Ask an Expert: Dr. Julie Leventhal, UNT Honors College

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Dr. Julie Leventhal, UNTUNT System HR is bringing UNT World experts directly to you with this periodic and always timely installation called "Ask An Expert." So, let's ask...

EXPERT: Julie Leventhal, Principal Lecturer, UNT Honors College
EXPERTISE: Interpersonal relationships, human trafficking

Nearly a year into the pandemic, perhaps Valentine's Day is coming at just the right time to remind us how fortunate many of us are to be with our significant other during such stressful times -- even if, at times, all this time together can seem, well, a bit much. Our Ask an Expert series consulted with UNT Honors College relationship guru Dr. Julie Leventhal (pictured with her new husband Eric) to share relationship wisdom. She provides advice to make our pandemic Valentine's Day meaningful and shares how we can better support one another as so many of us are spending more hours together with our loved ones than ever before.

Q: We love to get a romantic meal out on Valentine's Day, but because of the pandemic, we're just not dining in. Can you help save our celebration on this special day?
Julie: Almost a year into this pandemic and being home (a lot) with your significant other, it seems as though many have creatively adapted to spending time with loved ones! I have read a lot of stories about how couples and families are doing things like outdoor movies, picnics and even setting up unique spaces in their homes for special occasions. However, I think there was a big push for that kind of creativity early on during the pandemic, but now a lot of couples and families are falling back into the, “we’re still doing the same thing day-in and day-out” rut. So, more specifically for Valentine’s Day, I think it’s important for families to inject a bit of a refresh into their systems. It could be engaging in some activity like those I just mentioned or maybe figuring out something new. Why not order a surprise food delivery for dinner?

It may not be the “typical” fancy Valentine's-type dinner that we always see represented in pop culture, but not needing to spend time cooking a meal for a day might be a welcome and appreciated break for a partner. Or, maybe go the more practical rout and instead of buying something like flowers, order groceries to be delivered so that your spouse has one less thing to worry about. Even though both of those examples relate specifically to food, think about ways that you can help provide something for your partner; we don’t necessarily need more time to spend with our partners since we might be together so frequently now, so actions may be something different that a partner may value.

Also keep in mind that Valentine’s Day is just another day in the large scheme of things. Given that the days now all seem to merge together, it may be more significant to pinpoint a more meaningful day to celebrate with your partner. Did your children go back to face-to-face learning and now your house is empty again during the day? Did your partner start a new job after being laid off due to the pandemic? Did you just get the vaccine? Did you just get out of bed this morning and finally feel a sense of hope for the first time in a while? All of these types of events are significant, and may be even more important to single out and celebrate in place of a typical Valentine’s Day celebration.

Q: The pandemic has added many new stresses to our relationships. What are ways we can offer support to ease the stress felt by our partner?
I think the best approach is to communicate with your partner regarding their needs. Once you’re able to determine what they need you’ll be better equipped to either meet those needs or figure out a way to be supportive. For instance, if they need a dedicated amount of time during the day to work free of distractions, then you can work toward setting up that space or time for them. If they need you to take care of lunch because they have a meeting or are working with the kids, then maybe you can call in a food order. Remember though – that goes both ways. It’s important for partners and family members to openly talk about where they’re at and what they need in order for everyone to be able to work toward more harmonious interactions. If you have children, be sure to share responsibilities equally. Discuss creative ways to parent and break up the monotony of being homebound with special events like a parent-child date. Use this opportunity to create lasting memories with fun activities like a scavenger hunt, a movie night with tickets, popcorn and theater seating, or try something new like a backyard campout. Special family time gives children something to look forward to and eases their frustration and anxiety.

Q: For many people working remotely these days, we're spending more hours than ever with our significant other. Little annoyances can balloon into bigger issues, so how can we best deal with these without alienating each other?
You need to communicate. If I don’t express my concerns and frustrations to you, how are you supposed to know that I’m feeling them? It is tough because with so many things going haywire in the world right now (job insecurity, home schooling, changes in routines, etc.), we might feel badly if we speak up because we don’t want to add to the stress. However, speaking up and connecting with your partner may actually help reduce tension and worry. You need to open the door in order to actually walk through it.

Q: What are ways we can keep our relationship healthy?
 Make sure to take time for each relationship, regardless of what type it is. Romance in a romantic relationship? Schedule a stay-in date night… have a picnic in the front yard, watch a movie together in a space that is separate from where you normally are or that is removed from others in the family, cook a special meal or just have some quiet time together.