Cabin Fever Couples – from the Couples Institute

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Cabin Fever Couples – from the Couples Institute

Cabin Fever Couples

Cabin Fever Couples find themselves being work-chore-parenting-schooling-health-mates.

Cabin Fever Couples

This article is taken from The Couples Institute Newsletter, with Drs Ellyn Bader and Peter Pearson. The Couples Institute provides incredible training for couples therapists. Skilled Couples therapists are much in demand during the pressure of living with a pandemic.

Couples around the world are impacted by this challenging time. The Couples Institute recently conducted surveys on how couples were coping. Here are just a few examples of how people are reacting to sheltering at home together:

  1. Some love it. They enjoy having more time together and a slower pace. “We are really getting to know each other better.”
  2. Some new couples decided to quarantine together and moved in hardly knowing each other. As a result they’re finding out quickly whether they’re compatible or not.
  3. It is not surprising then, that divorce filings increased in Wuhan and New York.
  4. Domestic Violence hotlines are busier than ever. In addition, the rate of calls to the suicide and help hotline in Los Angeles went up more than 8,000%.
  5.  Therapists report couples struggling with too much time with their spouses and kids.

In the surveys we conducted, we found that cabin fever creates increased challenges for couples.

So what is cabin fever?

There’s no official definition, but we define cabin fever as the tension and anxiety that results from being trapped in confined quarters daily with your soulmate. This soul-mate has unexpectedly turned work-chore-parenting-schooling-health-mate.

Because there are many more interdependencies and fewer distractions than usual, there is a higher need for good routines and fewer opportunities for social connections with others.

The internet is full of jokes about overeating and excess drinking. Some partners report feelings of dread, loss, grief, or anxiety. This leads to an overall decrease in the ability to cope with stress.

What does this look like?

Many couples report that they feel restless, lethargic, and therefore have low motivation to do projects. Others are sad, depressed, or crabby. It’s not unusual to cry unexpectedly or erupt because of a small upset.

What Contributes to these Symptoms?

We’ve seen 5 categories that create major irritants and difficulties for cabin fever couples.

1. Messes

  • Dinner not cleaned up until midnight
  • Laundry on the floor for days
  • Kids’ toys not picked up
  • Chores left for whoever gets sick of it first
2. Boundary invasions
  • Loud music, talking, “will I ever get some quiet?!
  • Chewing gum or loud mouth noises
  • Constant interruptions of work time and space
  • Kids’ needs increasing
3. Health and Safety Disagreements
  • Disparate standards of cleanliness and safety protection
  • Very different levels of caution
  • Who can go out, come in, where is okay to go
  • Complexity of these issues not discussed well
4. Economic Concerns
  • Loss of jobs and income
  • Business future uncertain
5. Facing Real Losses
  • Death of a friend or family member
  • Postponed or even cancelled graduations, weddings, funerals, family reunions

What eases these stresses?

1. Agreements and boundaries.

For many couples, this is a traumatic time. When a couple spends time together without agreements, boundaries, or routines, there is a greater the possibility for conflict. Furthermore, the smaller the space the greater the conflict.

2. Openly discuss fears and anxieties together.

When fear and anxiety are left unprocessed, this will contribute to fights, explosions, or shutdown and withdrawal – and a decline in mental health.

3. Cultivate “tragic optimism” in the face of trauma.

For a long time, many psychologists embraced a victim narrative about trauma, believing that severe stress causes long-lasting and perhaps irreparable damage to one’s psyche and health.

But when researchers and clinicians looked at those who coped well in crisis, they found that it’s possible to grow from it by cultivating an attitude of tragic optimism. So, its not so much what happens to us or around us, but our attitude to it. For example, cultivate gratitude at all times.

The term was coined by Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist from Vienna. Tragic optimism is the ability to maintain hope and find meaning in life despite inescapable pain, loss, and suffering.

4. Cabin fever couples can think as a team, work as a team.

This time provides an opportunity for couples to find meaning, whether it’s new ways to collaborate, building their connection, or becoming a stronger team.

If you’d like to grow from adversity, consider finding a deeper meaning in this time. Go to to discover a wealth of guidance to grow, repair and sustain your relationship in times of stress.

Recently,  Dr. Peter Pearson did a demonstration with a couple and helped them consider themselves as a team for the first time. They hadn’t thought of teamwork as a form of meaning. But by the time Pete was done working with them, they felt connected, collaborative, and were able to find the silver lining in the situation.

Thanks Pete and Ellyn at The Couples Institute.

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