Is Physical Distancing hurting your Relationship?

…and 7 tips that can help according to Dr. Thomas Ungar.

Spring was in the air. We were all making camping plans and enjoying the blooming Crab-apples; blissfully unaware of the approaching adjustments that would soon be our norm. In what felt like only moments the entire world went into lockdown, and nothing has been the same since.

“After 4 years married, how have I never noticed you forget all the lights on when you leave the room?” asked Ryan, who was starting to notice all the little things that annoyed him about his wife Carly.
“I guess you used to leave for work before me prior to the lockdown” snarked Carly, who was making discoveries of her own.

The COVID-19 pandemic and physical distancing have affected everyone. Spending the majority of time together can take a toll on even the healthiest relationships. All the challenges are only heightened by the communication differences by men and women. Men tend not to be as open to discussing their feelings or vulnerability and women tend find it easier to socially connect and be more direct about their feelings.

In these difficult times, where we are spending more time at home, we all need to compromise and be a lot more forgiving. We need to be aware of the communication differences between men and women, more specifically, our spouses or partners. To overcome barriers together couples can try:

Tips to overcome barriers in couple relationships1. Acknowledge you are both trying. No one is perfect.
2. Be kind and do your best to understand where the other person is coming from.
3. Show grace. It is about getting along and being forgiving.
4. Accept that you have communication differences.
5. Adjust your expectations at a time like this.
6. Be less controlling and give permission to the other person permission to do a task or communicate in their own way.
7. Switch it up, go outside for a walk, find a new hobby to do together. Breaking out of the daily grind by finding something fun and different to do together will remind you of why you enjoy being together.

“I don’t know why I even bother saying anything to you.” Ryan was getting frustrated. He was just trying to explain his point. This is usually when he begins to shut down.

“Ryan! We have to be able to talk things out!” exclaimed Carly, who could see their usual communication pattern unfolding.

Often, men can find it hard to voice their concerns, as a result they may resort to internalizing their thoughts and emotions. This can lead to increased stress on the relationship and cause a fracture in the relationship.

Below is a list of some non-traditional methods of communication that Dr. Thomas Ungar suggests for connecting with men.

1. Be direct by asking them how they are doing. Don’t beat around the bush, keep it simple.
2. Look, watch, and pick-up the indirect physical cues to see what they are saying, even if they have a hard time expressing it out loud.
3. Change your seating position to reduce the pressure of vocalizing emotions. Try talking to each other sitting shoulder-to-shoulder instead of face-to-face.
4. Talk to them in their personal safe spaces. Reaching into the environment of where men are at, like in the hockey dressing rooms, in the coffee shops or wherever they are will be beneficial in helping their openness.
5. Do occasional check-ins just to see how it’s going.
6. Guys reach out to each other through phone calls and video chats too. Encouraging this can give men an outlet to vent and let out some steam.

It seems that everyone is experiencing some level of anxiety these days. Anxiety represents an emotional response to some perceived future threat.

Therefore, it’s important to practice empathy over judgement, one of the “playing hard traits” in the Resilient Mind Training program. Remember, we are all going through this together.

“I’m sorry for how I reacted, would you be interested in having an at-home date night, I would love to connect with you outside of our normal routine again” asked Carly, who was noticing Ryan’s behavior and picked up on his anxieties.

“I think that is just what we need” replied Ryan with a sigh of relief.

For more information, visit or get in touch with Lise Hill at  If you want to improve your communication skills, learn more about resilience training, the 10-week program we offer is a virtual experience like no other that will transform your relationship skills and heighten your social awareness.

Dr. Thomas Ungar is a Psychiatrist-in-Chief at St. Michael’s Hospital. He is also an Associate Professor with Psychotherapies, Humanities and Educational Scholarship. Learn more about Dr. Thomas Ungar and his credentials here.