Mother working and children doing schoolwork while maintaining healthy relationship as a family.

Maintaining healthy relationships and navigating changing dynamics


July 28, 2020

Everything has likely shifted in your day-to-day, which may have put a strain on your relationships with family and friends. Here’s how to keep maintaining healthy relationships.

In the past few months, your “normal” has likely been completely inverted. Maybe before the pandemic, you left the house every day for 8 hours, and so did the rest of your family — and now you’re all home, all the time. Maybe you’re a grandparent who got to see your grandkids twice a week; maybe you’re single and used to socializing.

In any case: That’s going to wreak a lot of havoc when it comes to maintaining healthy relationships.

“People talk about the economic impact and the infectious disease aspect of the pandemic, but what we’re seeing are some of the predictable and unpredictable psychological and psychosocial results of this,” said Abhi Saxena, M.D., Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Here’s a good analogy: I read that businesses that were on solid ground going into this pandemic would fare well after, while businesses that were already rocky might not. We could say the same for our relationships.”

Whether you’re navigating relationship shifts with your spouse, your partner, your parents or your friends, read on for Saxena’s advice about how to ensure that you keep things as normal as they were before — or even better.

Acknowledge that we’re all in this together.

“For all of us, everything has changed, and no one can really tell us when things will go back to normal,” Saxena said. “So that’s our basic starting point: We’re all in this unknown together. And the same things that we needed before still apply (to building healthy relationships): We still need to communicate well, we still need to constantly reevaluate priorities, we still need to take time to assess how we’re doing, how others are doing, how we’re doing as a couple, etc.”

Keep routines.

“If there was a date night that you used to do once a month, it’s important to figure out how to still make that happen. It may look different — once the kids are in bed, you both might make an effort to get dressed and eat dinner late, for example. If you used to have dinner with your extended family every Sunday, try to gather around the laptop or the portal at that same time each week. That will help you reconnect to where things were before.”

Reevaluate — and then keep reevaluating — roles.

“Now that people have different work hours and different responsibilities, roles need to be reassessed and redistributed, week after week. If your own situation has changed in a way that gives you more flexibility, step up — maybe it’s time to put a little extra work in at home. But don’t wait until the other person has burned out. That’s where communication and checking in is really important.” 

Think about what you used to do for value or purpose — how can you adapt and find a way to still seek that out?

Find ways to recharge.

“Find pockets of time for yourself to recharge in your own way. Think about what you used to do for value or purpose — how can you adapt and find a way to still seek that out?”

Stop comparing yourselves to others.

“Maybe a friend posts a picture of their family all gathering together, and that brings up some feelings of, Well, they’re all together, should we all be hanging out, too? It’s important not to compare our progress on getting back together — we all need to do it at our own pace.”

Don’t be afraid to seek help.

“There’s always a time where your own way of working on things may not be enough, and when that comes, do not hesitate to reach out and make that first appointment, whether that’s for individual therapy or couples counseling, medication management, what have you. All of these services are open and available — somewhere, in every state, there are places you can go to. Here at Vanderbilt, we’ve moved almost all our outpatient appointments to telehealth, so people can choose to get support from their own home.”

Go easy on yourself — and on each other.

“It may seem hard to imagine now, but there will come a day when we’ll miss the time we were all hunkered down together in the house. For now, acknowledge that things have shifted, and do the best that you can. If you’re doing your best each day, that’s going to be enough for now.”

Vanderbilt Behavioral Health offers highly specialized and personalized care for children, teens and adults. Click here to learn more about Vanderbilt’s range of outpatient and inpatient services.

Learn more

Abhi Saxena, M.D., MBA, is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry. He serves as the medical director of hospital services for Vanderbilt Behavioral Health and his interests include health policy, integrative care and healthcare systems.