The coronavirus pandemic and ensuing isolation people find themselves in will put many relationships to the test. In normal circumstances, time spent in “togetherness” is a goal and hallmark of a healthy couple. But no one ever suggested spending every waking minute in the same space, day in and day out. There are of course exceptions, couples that normally find satisfaction in putting their full attention on the “we” rather than “me” but surely even they would occasionally run to the grocery store on their own.
When mixing people’s collective anxieties, worries and stresses with being cooped up with their partners, there will be a negative impact on some relationships. And others will thrive and become stronger.
How do you keep your relationship as healthy as possible during quarantine?
-> Give each other space, where possible. You both need time alone, especially if there are kids in your space with you. Talk about the importance of this and how to make it happen. Are there times of the day that you can spend time in a separate room doing your own thing like reading, napping or doing your online exercise class? Can you agree that sometimes you’ll take a walk alone to move your body and get some fresh air? Time alone can allow for a fresh perspective.
-> Validate each other’s emotional experience in this pandemic. In a recent webinar on the topic of “couples under lockdown,” Esther Perel discussed the different coping mechanisms we all have when processing acute stress. You and your partner may cope differently, one with logic and the other with articulation of feelings. Some rely on order to manage chaos, while others are in panic mode emotionally and can’t imagine organizing around a schedule at such a time. But the feelings underneath these strategies are the same; sadness, stress and worry. “Rather than seeing each other’s coping strategy as a threat,” she said, can they be validated and supported?
-> Save no-win, loaded topics for later. Many homes have news on more than possibly ever, as people stay current with the constantly unfolding situation. They are watching news conferences, looking for information and soothing from our leadership. Unfortunately, for many in this country, these news conferences are only bringing heightened anxiety and even, rage. If your couple has differing opinions about how our current leadership at the highest level is handling this crisis, for example, don’t go there. Also, if you were working on your relationship before this pandemic unfolded, in therapy or otherwise, there may be hot topics that you hadn’t quite figured out how to manage. Might be a good idea to shelve old fights for now, especially if you haven’t yet acquired the communication tools you need to be successful.
-> Watch your negativity. There are good reasons to feel highly stressed and negative; job loss, finances, worry about health among many. Now more than ever it’s important to fight your negativity bias, particularly because research has shown that negative thoughts and events have at least three times the impact of positive. Research has also shown that four good things can overcome one bad thing. A negativity bias can be improved by things like gratitude, nostalgia (remembering fun times), being more of aware of negative thinking when it happens and countering it with positive self talk. As a couple, agree to work together to combat your negativity biases.
-> Notice the silver linings, if they exist. Following up on the above, couples can benefit from noticing aloud the “silver linings” in their experience. Some may have a hard time finding anything if they are in survival mode. But if you can get good at noticing the good this will help to experience this crisis in the optimal way possible. I’ve seen people talking about the silver linings of quality time with children, being in a natural surrounding to walk daily, expanding creativity via art or other activities, new adventures in cooking, our pets “winning,” finally organizing their “thousands” of digital photos and even the surprising benefit of being forced to slow down from a normally high octane, go-go-go life. If you and your partner can find any silver linings in your world, remind each other of them.
-> Dream about the future. “When this is over I can’t wait to …” What do you look forward to doing together? What will your family be doing or getting back to doing again? Anticipating happiness can help bring happiness to the now, even if briefly. Belief for a happier future can also help re-establish meaning and purpose. Discuss together.
These are times unlike any of us have every experienced. The emotional and relationship impact is real. Couples in quarantine need to say aware of the potential challenges to their relationships. This New York Times Opinion piece shows ways some couples are experiencing almost never being home alone.
Maybe you can relate.