structures and they really rely on external structures and they bristle when someone tries to set up a structure, I.E. their partner tries to set up some structure for them.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

So, this is really tough and what I really try to do with people is to help them come to grips with what they struggle with themselves. So, if I can get a person with ADHD who struggles with setting up a structure for themselves or having that internal way of setting it up, if instead of them getting angry and defensive about it or feeling criticized, if I can really help them understand that this isn’t a bad thing about them, it’s just a fact.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

And what kind of strategies or how can they rely on the help from others to be able to set up some kind of structures so that everybody feels better? Because I find that if you can help people take responsibility for what they do well and don’t do so well without making it such a big deal.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Or that without shame.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Without shame or externalization, without blaming other people for trying to make them be something they’re not, or internal shame, then it’s easier to come up with some easy structure. It has to be a structure that can work for them. Not a structure that other people think is a way that they should be structured. And they have to also understand the impact on their partner, right.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

If instead of it just being a fight between the two of them, if they get to a conversation where, “Look, I know you’re not someone who easily structures yourself, but we’ve got these kids we’re having to develop some routine for. I’m trying to get my work done and it’s really hard if I don’t have your help in some sort of framework, and I then get more stressed and upset.” If it can be a conversation around impact and around what we struggle with, then you can get somewhere.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

And you mentioned earlier, make time for fun, make time for fun. You don’t think of this as being anything fun about it, but at the same time there’s no command that you have to be absolutely shut down, misery.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

In fact, it’s not good for you. To be shut absolutely shut down, misery. I know this sounds trendy and it’s what everybody says, but the more that you can find some ways to be grateful or my groups said today silver linings, the more that you can enjoy little moments, the better you’re going to be. Because if we get, like my client who was not allowing herself any fun, was just so pulled down by it, that doesn’t do well for anybody. It hurts her partner, it hurts her kids, and mostly it hurts herself.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

We have to try to push against that. And if it means that you let your children watch more TV than you normally would or play more video games so you and your partner can sit down and have a cup of tea or a glass of wine or just a few minutes to catch yourself, so be it. People are going to survive. But relationships can be damaged if you don’t take the time to try and nurture them, even in this time when it feels like there’s so much going on.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Well, I’m very, very grateful to have you in my life and our three children and I.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

And me to you.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

I’ve been feeling that way every day. We’ve been together an awful lot and our nightly movies are a lot of fun, even though we don’t always agree on the choice of the movies. But I think you’re right, a time to feel gratitude in the midst of feeling oppressed and deprived and denied. I love the silver linings that you pointed out, and that’s not to be Pollyanna. We acknowledge that it’s that it’s terrible. Absolutely terrible. People are dying and losing their jobs and their businesses and their livelihoods. It’s terrible. But at the same time, it’s not uniformly relentlessly terrible. And to find the, as you said, the silver linings. And Sue, you are a huge silver lining in my life and thank you so much.

Sue Hallowell, LICSW:

Thank you, honey. I always love to come on.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:

Okay. Remember to reach out to us with your comments. A lot of you have commented on these COVID-19 check-ins and we love hearing from you. We had a bunch of emails. So please send us an email. Send it to [email protected]. Share your stories and thoughts. Write an email or record a voice memo and send it to us.

Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our recording engineer and editor is my dear friend and wonderful colleague, Pat Keogh, and our producer is the delightful, effervescent, and always brilliant and imaginative, Sarah Guertin.

The episode of Distraction you just heard was sponsored by OmegaBrite CBD, formulated by OmegaBrite wellness, creators of the number one Omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. OmegaBrite CBD. Safe, third party tested, and it works. Shop online at omegabritewellness.com.

Share:

3 Comments

  • Adam wiley Posted April 16, 2020 6:21 am

    It is perfectly understandable if you’re stressed! Anything that threatens you and your loved ones is a threat. It is natural to worry and you are not alone https://truecoverage.com/blog/5-ways-to-manage-the-stress-during-pandemic-covid-19/. You just need to take control over your fears and be safe from the coronavirus by following the necessary precautions.

  • joyce michele Posted May 1, 2020 6:43 pm

    Sadly I cannot finish reading this your fancy skinny font is annoyingly much too thin and much too light. My loss

    • Sarah Guertin Posted May 5, 2020 5:16 pm

      I’m sorry to read this! Perhaps you can change the font on your computer as I’m not sure what the issue could be? Or you can always copy the text into a word document and change the font to whatever you like! 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

Add Comment

Leave a Reply to Adam wiley Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *