GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Stay home, stay safe — but what about staying married?

The coronavirus pandemic and stay-at-home order in Michigan are creating strains on relationships, West Michigan experts say, and a growing number of couples are seeking help.

“There is an uptick in couples searching for therapy because they are spending a lot of time together so that can bring on some new and unexpected challenges,” Bridget Gottlieb, a clinical therapist in Grand Rapids, said.

Licensed social worker Kelsey Di Pirro has noticed a similar trend among her clients.

“An uptick in referrals for couples and also even with the couples I’ve been working with for a couple years, this is just a really challenging time for them,” Di Pirro said.

Both therapists have been holding virtual counseling sessions with patients during this time of social distancing.

Gottlieb said the prolonged close quarters can be a real test for many relationships.

“We don’t have as much distraction going on so we tend to hyper focus on certain things,” Gottlieb said. “The little things bother us that don’t usually bother us.”

Whether it’s nitpicking one another or struggling to share space, the biggest point of contention for couples often comes down to differences in processing the pandemic.

“A big common one that keeps coming up is, ‘My partner wants to talk about what we’re going to do about work and finances and about not getting sick … all the time and I’m overwhelmed,’” Di Pirro said.

In these situations, Di Pirro said the other person in the relationship doesn’t know how to respond to their partner’s needs as constant talk about the pandemic only emphasizes their fear.

For better or worse, the trained professionals have advice on how couples can work through this turbulent time. Gottlieb’s go-to advice comes down to communication, working together and respecting the need for some alone time.

“They talk about social distancing from everybody but that includes your spouse,” Gottlieb said. “You need to have some time away… to kind of reflect and recuperate.”

Di Pirro summed up her advice by offering three main tips for couples to follow:  

  1. Goals — Identify with your partner what your goals for the day or week. Focus on staggering to avoid competition for time or space with your own individual schedules. Example: If you both need to take phone-based meetings, try scheduling them in two-hour blocks to avoid frustration about noise transfer and privacy.
  2. Communication — Talk to your partner before a disagreement about some rules for engagement. Rules for engagement should include time for each partner to share and be validated before moving on to their partner’s concerns, the next issue or problem solving.
  3. Rituals — Develop some new rituals with your partner. Find something for you both to look forward to like game night, a movie marathon, or your favorite carry-out.