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Helping Couples in Isolation: Focus on how they resolve conflict, react to daily stressors and interact with each other

Couples in isolation are likely facing pressure from all angles and may find it impossible to avoid conflict. Stressors from work and home are all wrapped up in the same household, causing emotional or physical reactions. Working with couples, facilitators can help identify stress and work through this is 2 basic ways:

  1. Eliminate the stressor; or
  2. Change one’s reaction to stress.

When a stressor cannot be eliminated, it is important to look at how one reacts or copes in response to the stressor. Learning and using healthy coping mechanisms can help individuals respond to stress in healthier ways.

Married Couples and Stress 

Note the item rated as the number one stressor by married couples was Your Spouse. This was the number one stressor cited by both men and women.

Married couples who take PREPARE/ENRICH are often being seen in a counselling situation. It is not uncommon for individuals experiencing relational conflict to believe their problems would be solved if their partner would only change. Not only do they believe this, they often express it. Experienced counsellors are used to the finger pointing which often accompanies the initial sessions of marital therapy.

Unfortunately, one partner cannot change the other and this approach leaves individuals totally disempowered in the relationship. In fact, the more one individual focuses on the other person’s behaviour, the more resentment, anger, and resistance they typically receive in return.

It is much more productive to help these couples work on things that are in their control including the way they speak to one another, the way they resolve conflict, and the way each individual chooses to react to their daily stressors and interactions with their spouse.

In practice:

Good communication and productive ways of handling conflict depend on couples carefully listening to one another. Active listening involves listening attentively without interruption and then restating what was heard. Acknowledge content AND the feelings of the speaker. The active listening process lets the sender know whether or not the message they sent was clearly understood by having the listener restate what they heard.

Examples of Active Listening:

“I heard you say you are feeling ‘out of balance’, and enjoyed the time we spend together but that you also need more time to be with your friends… and you want to plan a time to talk about this.”

“If I understand what you said, you are concerned because you want to go skiing next winter. But you think I would rather to go to the beach. Is that correct?”

When each person knows what the other person feels and wants (assertiveness) and when each knows they have been heard and understood (active listening), intimacy is increased. These two communication skills can help you grow closer as a couple.

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More than 40 percent of all workers face high stress in their job, negatively affecting their productivity, health and family stability

High work stress and overload is often correlated with less positive relationships in and out of work, and while the issue of highly stressed workers is not new, the relentless pace of business today has made the problem worse (Schwartz, J et al, 2014). Driven by the always-on nature of digital business and 24/7 working styles, studies show that more than 40 percent of all workers face high stress in their job, negatively affecting their productivity, health and family stability (EKU Online, 2018).

Stress can be a two-way street between work and home where the subsequent stress from failing marriages begins to manifest in the workplace, increasing stress, leading to more stress at home, and the cycle continues. Learning and using healthy coping mechanisms can help individuals respond to stress in healthier ways.

Tackling the pressures and strains being experienced by Australian organisations, individuals, couples and families, leading companies are developing strategies that address societal concerns such as longevity and wellbeing, and the multiple demands on employees and their personal relationships. To enable employees to have healthy, functional personal relationships, and be fully engaged at work, employers are investing in Relationship Education and Wellbeing programs as both a social responsibility and a talent strategy. Highlighting the mutually positive benefits that a healthy dynamic between work and home-life can bring, this investment can help improve productivity and performance.

Relationship Education and Family Wellness programs are widely available to couples, intended to reduce the prevalence of relationship distress, divorce and the associated personal and social costs (Halford, W.K., et al 2003). Quickly learned and easily adapted, these programs have been proven effective in a variety of communities, cultures, and languages.

Well-being is becoming a core responsibility of good corporate citizenship and a critical performance strategy to drive employee engagement, organisational energy, and productivity (Agarwal, D. et al, 2018). If relationship education and family wellness improves a company’s overall financial health and increases profitability, it is then in every company’s best financial interest to support employees and to invest in the promotion of family wellness programs at work (Turvey et al, 2006).

Tune in next week for a discussion about work stress and home life stress and how both may impact negatively for businesses.


  • Agarwal, D., Bersin, J., Lahiri, G., Schwartz, J., and Volini, E., 2018: Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends: The Rise of the Social Enterprise, 28 March 2018

  • EKU Online, ‘Work-related stress on employees health’, March 2, 2018

  • Halford, W.K., Markman, H, J., Galena, H,.K.,  and Stanley, S.M., 2003: Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, July, Vol. 29, No. 3, p385-406
  • Turvey, M. D., & Olson, D. H., 2006: Marriage & Family Wellness: Corporate America’s Business? A Marriage CoMission Research Report. Minneapolis, MN.

Marriage and Relationship Education is a learning opportunity, much like you would do in any other important life event. Check out the video for couples on YouTube: Keep up with the latest from the MAREAA online:

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