Love can Thrive During a Crisis

Posted by Caroline Bernhardt-Lanier, MS, LCPC on May 27, 2020 at 3:28 PM
Caroline Bernhardt-Lanier, MS, LCPC
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The increased stress from the Coronavirus impacts each of us differently in all of our relationships.  Some of us may be feeling lonely, even if we're living with others, while some may feel tired and overwhelmed by the constant togetherness. Some may be experiencing painful disconnection and continuous conflict. In contrast, others may be grateful for more connection time and intimacy. My husband and I have felt a combination of all these feelings. 

Being quarantined will intensify the positives and negatives in any relationship. In an instant, we've shifted to eating together three meals a day, renegotiating chores of laundry, dishes, cooking, shopping, and more.  For parents with kids at home, they’ve had to shift more with new roles of teacher, camp counselor, sports coach, arts and crafts director, home chef, and house cleaner, and all while juggling their own professional jobs. These are massive shifts for even the most resilient couples!

We are rapidly shifting without our escape valves too. There is no working out at the gym or enjoying an afternoon Starbucks coffee. 

These are only the daily internal stressors. Many of us are facing external stressors: job insecurity, financial uncertainty, fear of illness, lack of control about the future, and grief for the most marginalized and vulnerable in our world.

How do you cope during a crisis? 

We all cope differently with the feelings of fear, anxiety, and lack of control. With Covid-19, I am much more irritable and controlling lately, and even triggered by the smallest things. For example, my husband slurps his food much more loudly than he did pre-coronavirus--although he denies it vehemently, of course!

Are you reading the news multiple times a day, hoarding hand sanitizer and toilet paper? Are you minimizing the pandemic and going about life as usual, or are you maximizing and talking about the virus nonstop? These different coping responses can create tension and conflict between partners.

Any crisis requires us to respond to each other with patience, resilience, humor, flexibility, courage, and creativity. If you are running low on these, here are three simple strategies to increase your teamwork, strengthen your communication, and deepen your intimacy as a couple.  

Tips to Thrive as a Couple

3 Ts - Time, Talk, and Touch

1. Take Time

  • Self-care practices we recommend:

    • Take time to pause regularly, breathe deeply, and simply be present at the moment. 

    • Acknowledge and feel all your emotions.

    • Develop a practice or ritual that helps you self-soothe and self-regulate: listen to music, journal, start a gratitude list, use a meditation app like Calm, or take a bath (my personal favorite!)

What is one thing you can do (or continue doing) for your self-care every day?

  • Intentional quality time together - we've noticed how easy it is for the boundaries between work and home life to blur.  We need to create boundaries, even in our own minds, where "the parent brain and the professional brain are smooshed together, quarantined in the same skull" as one Washington Post columnist recently put it. 

  • Be intentional about planning at least one activity together every week:  

    • Cook a fabulous meal together.

    • Have a virtual double date with friends once the kids are in bed.

    • Watch a funny movie together or play a silly board game (laughter helps reduce stress).

What is one thing you can do for quality time together in the next week?

2. Talk

  • Share appreciations every day - cultivating a practice of appreciation lowers stress and strengthens our connection for two reasons. 

    • First, it retrains our brains to look for and celebrate the good. Our minds have an evolutionary bias to focus on the negative, so we have to teach them to focus on the good. And concentrating on the good makes the good grow because energy follows attention.

    • Secondly, appreciations fill our emotional bank accounts. Negative interactions are like withdrawals, and appreciations are like deposits. The relational researchers John and Julie Gottman study couples in their Love Lab in Seattle and have come up with a 5 to 1 rule: for every negative interaction (blame, criticism, negative body language), our brain needs five positives to come back to balance. Fill your emotional bank account!

What is one specific thing you appreciate about your partner? Share it with them tonight.

  • Practice safe communication - when it feels like we're living in a four-walled pressure cooker, it's easy to blow up at our partner and create rupture and hurt. How do we keep communications emotionally safe

    • Three tips:

      • When you feel frustrated, make an appointment first, and share what you need in a calm way when your partner is available to listen.

      • Suspend your desire to be "right." You can be right, or you can be in relationship! Instead of trying to make your point, listen closely to what your partner shares. Cross over into their world with curiosity and openness.

      • Keep the space between you clean. Remove negativity, shame, blame, and criticism.

Get More Love in Your Relationship Today with These 6 Tips - Imago Relationships North America

3. Touch

  • Turn towards each other - turning towards means responding to your partner's bids for connection. Bids can be as simple as a smile, a wink, or a request for help. It's about feeling like you're on the same team.

  • Welcome Home Exercise - one specific "turning towards" practice that involves touch, the "Welcome Home Exercise" by researcher Stan Tatkin. 

    • Designed in "pre-quarantine times" when one or both partners left for work every day, but we can easily adapt it to the current reality! 

    • Greet your partner twice a day with a strong belly-to-belly hug, which you hold until both of you relax fully, without words. 

    • This isn't just a lovey-dovey thing—the science backs it! This ritual allows physical co-regulation--our nervous systems sync up--which is foundational to the basic sense of safety in a relationship. In addition, hugs release the hormone oxytocin, which facilitates bonding and trust, reduces the stress hormone cortisol, and boosts our immune system.

Practice the Welcome Home Exercise today with your partner!

  • Focus on physical pleasure - pleasure is a powerful antidote to fear and stress and helps bring us back into the present moment, out of our heads and into our bodies. Research shows that healthy physical connection through skin contact is essential for our physical and mental health. 

  • During the pandemic, partners may feel differently about sex. Some of us may crave sexual intimacy to relieve stress, feel closer, and more alive. Others of us may feel totally "turned off" by the stress of quarantine. Both are normal reactions. Accept what your partner is feeling. Communicate about your needs openly and be generous.

  • Focus on giving and receiving non-sexual affectionate touch to keep your physical bond strong. What feels physically pleasurable to you and gives you sensual comfort? Ask for what you need: your partner's arm around your shoulder, a massage, eye contact, a soothing voice, holding hands, touching feet in bed…


Survive the Pandemic and any Crisis as a Team

Strong and healthy relationships boost our immunity. It takes intentionality to build our sense of teamwork as a couple, improve our communication, and deepen our physical connection on lockdown. 

When we are conscious and intentional about our relationship, especially in stressful times like these, we clean up the space between us and allow it to flourish and bear fruit. We know that this has ripple effects all around us, especially for our children and loved ones, and contributes to a better world for all. Remember your 3 Ts -  Time, Talk, and Touch. 

If you're struggling in your relationship right now, we're here to help. Check out our Imago Relationship workshops and therapy. We also have Online Couples Therapy and Online Couples Workshops right now!    

Discover more about Imago with our Imago Professional Membership, Imago Professional Facilitators, Imago Professional Training and Imago Educational Webinars


Connect. Transform. Thrive.

Imago Relationships 


This blog post was written by Caroline Bernhardt-Lanier, MS, LCPC.

Caroline Bernhardt-Lanier MS LCPC

Caroline is a licensed psychotherapist and certified Imago advanced clinician, who is passionate about helping individuals, couples, and families experience deeper connection and joy in their relationships. Her specialties include working with adults and teens on a wide variety of concerns, including depression, anxiety, anger, self-esteem, grief and loss, sexuality, multicultural issues, and spirituality.

She uses an Integrative Approach and provides a safe, warm and welcoming space for clients to explore, learn, and thrive in new ways. She values integrating mind, body, and spirit in her practice and responds to spiritual concerns when clients desire.

Caroline is fluent in French and Spanish, has lived in Latin America and Europe and appreciates the richness and challenges of multiculturalism in relationships.  She holds a Masters in Pastoral Counseling from Loyola and a Masters in Education from Harvard and is working on a PhD specialized in Imago. She is currently the President of the Mid-Atlantic Association for Imago and Relationship Therapists and the Chair of the Stewardship Circle of Imago Relationships North America.

One of Caroline's greatest joys is leading Imago workshops for couples with Jason, an Integral executive coach and her wonderful husband of 25 years. They are certified facilitators for SYMBIS, an award-winning premarital program, and regularly speak about relationships in the D.C. area.

She is also a parenting coach, a leader at the Parent Encouragement Program, and the mother of four children herself (two sons in college, two teen daughters at home), Caroline knows how challenging it is to raise responsible, respectful kids today.


Topics: Healthy Relationships, Conflict Resolution, Happy Relationships, Marriage Issues, Appreciation and Gratitude, Finding Love Again, Relationship Therapy, Healthy Connection, Couples Quality Time, Sexual Desire, Erotic Language, Sexual Communication, Emotional Connection, Online Couples Workshop, Getting the Love you Want, Soulmates, Dating your Partner, Creating Healthy Relationships, Love in the Time of Coronavirus, Keeping the Love Alive, Get The Sex You Want, Divorce Proof, Long Term Relationships, Online Therapy, Married Life

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52 tips for self-care and personal growth from Imago Relationship experts on breaking bad habits, what to do when you are in a crisis, how to move on after a bad breakup and healing relationships.

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