Rick Reynolds, LCSW
by Rick Reynolds, LCSW
Founder & President, Affair Recovery

How Couples Can Promote Good Mental Health During and After the COVID-19 Pandemic

Mental Health: A Two-Part Series

Part 1: How Couples Can Promote Good Mental Health During and After the Pandemic
Part 2: Mental Health and Parenting: How to Support Yourself and Your Kids

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Today, I'm really excited to talk about a topic that's both timely and paramount in infidelity recovery: mental health.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we've been confined in situations that've affected our mental health — in some instances for better, in some instances for worse. No longer able to perform activities that once helped us recenter and blow off steam, whether that meant attending in-person yoga classes or sipping coffee at a local café, some of us resorted to unhealthy means to cope with our newfound or preexisting stress. I've found that couples surviving infidelity were no exception to this.

That's not to say the pandemic has been especially challenging for every couple, but I've seen firsthand how it took a toll on clients healing from betrayal. That's why I was excited to sit down with Jeremy Edelen, director of content at Northpoint Church, to talk about this topic. If you and your mate have been struggling during the pandemic, I encourage you to watch the video above and bring a notepad. During this discussion, I share several mental health tips that you can use to get through this challenging season and enjoy your lives thereafter. I hope you'll tune in.

Here are just some of the key takeaways from my chat with Jeremy.

What Does Good Mental Health Look Like?

I think mental health has a lot to do with being able to be optimistic, and being able to feel a sense of connectedness, clarity, compassion, curiosity and courage. In the church, we'd say that people with good mental health have:

  • Love.
  • Joy.
  • Peace.
  • Patience.
  • Kindness.
  • Gentleness.
  • Self-control.

They're able to not only be this way inside themselves, but they're also able to reach out and share these qualities with other people. They bring life to the world.

Good mental health also has a lot to do with how you interact with others. It's being able to be respectful and generous, no matter what you're personally going through — but there are so many other qualities associated with good mental health. Simply put: It's about seeing things that are life-giving rather than just fixating on things that are oppressing and depressing.

What Relational Problems Did the COVID-19 Pandemic Bring to Light?

If a couple had some bad habits in how they related to each other before, well, COVID-19 was almost like this halogen beam that illuminated those bad habits. It's because during the pandemic, there's been more interaction. As the friction kept getting worse and worse, it was like an abrasion for some couples. From an infidelity perspective, I initially thought that COVID-19 would be good because people wouldn't get involved in affairs or pornography. Boy, was I stupid.

When we're not living out of our best selves, many of us have trouble emotionally regulating. We don't know how to calm down or deal; our anxiety levels can go absolutely through the roof. This was our shared reality during the pandemic. Quarantine led to a lack of connectedness and subsequent anxiety, and many of us attempted to numb out these feelings rather than face them head-on. With couples especially, when they don't know how to emotionally regulate, their issues tend to get worse before they get better. And, sadly, when people were trying to feel alive again, a lot of them didn't choose healthy ways to do that.

There are some things you can do that really bring life, but there are other things that don't. For example, I would see wayward mates fall back into acting out behaviors because they were craving attention, excitement or validation. It's much easier to go the route of doing things that make you feel better temporarily, but they're not good for marriages and they're not good for your mental health.

One of the other things that happened is because people were spending more time together, it was easy for them to get irritated with one other. This is where practicing forgiveness becomes especially important. For couples that experienced infidelity, it's already a huge challenge to forgive the wounds and everything that happened; add in this day-to-day stuff, and now you've got that abrasion.

But even couples that haven't experienced infidelity have had issues with resentments and irritations during the COVID-19 pandemic. When these feelings start to boil over, I encourage couples to pause and remember:

  • I love this person.
  • I don't actually hate them.
  • I want to make this work.

At least then, you can take a moment to calm down, stop being defensive and mad, and allow your best self to come out. This also gives you an opportunity to forgive them for whatever — hopefully minor — offense they've committed.

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"The sooner after D-Day you can become involved in Affair Recovery, the better. I went from not being welcome in my own home to sharing a bed with my wife once again — much sooner than I expected. EMS Online helped us to communicate effectively, and Hope for Healing really helped me understand the issues I have with myself. Meeting strangers that are in the exact same situation as you is so helpful. They become your friends and confidants." — E., Pennsylvania | April 2021 HFH Participant

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What Activities Negatively Affect Mental Health?

One of the things that COVID-19 perpetrated on us, maybe that's a good way of saying it, is the shelter-in-place lifestyle. This forced us all to change our routines. Ideally, the habits we're used to bring us health and happiness. But with the pandemic, so many of the community-based activities that are built into our lives were suddenly gone. The way we began to fill our time changed. Our life-giving habits and behaviors disappeared.

Some of us got sucked into Netflix bingeing, others got consumed by social media, and many of us adopted unhealthy relationships with both. As much as social media platforms intend to connect us, sometimes they can do the opposite. I noticed that during the pandemic, there has been more polarization occurring because of social media. These platforms aren't community-based, and they can be huge contributors to poor mental health. Especially for those recovering from infidelity, social media can be a tempting and even triggering place.

I've seen emotional relationships start on Facebook, some of which even developed into physical affairs. An innocent curiosity about an old classmate or co-worker may lead to reconnection, reminiscing and, if you don't set healthy boundaries, inappropriate conversations. For the betrayed mate, social media can take a toll on their mental health in a couple of ways:

  1. If they use it to compare themselves to the affair partner or other people in their loved one's life. Scrolling through profiles may even trigger intrusive thoughts, such as mental images of how their mate acted out sexually with the affair partner. Please note that comparing ourselves to others rarely — honestly, probably never — makes us feel better, whether it's on social media or in the "real world."
  2. If they use it as a dot-connecting device. It's normal to have questions after infidelity disclosure, but questioning becomes destructive if we start looking for potential issues. Between the like notifications and common connections, social media makes it easy for people to create scenarios in their head and even begin believing these unreal situations.

What Activities Positively Affect Mental Health?

The worst punishment you can give a human being is solitary confinement because we'll go insane and die. We just don't do well without connectedness. So during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, I believe it's terribly important to have someone to talk to, someone who can:

  • Be empathetic.
  • Be supportive.
  • Help you process your emotions.
  • Validate what you're feeling.

I also think it's important to develop healthy habits. One of the things that my wife Stephanie and I do is go on daily walks together. When we go on our walks — and I've encouraged a lot of couples to take daily walks — we listen to a podcast that our pastor does. The beauty of listening to that daily devotional is that it gets us to think about things above, not things below; it reminds us of who we really are. For us, this has been a great activity.

I encourage couples to reinstate the activities that either brought them together or are just really good for them. This can be anything from reading books together, exercising together or even playing games together. One of the things we've started doing is having my son and his girlfriend over to play cards. It's so weird because we had quit playing games years ago, but we found that this simple activity brought back that community we'd been missing out on. If you take advantage of this time to do something besides always numbing yourself out, you'll be doing something good for your mental health and may even rekindle some passion with your mate in the process.

Another thing is that you can't just tell yourself to be happy, but you can live a certain way to be joyful. Charles Dickens has a quote that I really like. He says:

"In every life, no matter how full or empty one's purse, there is tragedy. It is the one promise life always fulfills. Thus, happiness is a gift, and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes and to add to other people's store of it."

Happiness isn't an entitlement. I mean, Jesus talks about this in John 16:33. In this world, he says, you are going to have trouble and there is going to be suffering. But don't worry, he's already taken care of it. Whether you come from a background of faith or not, you can still have joy in the midst of suffering. Sometimes adopting life-giving hobbies does the trick, but sometimes it might take seeing a counselor or even going on a medication. Some people's brains just don't produce enough serotonin, which can be linked to depression and anxiety. If you happen to be one of those people who, neurobiologically, has a brain that doesn't produce enough serotonin, please understand it is a physical problem, and I sincerely hope that you'll get the help you need.

How Does Affair Recovery Help Couples Work Toward Better Mental Health?

Years ago, after my own affair back in the 1980s, I felt a calling to start Affair Recovery to help couples because I knew you could survive infidelity. I knew that people could heal from that sort of betrayal trauma, and that was on my heart. What's been amazing to me is that there have been other people who've shared that vision with me, and who've come on board and really brought in their talents to help reach other couples.

At Affair Recovery, one of the things we do for couples struggling with infidelity is help them reconnect. We know that having other people — safe people — to talk to, whom you can express feelings to and process events with, is crucial for healing and good mental health. When you're not talking, when you're just stuffing down your pain, when you're isolated, that is not a healthy human condition. Through our EMS Weekend intensive, couples are able to talk about the betrayal in a safe, supportive space and begin to process their pain.

Couples come in from all over the world, either in person or via videoconferencing, for our EMS Weekends. Over the course of three days, they learn the dynamics of infidelity, what it takes to forgive and steps for moving forward. They also meet with small groups and a counselor who guides them through this challenging but restorative process. I strongly encourage couples to register in EMS Weekend, whether they've been hitting new roadblocks during the pandemic or just need help moving forward after infidelity. For more information and to register for our next EMS Weekend, click this link.

Early Bird Tickets are NOW AVAILABLE for our 2021 Hope Rising Conference!

There is hope after infidelity and betrayal. If you're the betrayed spouse, we invite you to take the first step in transcending your pain by attending our 2021 Hope Rising Conference on October 2. Our eight incredible speakers have been through the heart-wrenching, devastating experience of infidelity, and they want to inspire you and empower your healing and rebuilding.

"I felt like the speakers were speaking directly to me. Understanding my thoughts, struggles and pain. The Hope Rising Conference met my needs and gave me great direction for healing and perspective." — Previous Hope Rising Conference attendee.

Regardless of whether the unfaithful spouse is supportive, unsupportive or gone, we want you to feel hope again; we want you to feel whole again. Join us at Hope Rising to learn from and grow with others as you navigate this challenging season. Early bird tickets are now available for $68! Don't wait to purchase your tickets; space is limited.

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