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How a morning walk keeps 1 couple connected during the pandemic

Being stuck in a house together requires couples to be even more intentional about making meaningful connections.
Morning Walks
Niro and Ed Feliciano start every morning with a brisk walk around their neighborhood.TODAY illustration / Rachel Henderson

During the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of couples have been cooped up at home together for months on end, many with young children. While it’s too soon to know, attorneys think the pandemic is likely fueling a rise in divorce rates. But some couples are finding proactive ways to stay sane and connected during lockdown.

Morning walks: “A very calming routine”

Connecticut couple Niro and Ed Feliciano start their mornings with a brisk walk around their wooded neighborhood. It’s a great way for the mom and dad of four kids to get out and de-stress before the start of a hectic day, Niro Feliciano, a cognitive therapist and author of the podcast “Coping With The New Normal of COVID-19," told TODAY.

“It's a nice time of day because the sun is just rising as well, which is very beautiful,” Feliciano said. “But it's a very calming routine. It's a great way to begin the day. It's a way to clear your head but also connect with someone who you care about before you start to face all your daily responsibilities and stressors.”

Shifting focus away from your phone

In the digital age, many of us feel compelled to grab our phones first thing in the morning. And as the pandemic worsens among rising political and social chaos, there’s often a nagging impulse to keep abreast of the latest news and social media drama. But "doomscrolling" isn’t a good way to start your day, said the therapist.

“For one, just getting out in the morning, not spending your morning on the phone, gives you a different focus,” she said. “I think oftentimes, when people go to the phone first, their attention gets fractured, you know, you're kind of looking at things that you don't have time to attend to right in that moment. And then already, your focus is all over the place, and starting to feel some of the anxiety of the responsibilities you have for that day.”

Being intentional about connecting with your partner

Couples in long-term relationships who don’t regularly experience novelty together or take the time to learn new things about each other easily drift apart, but a morning walk routine is a perfect way to stay connected, according to Feliciano, who has been married to Ed, a surgeon, for almost 18 years.

“You're intentional about connecting,” she said.

Every morning, they pick a new route and head out for a 30- to 45-minute stroll around their suburb. She said their morning walk gives them alone time to talk and explore uncharted neighborhoods. They’ve discovered many new things together they’d typically miss in the car, she added, like old barns tucked behind farmland, historic homes and wildlife.

It's easier to have hard conversations on the move

Morning walks give the couple an opportunity to talk about things they don’t normally have time to discuss, said Feliciano.

“Given the pace of both of our busy schedules, just making the time, you find that the conversation becomes a little bit more organic than if you just schedule time or rush time during the day when you're doing other things, you know, the dizziness of life,” she said.

Morning strolls also make it easier to discuss the things in their relationship that are “a little bit harder to talk about,” Feliciano said, “because you're doing something else.”

“You're not just sitting there staring at each other,” she explained. “And it's uncomfortable, but you're doing something else, you're focused on something else, and you're not really looking at each other. Sometimes it's easier to talk about certain things while you're a little bit engaged in another activity, where you're not so focused on the other person.”

It's good for your physical health, too

Morning walks aren’t only a great way for couples to connect and rekindle; they’re a chance to get a little exercise and de-stress before the start of a long and sedentary work day. Feliciano estimated their morning walks are between one to two miles long. For couples who are trying to lose weight or get healthier in the new year, walking is a great way to achieve that goal together, she said.

“This is a good way to connect emotionally, but also strengthen yourself physically as well,” she said.

Feliciano added that being out in the cold for short periods is also good for mental health.

“For those of us who live in cold states, the cold has a calming effect, believe it or not, on our autonomic nervous system,” she said.

The power of having a shared goal

Couples in long-term relationships often drift into separate habits, explained Feliciano. She said morning walks give her and Ed a shared goal and a sense of commonality.

“The fact that we found something that we both feel is worth getting up in the morning for, that alone has strengthened our relationship,” she said. “We're both committed to something together.”