Three Crucial Ways to Feeling Loved in a Pandemic

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Feeling loved in a pandemic is problematic when there is more pressure on partners to make each feel valued when the world feels so unpredictable. Scared that her family may become infected with Covid-19, Claire a 35-year-old optometrist was extra careful about cleaning everything before it came in the house. She wanted her husband Kirk, a 36-year-old supermarket chain manager to do so too. He refused, setting them up for a war that brought up buried doubts, resentments and sadness.

Both felt disrespected

Both felt unheard and ignored

Both felt devalued

Both felt unloved and uncared for

Both felt the stability of their marriage crack in its weakest places

Both felt an impending chasm opening up between them that would never be healed

They didn’t discuss their pain, hurt and fear of the marriage breaking up. They didn’t share their common feelings of not being enough or good enough for each other.

Instead they used the covid-19 protocol issues as a way of getting one another to prove their allegiance, trust, care and value. And yes, you guessed it, things went from bad to worse. Kirk slept on the couch. His stomach churned from he came home from work expecting critical remarks and no interest in him or what kind of a day he’d been through trying to manage a large staff and customer care. As the criticisms, judgment and anger came at him, Kirk shut down and distanced himself from his wife. Kirk was not feeling loved in a pandemic.

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Feeling Loved in a Pandemic – control issues and a sense of hopelessness make it hard

As Claire saw Kirk’s car pull up in their driveway, she girded herself for Kirk bringing his outer clothes, take-out food and office stuff without any thought for the risk of exposure he was putting her through. She felt angry that he didn’t seem to care about her safety and hadn’t listened to her pleas to put their family first. Sometimes she would keep at him hoping to instill the danger his laxness posed. Often, they would call each other names in an effort to maintain their positions. It always ended the same way: an impasse with Kirk tuning out, refusing to be controlled and Claire feeling burdened and alone with the task of family safety.

Day after day, week after week, Claire demanded that Kirk clean things brought into their home and protected himself when outside the home. Kirk became increasingly immune to her admonishments, pleas and demands to prove that he cared for her safety and wanted her to feel valued and treasured. It evoked memories of trying to keep his mother safe when she was diabetic but refused to adapt her diet and monitor her blood sugar, let alone take her insulin as directed. She didn’t respond to his care taking; his father couldn’t cope and lived his life in an alcoholic stupor. Overwhelmed with the huge responsibility for his mother’s survival, Kirk did it without complaint; but he reached the point where he gave up the hope that he would have any influence on his reckless mother, who cared neither for her health nor the heartache and emotional survival of her preteen son.

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Feeling Loved in a Pandemic: past histories obstructs the process

When Claire didn’t get that he was and had always been very focused on her safety and that of their family. He had put his sweat and blood into building up her Optometry business while climbing the ladder in his managerial role. The same sense of hopelessness and devaluation that he has felt as a child swirled inside him, rippling with his sense of rejection and ineffectiveness. Claire was now the angry, ungrateful version of his mother for whom he was not good enough to be heard from. He wasn’t going to put himself in a vulnerable position again. If she didn’t realize that his family was and would always be his first priority then it was like talking to his walled off mother. He wasn’t going to be put in a position of having to prove it, only for his latest effort to be demeaned and more demanded from him. He would never be enough.

Claire became increasingly anxious, alarmed and angry that Kirk was acting rashly, without any care for her feelings and need to be kept safe. Kirk became a version of her father who disappeared from time to time, and many shady business dealings that put the family at risk. Her mother focused on her own business outside the home, blind to her husband’s failures and risk potential. Claire was the one who felt the pressure to keep the family together, safe and as united as possible. When Kirk refused to do as she said for virus protocol, he was like her father who couldn’t care less, cold to her suffering and despair. Claire coped by taking control, becoming the authority figure in the family. She needed something concrete, some specific action from Kirk, and the pandemic gave her one – virus protocol. She no longer spoke about her fear, or sadness. She showed her anger and resentment of being given the job of holding the family together by telling people what to do – control them – as the only way of managing her fears of the family disintegrating through neglect. Claire was not feeling loved in a pandemic.

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Why Aren’t you feeling loved in a pandemic?

The pandemic brought out the pus in these wounds because of the intense focus on safety and a need to be cared for. Wounds that were still open and bleeding from the powerlessness of childhood and now played out in the marriage. All the insecurities came bursting forth, evoked by the pandemic. But now in what was supposed to be an equal relationship, they were caught up in the unfinished business of an excruciatingly painful childhood with no healing. Kirk wasn’t going to be bullied and Claire wasn’t going to be brushed off.

If only they knew that they had so much in common:

Both had never been praised as children

Both had parents blind to their fears of not being able to take care of their families

Both had parents that expected them to just figure it out and get on with it

Both had parents who were self-absorbed

Both had parents who were AWOL

Both parented their own parents

Both did not have the language of emotion

Both did not express their emotions in words

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Feeling Loved in a Pandemic: Depends on the lens used to view your partner

Claire saw Kirk only through the lens of a man who was bound to let her down and whom she had to cajole and criticize in order to make him the father figure/husband she longed for and was determined to get. Everything good was filtered out.

Kirk saw Claire only through the lens of a woman who didn’t see how much he sacrificed for her, and how laser focused he was on making her happy and safe so that he didn’t lose her. He was determined to avoid being diminished and remolded to suit her, giving up his life for her. He had given up is childhood, and he was damned if he was going to give up the prime years of his adulthood with no guarantee of being valued, loved and acknowledged.

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Couples Therapy Unveiled the Three Things Necessary to Feeling Loved in a Pandemic

During their interaction in couples therapy it became apparent that both parties were minimizing the good things about each other, and maximized the let downs and hurt. In fact, when asked to think of anything that felt good about their partner, neither came up with anything. Kirk and Claire had to work in individual therapy to learn how to recognize and trust good feelings that came from one another. They learned how to match words to feelings -something they had not done as children.  As they discovered and spoke about those feelings three things became apparent:

  1. Your partner needs to know in words that you felt and or did something that made you feel good, relieved, safe and or wanted.
  2. Your partner needs reassurance that they are good enough and that you are not about to reject them (as their parents did).
  3. Your partner needs praise for their thoughts, efforts, sacrifices and initiative.

Neither Kirk nor Claire ever got recognized for sacrificing their childhoods or caring for their parents. Because they didn’t experience it, they didn’t see the need for doing it. It was doing some family of origin counseling that helped them make that connection.

Kirk felt weighed down by having to reassure Claire but when he appreciated how her anxieties spun them into battle lines of fighting for control, he learned how to reassure and praise with heart.

Feeling Loved in a Pandemic – softening the walls allows for love to flow

Claire felt depressed having to let down her guard and be a partner rather than a control freak, but when she realized that her need to control pushed Kirk away into a place of rejection, she wanted to change.

Both were concerned about having to follow these three strategies in a formulaic fashion. And they were right to avoid seeming inauthentic. Desiring to feel loved provides an incentive to speak the feelings out loud, to listen, empathize and reassure. They had to learn to communicate as adults and build each other up.


Copyright, Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D. 2020


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