Grieving All Types of Loss in COVID Times

What is grief?

There is a common understanding of grief: a deep sorrow that comes with the death of a friend or other loved one. And while this is one way in which grief can show up in our lives, grief isn’t necessarily only a process we go through after death. 

In fact, grief is really just the process of adjusting to a new normal after a major change or loss. 

What does that mean?

What that means, is that grief comes at all sorts of points in our lives. There are many types of loss that aren’t death that we should allow ourselves to grieve fully. These types of change or loss can be: 

  • A breakup or divorce
  • Moving away from a home you love
  • Losing a job 
  • Ending a friendship
  • Losing out on opportunities or experiences 
  • Planning for a major life change (moving, going to school, taking a new job), only for it to not work out in the end

All of these things are major changes and losses. While it may seem silly to grieve the loss of a job, grief is our natural emotional response to loss and not letting ourselves grieve the things that seem “less” than death or illness actually does us a disservice. Ignoring the grief that comes with all sorts of changes and loss doesn’t actually help us to move on from them–in fact just the opposite.  

What happens when we don’t let ourselves grieve?

When we don’t allow ourselves to grieve and mourn loss and change, it actually takes us longer to “get over” those things. Halting the process of grief doesn’t mean we skip over it, it just means we keep ourselves stuck in a place where we need to grieve, but are ignoring that emotional need. 

Disrupting our natural response to loss doesn’t erase the loss, and it doesn’t make the loss easier to deal with. And it can actually have major negative effects on our overall health and wellbeing including: 

  • Increased irritability
  • Persistent feeling of numbness
  • Increased likelihood of turning to self-harming behaviors
  • Physical illness 

Why this matters now

Right now as a culture we are experiencing a collective grief on multiple levels. 

There is the obvious grief that comes with so many friends, neighbors, family members, and community members getting sick or passing, but that isn’t the only way COVID-19 has created loss and change in our lives. 

Schools are closed which means high school students don’t get to attend their prom, or their graduation. Community events are being cancelled. The ways in which we connect with one another in the summer (concerts, local festivals and arts events) are being cancelled. Local businesses we love are suffering, changing the landscape of our community. 

And while they may seem like small problems in comparison to the widespread illness across the world–we are still allowed to grieve them. And in fact we should grieve them. 

They are important sacrifices to make in the current state of the world, and they are big losses that have an emotional impact on us. Try holding those thoughts in your head at the same time. 

If you are feeling sad because you cannot attend your graduation, or you had to postpone your wedding, or you won’t be able to visit friends from other places indefinitely, that is 100% valid. 

When we ignore the emotional impact these losses have on us and our mental health and wellbeing, we don’t help anyone. 

But when we sit with those losses and let ourselves feel them, the negative impact they have on us in the long run is lessened. Instead of carrying them with us always, we give ourselves space to feel and to heal. Without acknowledgment there is no space to feel, to heal, or to move on.  

So how can we let ourselves grieve these losses?

Stop ignoring your feelings because “others have it worse”:

Of course others have it worse. Others will probably have it worse, somewhere in the world. But ignoring your own feelings doesn’t actually help any of these people. 

Imagine a friend was telling you about losing a job they loved. Would you tell them to suck it up because others have it worse? Probably not. You would give them the space to be upset about losing something they loved. Give yourself that same space. 

Give yourself intentional time to sit with your feelings: 

Maybe you do this through journaling. Maybe you do this by talking it out with a friend. Maybe you do it by putting on sad music, and singing along loudly–recognizing your own feelings of grief and sorrow in the music without ignoring it or minimizing it. 

No matter how you decide to sit with your feelings, really be intentional about it. Don’t gloss over what you’re feeling. Give space (through a journal or a conversation with a friend) to say exactly how you’re feeling. Getting it out, expressing it in some way, helps to lessen the burden of it.

-Lindsay N. Sanner, LSCSW, RPT

Tips to Help Couples Get Along While Both Working From Home

Raise your hand if your life looks totally different right now than it did three months ago. Us too! With the current COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all just trying to manage the best we can, but it’s natural to feel frustrated and overwhelmed by the circumstances. Most of us aren’t used to being cooped up at home, especially if we’re quarantining at home with a partner. Even in the happiest relationships, couples need to spend some time apart, and stay at home orders have made alone time a rare commodity. Things can get especially stressful when you and your partner are both working from home – not only do you have the normal stresses of work, you have to do it while figuring out how to deal with your partner’s presence.  Usually, home is a place where we can go to relax from the stresses of the world, but being stuck at home takes away that option, especially for folks who are also working from home and quarantining with a partner. 

Working from home is the reality for millions of people right now. Even though working at home sounds pretty great (you can work and pet your animals at the same time!), it is actually trickier in practice than in theory. 

When you work at home, it can be hard to maintain boundaries between work and your personal life. It can be tricky to motivate yourself without the hustle and bustle of your workplace around you. You might have a hard time focusing on work while there’s so much else going on right now. It’s also hard to get used to working with someone new, even if it’s just your partner working in the other room. If you’re having a hard time dealing with the adjustment to working from home at the same time as your partner, you’re not alone. 

Remember, we’re not just working at home right now, we’re working at home through a global pandemic. Be gentle with yourself during this time – if you’re struggling that’s nothing to be ashamed of.  

Here are some ways to make working from home together go more smoothly: 

  1. Minimize distractions
    1. If you’re both working from home, you probably have more distractions than you normally do in the office. When you need to get into work mode, it’s easier to do so if you have a set space to work with minimal distractions. If space is tight, it’s totally fine to work from bed or the couch (not everyone has a home office ready to go!). Just make sure you take a look around and remove anything that could be distracting to you. Put your phone on “do not disturb”, turn off the TV, close the blinds if the outdoors is too distracting. It might also be helpful to work in a completely different space from your partner. Coworking sessions can be productive, but it can also be distracting to have your partner across the room from you while you’re trying to focus. See if you can split up who gets which space so you have a plan, and then stick to it. 
  2. Talk about what you each need to concentrate
    1. You might have a totally different work style from your partner. Some folks like to listen to music or have background noise, while others need silence to get things done. Talk about the ways you focus at the office and see how you can adapt them to your home office. Can you turn on a fan for white noise? Does wearing headphones mean you are in “Do not disturb” mode? If your door is closed, can you be interrupted? Go over the hypotheticals so you have a better idea of what to do when issues come up. 
  3. Don’t forget to spend time together
    1. Yes, you’re home with your partner all day, but spending all day in the same building doing different things doesn’t necessarily mean you’re connecting with your partner. Set aside time after work (or before, whatever works for you!) to spend quality time together, with no talk of work and no agenda other than to connect with one another. Even if you’ve both had long days and you just sit with each other cuddling after work, taking the time to focus on intimacy can be helpful.
  4. Make sure everyone has their own supplies
    1. Getting work done might be impossible if you’re sharing your work resources or supplies with your partner. Make sure everyone has their own computer (or if you don’t, set up a schedule so it’s clear who gets the computer and when), pens, paper, chargers, and anything else they need to get their job done. 
  5. Talk about how to talk to each other
    1. Communication! It’s the best. Before you jump into a work day together, talk about how you will communicate during the work day. If you’re home together, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be talking to your partner all day. Some people don’t like disruptions while they work, so figure out if that’s the case before you jump in. Talk about how to talk to each other – can you send messages on slack or google hangouts? Do you want to keep up an all day text thread? Do you want to not chat during the day and talk about things when you’re done with work?
  6. Keep each other posted about potential distractions or interruptions to the routine
    1. If you have important meetings or other blocks of time where you cannot be interrupted or where your work will be extra distracting to your partner, let them know ahead of time so they can plan their day around it. 
  7. Have each other’s backs
    1. One nice thing about working in close proximity to someone who knows you really well is that they might see signs of burnout before you do. You can keep an eye on each other’s state of mind and encourage each other to take breaks and make time for self-care as necessary. It can be hard to disconnect from work when you’re working from home, so you can support each other to take it easy when you’re overwhelmed. 
  8. Accept that there will be frustrations
    1. Like with all things during this pandemic, there are going to be days where nothing is going as planned. There are going to be frustrations and you’re probably going to be annoyed by each other, at least some of the time. Figure out how you’d like to express your frustration with each other beforehand. Do you need to be left alone when you’re frustrated? Do you shut down and have a hard time asking for what you need? Let your partner know that so you can work through your frustration as a team. 

Working from home with your partner can be a little trickier than it sounds, especially during a pandemic. However, taking the time to make a plan and communicate your needs beforehand can help ease the transition and make working together easier for both partners. If you need more support figuring out how to work from home with your partner, our counselors can help you come up with something that will work for you. 

Brice N Sanner, LMFT & Lindsay N Sanner, LSCSW, RPT

7 Ways to Improve Intimacy With Your Partner in Quarantine

We’re all learning to manage life in extreme circumstances right now due to the spread of COVID-19. We’ve been at this long enough that the novelty of staying home has worn off, and we’re all just trying to stay afloat the best we can. If you’ve been feeling a lot of complicated emotions right now, you’re not alone. A lot of us are feeling heightened anxiety, confusion, grief, fear, frustration, and sadness, just to name a few.

You might be upset with yourself for feeling so frustrated – after all, you’re just spending time at home. How is that hard? The truth is that even though it sounds simple, social distancing is anything but easy. Some folks are now completely isolated, cut off from their support systems to keep themselves and others safe. Others find themselves stuck at home with their family, loved ones, or roommates. Many people are at the extremes – either experiencing a lot of loneliness or being constantly surrounded by people. While both extreme loneliness and extreme togetherness are both problematic, today we’ll be taking a look at ways to manage living with a partner during this quarantine. 

A stretch of uninterrupted time with your partner sounds good in theory, but in practice, it might not actually be a smooth process. Many of us aren’t used to having other people around us every moment of every day, and it can be tricky to find time to be alone with yourself to reset. However, you also don’t want to spend your time in quarantine fighting with your partner. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your level of intimacy with your partner, even in quarantine. If you find yourself looking for ways to deepen the intimacy you feel with your partner, here are our best tips: 

  1. Establish boundaries
    1. In our last blog we talked about boundaries on social media, but you can set boundaries online or offline. When you’re stuck at home with your partner, it’s a good idea to draw up some ground rules to keep the tension to a minimum. Try to include things like who will use what space and when, how meals and chores will be divided, and how to establish that you want some alone time. That way when issues come up, you can refer back to the boundaries you discussed at the beginning to work things out. 
  2. Make touch a regular part of your routine
    1. Physical intimacy is also important during this time, not just emotional intimacy. There are different levels of touch ranging from social touching to more intimate or sexual touching. Try to make room for a variety of different touches in your day to day. Gently tap your partner on the shoulder to get their attention, give them regular hugs, hold hands, cuddle, play with their hair, or give each other massages for some ideas on where to start.
  3. Fight fairly
    1. Use “I” statements if you’re feeling frustrated with your partner. You, of course, have a right to say how you’re feeling, but try to frame it through your perspective instead of assigning blame to your partner. Instead of saying “You never take the garbage out,” say, “I feel disrespected when you don’t follow through on things you said you’d do, like taking out the garbage.” That way, you’re expressing the way their behavior makes you feel instead of immediately putting them on the defensive. 
  4. Designate screen-free time
    1. We’re all doing our best to distract ourselves right now, but sometimes distractions leave us feeling further away from our partners. Make some time each week to set aside your screens and focus on each other. Play a game, solve a puzzle, listen to an audiobook, dance to music in your living room – do whatever feels good to you and your partner. 
  5. Try not to take things personally
    1. This is a frustrating time, so try not to take it personally if your partner seems frustrated or upset. Of course, if your partner is taking our their feelings on you, you can have a discussion with them about it, but for the most part their feelings are their own business to work through. If they want to talk about things you can be there for them, but allow them to take the lead. If you need specific encouragement or reassurance from your partner, make sure to let them know so they can do the same for you. 
  6. Try a yes/no/maybe list
    1. When was the last time you checked in with your partner on what you’re interested in sexually? If you’re looking for a new way to connect with your partner, try a yes/no/maybe list. This list is usually used in negotiating sexual boundaries (especially in the kink world) but any couple can benefit from communicating clearly what they are or aren’t into. You can go through a list of sexual activities you’re open to or would like to try, but you can also have it include things like body boundaries, words and terms to use inside and outside of the bedroom (for body parts, pet names, etc.), and any triggers to watch out for. You can find example lists online or make your own, and just go through each item and decide yes (into it, want to try), no (not into it, don’t want to try), or maybe (might be into exploring this more). 
  7. Focus on the positive
    1. You don’t have to do this all the time, but try looking for some positivity. Can you go for a walk outside and admire how beautiful springtime is? Share funny videos and memes with each other. Watch comedy specials or find good news sources to get a daily dose of cheer in this trying time. 
  8. Share what you’re grateful for
    1. Starting a gratitude practice is a great way to take note of the good things going on in your life. If you have a personal gratitude practice, consider sharing it with your partner. You can take some time regularly to both talk about what you’re thankful for in the moment and celebrate those small moments together. 
  9. Make sure you both have another social outlet
    1. Even if you can’t leave the house, you don’t need to rely on your partner for 100% of your social life right now. Schedule some time separately from your partner to catch up with friends and family so that you can take a little break from each other.

If you’re living with your partner during quarantine and your frustration level is climbing, don’t worry. Take a deep breath and make a plan with your partner on how to actively try to turn things around. Remember, you’re a team. It’s you and your partner versus the problem, not you versus your partner. If you need more support in keeping the peace at home right now, our couples counselors can help.

-Brice N. Sanner, LMFT