If someone would’ve asked me how I define grace, prior to 2020, I’m sure my answer would look much different than the definition I hold for grace today. I don’t even know if it would’ve made the top 5 for a healthy marriage. But this year it does. As I work every day with couples on the brink of separation or divorce, the one thing I’m teaching over and over again and cannot recommend enough, is grace.

The holiday season is upon us, which means more, not less, coping with the differences of a #2020life. Stress and tension run high around this time of year regardless of a pandemic, which means for marriages, we’ve been put in a pressure cooker-countdown without the countdown. If there’s one more thing you can possibly add, go for grace. Here’s how:

Give one another physical and emotional space.

It’s rare when couples have the same idea of quality time. Typically, one person in the relationship wants to spend more time than the other which sometimes feels like hovering, neediness, restlessness, stand-offish-ness or any number of other emotional/physical elements. If you’ve been able to navigate this pretty well thus far, that’s great! But I still recommend taking physical and emotional space from one another. If you’re not getting along, or tensions are running high at home, take it sooner than later.

Emotional space looks like not relying on your partner as much to solve a problem, feel better, or even requesting he or she do things for you that you can do yourself. These can wait a short period of time. Chill on asking for favors and little extras for a minute. Physical space might mean you take the dog for an extra long walk, the kids to an extra long visit with the grandparents sans spouse, or even spending time apart in separate spaces at home.

If you can’t be empathic, say so and don’t flub it.

Resentment is the very last thing anyone needs to be harboring right about now. If you feel like you’re forcing yourself to be empathic then you’re also likely to feel like you can’t offer the support or emotional intimacy in that very moment. Faking it feels a lot like stuffing your own feelings away. If you’re not in the right headspace, say so supportively. Things like, “I want to be as present as I can be for you, can we talk a little later?” or “I’m feeling like I can’t be as supportive as I want to be right now because I’m so stressed out” go a long way. 

Focus on the problem, not the person.

Your partner did not cause the pandemic. Period. They just did not. They may be causing you other ailments though. Before you blow off steam at him or her, check-in with yourself about what all this emotion you’re feeling is really about. Is it about them? Really? Or is it about the fact that you just.cannot.be.inside.another.second. Regardless of the reason, avoid blame and criticism and focus instead on needs, wants, and solutions. Try conversations that involve problem-solving the problem, and not generalizing your partner or picking apart a character flaw. No one is their best self right now.

Cool it on the “just kiddings,” and flippant comments.

These get annoying, there’s just no other way to say it and when you’re around someone 24/7 for a long period of time, respect the fact that everyone is walking on eggshells. You very well may be the funniest person you know, but there’s nothing funny about putting someone else down to make a joke or a point or making passive-aggressive, back-handed comments about the way your partner does something. No one needs the added annoyance, negativity, or extra effort it takes to read between the lines. Be clear and express your needs and wants directly without making your partner the butt of a joke or adding more work to his or her plate (in the emotional and literal sense). 

Play and/or move.

Does working from home keep you sitting down a lot during the day? Are you looking at screens most of the day or even more than you ever have before? Take a visual break and move around your house, or your backyard. Go for a walk to look at holiday lights. Bundle up and just take a jaunt around the block even. We hold stress and tension in our bodies and the only way to work it out is to literally work it out. Do something lighthearted and fun, even if that just means cooking or folding laundry to music. This is a great time to break out old school board games too. 

Give grace like it’s your full-time job.

I know, I know. This might require you to dig deep. So deep. Like deeper than you may have ever dug before. Grace is something we could all use right now. Whether or not you or your partner are handling this quarantine anxiety-ridden or calm and zen-like, extend grace. It’s such an extension of love to receive it but it’s also so incredibly pleasant to offer as well. Give grace to your partner and grace to yourself as much as you can.