Dc Counseling Center Helps Couples Recommit

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DC Counseling Center Helps Couples Recommit to Their Relationships

Amber Brooks
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The Short Version: Many couples have struggled to maintain happy relationships during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lockdowns put stress on their homelife, and the economic downturn exacerbated some of the inequalities in salary, health, and housework. Couples who want to resolve these issues can turn to the DC Counseling Center and start rebuilding their relationships. The team of trained marriage and family therapists have helped with a variety of relationship issues, including codependency and infidelity.

The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the strengths and weaknesses within a couple’s relationship and family dynamic. The lockdowns gave couples a chance to grow closer together without the distractions of work or social outings, but it also put unprecedented economic and social pressure on them. Some thrived under these circumstances, and others fell apart.

Couples who experienced an economic crisis as a result of the pandemic in 2020 were almost twice as likely to say the pandemic had increased stress in their marriage. The American Family Survey (AFS) found that 37% of married couples reported experiencing stress in the last year. Most respondents said the stress came from a loss of income during the pandemic.

Marriage rates saw a dichotomy between those who wanted to wait to tie the knot and those who realized they couldn’t wait any longer. Some unmarried couples got engaged or sped up their wedding plans, while others postponed their weddings.

What’s more, 8% of participants said they were more likely to break up or divorce within the last year, and another 8% said they were less likely to end a relationship. Those who remained committed to their relationships said they spent more time at home, connected on a deeper level with their partners, and divided their labor more equitably.

In many ways, the pandemic forced couples to examine their relationships. If their partnership was working well before the pandemic, the increased time together could prompt couples to appreciate what they had. If they had pre-existing problems, the pandemic highlighted their incompatibilities.

This was certainly true for couples who sought help from the DC Counseling Center this year.

“Extremes happened. The pandemic pushed people over the edge to go one way or the other. I saw more separations than usual,” said Spencer Northey, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.

Couples can improve their relationship by going to counseling. An expert can suggest bonding exercises and communication techniques that reinforce the couple’s bond so they are prepared for any challenges that come their way.

Whether they’re experiencing a serious conflict or going through a rocky patch, couples can rely on the DC Counseling Center to provide sage advice for the road ahead.

Highlighting the Benefits of TeleHealth

Couples therapy can impart valuable skills to couples who may not realize where they are going wrong when it comes to communicating their needs and building trust.

Therapy isn’t just for couples on the brink of divorce. It can help ensure small problems don’t become larger issues down the road. Sometimes an unhealthy relationship seems manageable — until the couple encounters a serious challenge such as childrearing or navigating a pandemic. That’s when the real relationship work begins.

“Many of my clients needed help for this before 2020, but it wasn’t as explosive,” Spencer explained. “It got to the point where they couldn’t ignore the pattern anymore.”

Photo of Spencer Northey

Spencer Northey is a licensed marriage and family therapist with DC Counseling Center.

DC Counseling Center has expanded its client base by throwing its resources into TeleHealth sessions. These sessions are conducted over a secure platform where couples and therapists can see each other over video.

“I have been humbled by how functional TeleHealth turned out to be,” Spencer told us. “I have seen amazing work done through this platform.”

Spencer said she was reluctant to embrace TeleHealth before the pandemic, but it quickly became her sole focus once social distancing became the new normal.

Spencer praised the video format for giving her a new perspective in private sessions. She has been able to glean more information by watching how couples interact more closely.

“The other smaller things are important. I get to see them in their homes, and that allows me a peek into their lives. Also, because I don’t have to be as conscious of myself and where I’m looking or how I am sitting, I find I can have different and sometimes better focus,” she told us.

TeleHealth also offers greater flexibility for clients’ busy schedules, and it can be a low-stress, non-intimidating way to introduce couples to therapy sessions. The video calls have proven so effective that the DC Counseling Center plans to keep TeleHealth going long after the pandemic is a memory. Spencer told us the video sessions will bolster but not replace traditional in-person sessions, which will be offered for those who prefer face-to-face conversations.

The COVID-19 Pandemic Brought Many Issues to Light

In 2020, couples could no longer ignore problems that had been festering in their union for years. From healthcare to racial justice, a host of issues became too important to ignore, and sometimes their reckoning caused couples to disagree and fall into a bad relationship pattern.

Spencer said she saw many issues arise when it came to parenting and unemployment. Some couples did not divide child care and domestic responsibilities evenly, and that inevitably caused friction.

“What kind of inequalities are in place when children don’t have as much child care as before? In Washington, D.C., there is more equality with jobs, but I think a lot of the brunt is still on women,” said Spencer.

Screenshot of DC Counseling Center

DC Counseling Center can give clarity to couples with relationship and parenting questions.

Spencer’s clients come from all types of family structures, yet virtually none of them had an easy time with parenting during COVID. Many parents had a stressful time caring for children while working from home or struggling with unemployment.

At the same time, adults without children faced their own challenges and concerns.

“It’s incomparable what it’s like to struggle with kids versus be a single person wondering if you’ll ever be able to go out and meet that person to have kids. Or to be a couple wondering if now is the right time to have kids, and do I want to have kids with this person?” Spencer told us.

Some of Spencer’s clients decided they no longer wanted to be together, while others chose to work on improving their issues. Interestingly, among the couples who separated, she said about half of them got back together.

DC Counseling Center Continues to Support Wellness

The pandemic was a turning point for a generation of singles and people in relationships. Both got clearer ideas about what they wanted out of life. Some put more effort into their closest relationships, while others took the opportunity to break off an unhealthy connection. At the DC Counseling Center, many clients had to learn to give up control and cope with uncertainty.

“I hope this past year has brought out more of the humanity in all of us. We will value each other more and our community more,” said Spencer.

Whatever their choices, singles and couples made big moves this year. But some couples may still feel that their relationships aren’t as solid as they wish they were. When asked what piece of advice she’d give couples in conflict, Spencer emphasized the importance of self-reflection and clear communication of needs.

“Listen and process more slowly. Slow down. Think about the messaging you’re getting, and consider, does this really work for me?” Spencer advised.

Couples struggling in their relationships can use this post-pandemic period to heal and grow. Spencer reminds partners who may be considering separation that there is still hope to create a healthier union.

“A lot of clients feel like these issues were boiling and boiling, and then they broke. I think you should seek counseling before you decide you’re broken,” Spencer told us. “Some clients did break up, but a lot of clients needed to address these issues. Through counseling, we were able to resolve these things that the pandemic shone a huge light on.”