Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Couples in the Age of Covid-19 – Connection Without Words

Whether you are quarantined together, working in separate rooms, sheltering in place with your little ones or adjusting to the closed doors of your college age kids, most partners are aware that communication is a crucial component in relationship coping and happiness. Most self-help books extol it, and most experts working with couples encourage and facilitate improved communication.

A crucial but often overlooked communication skill for partners who find themselves in this strange and difficult world of the pandemic is knowing when it is best not to say anything – when there is value in connection without words.

This skill is not about suppression, quiet compliance, the silent treatment, dismissal or neglect. It is a choice that reflects attunement, empathy, regulation of emotions and prioritizing the bond you share – no matter the circumstances.

Choosing when to be silent involves knowing when your comment, critique, opinion, question or news not only fails to add value – it makes matters worse!

While there are always differences among couples relative to their personal histories and dynamics, some situations make a consideration of silence important. Given this age of Covid-19  which imposes considerable pressure and little opportunity for private space or time, freedom to be silent may be a gift and a necessity.

Recognizing this may be easier than actually acting upon it.

 Moved to Give Advice

Often when we hear our partner upset – be it from the new complications of functioning, fears of contagion, online job demands, kid stress or financial worries, we want to help and we move into advice. It actually may be excellent advice. The problem is that few people in an agitated or exhausted state can hear it, much less welcome it.

Most of us know this but our own sense of anxiety and helplessness in face of a partner’s distress throws us into advice mode.  We have to do something!

Listening with eye-to-eye contact and hand-to-hand reach is far more powerful than unsolicited advice.  A partner who feels love and compassion is empowered to solve his/her problem and /or will be more likely ask for help if needed.

Debriefing The News

Whatever your political perspective, watching the news is dysregulating at best.

Partners differ in their interest and emotional tolerance of news. Some can’t get enough and want to debrief with their partner. That’s great if it is mutual passion.

The reality is that partners who love the same foods and the same kids, often differ when it comes to hearing news during this Covid-19 nightmare of non-stop news.

Many want to avoid listening or watching the news. For them regulation means turning it off, and titrating what they take in. The last thing they want to do is debrief it again. For them too much news means too much anxiety.

With the exception of headlines or directives that apply to you and them personally – don’t let the news hijack your conversations. The reduced focus may actually be a welcome balance for both of you.

Random Acts of Kindness

Many report that the experience of giving or receiving an act of kindness from a stranger lights up their day. In the midst of this pandemic, I have been hearing about the positive impact of random acts of kindness between partners.

A cup of fresh coffee brought over to an online work station, a toy room organized, a load of clothes washed,  a hug together after a teen or toddler melts down are the unspoken ingredients that sustain and light-up a relationship.

The Mutuality of Watching Together

Whether it is a camping trip or dinner with friends, the mutuality of a shared social experience enhances a couple’s connection and closeness. In a paper recently published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Sarah Gomillion and colleagues proposed that when situations make actual experiences impossible, shared viewing of fiction can have a similar bonding effect.

Having a favorite show with characters that are loved or hated gives couples mutual exposure to another world that takes the focus off them, engenders mutual enjoyment, invites introspection, comparison  and gives them a shared experience.

The New York Times reports that according to research from Harris X, seventy-four percent of American homes now subscribe to a streaming  service. Rather than verbalizing complaints or disbelief at what each other is streaming – consider adding some mutual choices.

The plan of watching on a regular basis becomes a planned respite, an  emotional reset if things have been tense, and an opportunity to extol or attack the characters on the screen rather than each other. It is an easy way to open the space for predictable laughter, distraction and reminders of romance.

Traumatic Events like Covid-19 are beyond words.

Perhaps when you look back at this time – the true connections you remember will be 

 More Than Words Can Say.


 Listen in to Psych Up Live  to hear “The Kids Are All Right: Fostering Resilience through the Parent-Child Connection during Covid-19”