Tips for Maintaining Healthy Relationships During the Pandemic

John Whyte, MD; Dr. Ish Major


February 11, 2022

Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

JOHN WHYTE: I'm Dr. John Whyte, the Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. And you're watching Coronavirus in Context. Relationships are hard, and the COVID pandemic has made them harder. How many of you have lost a friend? How many of you are no longer with a loved one that you were with at the beginning of the pandemic? How hard has it been to create new relationships?

We have a mental health tsunami upon us, and healthy relationships are an important part of our overall health. So to help provide some guidance into how we maintain and build healthy relationships going forward, I'm joined by one of the best experts out there, Dr. Ish Major, board-certified psychiatrist. You know him as the co-host of WE TV's Marriage Boot Camp. And he's a frequent guest on The Doctors and The Nick Cannon Show. Dr. Ish, thanks for joining me.

ISH MAJOR: Hey, Dr. Whyte. Thank you so much for having me. It's been a pleasure. Long-time fan.

JOHN WHYTE: Yes. Just how bad is it in terms of trying to maintain relationships during lockdown, there's a lot of loneliness, and then trying to find new relationships? It's hard to do if you're at home or people aren't going out.

ISH MAJOR: It's been tough because this is one of those extraordinary times in our lives when we really needed other people's help to help us feel OK, right? We've needed that. And when we've looked for that within the boundaries of our relationship and it hasn't been there, it's been really, really difficult to come to terms with what you don't have. And now, since all our options are so limited, how do we go about getting it?

JOHN WHYTE: How do virtual relationships count? Do they count at all, if you're friends with someone you never met on Zoom?

ISH MAJOR: It's like we're doing doctor. It's like, what is the end, what is the outcome, what are we trying to do. Well, we're trying to not feel alone, right? That's really what we're trying to do. And if a text message helps, then it works. If a phone call helps, then it works. If a Zoom buddy or a virtual buddy helps, then it works. Just to know that there's somebody out there like me, who actually likes me and we have that connection, it's one of those six human needs. And so whatever we can use to bridge that gap, and by all means, we've got to let the tech work for us. And so yeah, if that helps you feel that connection, great.

JOHN WHYTE: What are the six needs? I didn't know there were six. So tell me what the six are.

ISH MAJOR: Yeah, so the six human needs, right? We all have a need for certainty, right? We want to know what comes next. We want to know we're OK at the end of the day, when our head hits the pillow. But too much certainty, and we get bored, and we want a little jazz, a little spice, a little uncertainty, a little adventure, a little excitement. So that's the second one.

The third need is to feel significant, right? We all want to know that we matter and we feel important, whether it's to our family, to our friends, in our positions at work. And then the fourth, which is connection, love, right, belonging, that significant romantic partnership. And as we get older, we want to know that we're growing, right? Growth is a huge need. Without that, you know this as a doc, when folks aren't progressing, life gets hard. We don't feel right.

We feel anxious. We feel depressed. We feel like, well, why does any of this matter? And then those later stages of life, we want to know that we contributed to the whole fabric of it. Our journey meant something. I'm leaving something behind, whether it's to my kids or to my business. I made a mark in my industry. And so any one of those can be in your top one or two or three. We get to pick which one matters most to us. But depending on how that need matters to you goes a long way to how you show up in life.

JOHN WHYTE: Loneliness is a big component. It's been a result of the mitigation strategies and lockdowns. It's been a result of people don't feel comfortable going out. How do you help patients? How do you help people when they come to you and they say, Dr. Ish, I'm lonely?

ISH MAJOR: Yeah. That's a tough call, right? And so now you've got to make it super specific. First, you go macro. You're not the only one, right? I hear what you're saying, and I validate that for sure. And then for me, I'll follow that up with and we're all lonely, right, because none of us have access to what we used to, and to freely-- even if we are trying to do those things, to go there freely in your mind, right? We're all struggling.

And so let's look at what you have, right? Because the tendency with COVID is to focus on what it took from us. It took my freedom to go places and do things and meet people. Yes, so it made your circle a lot smaller, but it also made that small circle a lot more powerful and meaningful. So let's now focus on what we still do have, because there's some folks there who are there for you.

So now let's fix our filter and look at this thing through a little bit different lens, and let's see who is in our life who we can reach out to, but we just haven't. Maybe there's some unresolved resentment, there was an argument six months ago and it felt awkward. OK, reach back out, because if you're thinking about it, they're human, too. They're thinking about it. And so any connection helps. So let's look at what we still have and what we can do to reinforce those connections.

JOHN WHYTE: Full disclosure, I'm a big fan of your social media posts. I am impressed with what you said. And you didn't know this ahead of time. I pulled out a few. We'll show them on the screen.


JOHN WHYTE: I'm going to call them-- I don't know if anyone's ever called them my Ish-isms. But I'll grant it.

ISH MAJOR: I love it.


ISH MAJOR: I love it.

JOHN WHYTE: Now, you'll owe me if you use that. So I'm going to start off--

ISH MAJOR: I like that. I love it.

JOHN WHYTE: --because I think this is what people are feeling, and you sum it up so well. So the first is you say, "I couldn't heal because I kept pretending I wasn't hurt."

ISH MAJOR: Yeah. Yeah. That's everything, right? And that one has particular meaning to me because, in the first half of my life, I just powered through, right? Whatever those shame defenses I could use, Dr. Whyte, to not feel that hurt, I would use it. For me, it was certainty. For me, it was perfectionism. For me, it was achievement. If I can do more, get more, be more, then I wouldn't have to feel that hurt, and the shame that comes along with it.

So the first step is acknowledging, right? You know this with your patients. The doctor-patient interaction officially begins once they tell you where it hurts.

JOHN WHYTE: Yeah. And if they don't acknowledge that they're hurt, then it's very hard to get to that road to recovery. And there's some benefit they may seem that, if I don't admit it, it's not there, but as you point out, it's going to eat at you over time. So I love that.

The second one-- I'm going to push back. Because you said earlier, if you're lonely, you might want to send that text and talk to folks. But you told me earlier-- and I like this one-- you say, don't let that Send button wreck your 2022.

Think before you send. We can all relate to that. When do you know you can wait? You're mad, sometimes. You want to send that tweet or a text. I've wanted to do that.

ISH MAJOR: Don't do it. Think before you send. Don't let that Send button wreck your 2022.

JOHN WHYTE: Why? I'll delete it. That's not true, right? We can't really delete.

ISH MAJOR: Nope. It lives on in perpetuity. So, again, let COVID be the dark gift it was, and let it make you realize what you have and what you don't. If it's legit a part of your past, let it stay in the past. If that relationship was toxic then and you have done nothing to detox it in the meantime, then don't send that text.

JOHN WHYTE: What's the risk of sending it? I'm going to give my point of view, Dr. Ish. What's wrong with that? I'm not going to let them take advantage. I'm going to send that text.

ISH MAJOR: Well, what are you looking for? Are you wanting to be right, or are you just want to find some peace and some happiness and some joy? Because very rarely do those two things coincide when it comes to relationships. It just doesn't.

JOHN WHYTE: We should not send it or-- what about if we wait till the next day? Is that OK then? Or you're saying, don't send it at all.

ISH MAJOR: I think, for this situation, somebody has got to be the adult in the room. And it's OK to say what you're thinking. And it's OK to say what you're feeling. It's OK to say I may regret sending this, but this is what I'm feeling right now.

And that starts an honest discussion, as opposed to blaming or naming or shaming. Hey, I was hurt by this. Send the text if you can send it from a place of vulnerability. This is how I'm feeling, and I'm just letting you know-- reflecting.

Because a lot of times, Doc, a lot of folks never know the part they played in how you feel. It didn't register. Oh, my goodness, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings. I'm so sorry but--

JOHN WHYTE: Hope they say that. Yeah.

ISH MAJOR: Right. Yeah. So that's what you hope, right? So know why it is you're engaging. If you're engaging to punch back, that's probably not a good strategy.

JOHN WHYTE: Yeah, we're all a little testy and frustrated during the pandemic. Here's one of my favorite Ish-isms. "Give more compliments that aren't about physical appearance."

ISH MAJOR: In every relationship romantic, platonic, collegial, whatever-- we want three things. We want to be seen. We want to be heard. We want to be understood. And once you get past the seen part, a lot of it's not about this.

I want you to see me. I want you to know me. That's why we're here. We want the thing. Again, one of those six needs is connection. I want to make a connection with you.

JOHN WHYTE: And what should I say? I shouldn't say, Dr. Ish, I like your smile. What should I say?

ISH MAJOR: You know what? You can say, Dr. Ish, you have such a joyful smile. Because now you're seeing where the smile comes from. It's a, oh, wow--

JOHN WHYTE: I like your commentaries. I like how you wrote this piece.

ISH MAJOR: Yeah. Yeah. Like I could say, Dr. Whyte, I love how relaxed and easy you are to talk to.

JOHN WHYTE: Thank you.

ISH MAJOR: You have a very calming demeanor. I felt better once you jumped on the Zoom. It's like a free therapy session for me, because you're so cool to talk-- now, I'm seeing more than the nice suit and the nice shirt and the great decor in the background. I'm seeing you, and that helps us feel this thing called connection.

JOHN WHYTE: Here's my last Dr. Ish-ism. And I've got mixed emotions on it, so I want to ask you about it. You say, "Being challenged in life is inevitable. Being defeated is optional."

Now I get where you're going with that. But what about folks who then could feel, well, you know what? If I'm defeated, I'm a failure. Because you're saying it's optional. Help us understand the nuance here.

ISH MAJOR: The setback is always about the bounce back, right? We're all going to have challenges. And it is not a contest of whose challenges hurt more or what struggle was harder.

We're all going to have those defeats, but it's the mentality you have when you got knocked on your butt and you're laying up looking at the sky. Do you feel defeated, or are you simply taking a moment before you get your bounce back?

Because it's about that. It's about perspective. It's about the way you conceptualize it. It's about the way you frame that thing. If you ask Tom Brady about his defeats, what is he going to tell you? Oh, the best things that ever happened to me. Because, oh my God, you can't imagine what I learned to win the Super Bowl next year.

So everything for me-- I've fallen out of the sky so many times. Oh, you can't imagine how many times I've fallen out of sky.

And it's scary, and it hurts. And it's painful. But when I hit the ground, I know I just got a little bit more momentum for the bounce back. Because I'm ready now. I was resting up as I was falling and flailing out of the sky.

JOHN WHYTE: So Dr. Ish, what do you tell people? How should they think about relationships as hopefully we're starting to return to a new normal-- maybe not the same as it was pre-pandemic, but certainly entering that stage? What's your overall advice for folks as they're trying to have resilience, build existing relationships, and create new ones?

ISH MAJOR: Yeah, check your story. Check your love story. Rewrite that script. Because our love story are what's going to make that thing come true. So if you think relationships were tough during the pandemic, they're going to be hard. If you think, I can't meet people during the pandemic, then you're not going to meet anybody during the pandemic.

But if you think, you know what? Love is easy. It's a game, and it's out there for me. OK. Guess what? It's going to be out there for you. It's going to be some random face in a box on a Zoom. You're like, oh, wait. Hold on. I didn't see you sitting over there.

And so, know it's possible. The connection you want is possible. The connection you have is out there. You simply have to take control of your love story, take control of that narrative and not let it control you.

The way our brains work is it wants what we believe to come true. So if you believe that there's love out there for you and that you are lovable and worth it and deserving of it, then 1,000% it's going to be there, COVID or no COVID, pre or post-pandemic.

JOHN WHYTE: That is a great perspective. Dr. Ish Major, thanks for joining today.

ISH MAJOR: Thanks so much for having me, Dr. Whyte. Really a pleasure.

JOHN WHYTE: If you have questions for Dr. Ish or me, feel free to drop us a line. You can email me at Thanks for watching.

This interview originally appeared on WebMD on February 11, 2022

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