Even if you're madly in love with your partner, social isolating with them can be frustrating. Initially, it might seem fun to stay home and work in your pajamas. However, eventually reality sets in, and the limitations imposed by social distancing can get to you. Why does that happen, especially if you have a strong relationship? Do your frustrations mean that something is wrong with your relationship?
Just because you feel frustrated when you're in lockdown with your partner doesn't mean there is anything wrong with you. Everyone is a little on edge over the threat of the novel coronavirus. Sudden job loss also has people worrying about finances, and money has always had the ability to strain our relationships.
If you're suddenly at home all the time without any structure, unable to outsource your emotional needs to friends or family, and barred from socializing with anyone outside your house, it's completely understandable if your partner gets on your nerves. Add to the fact that we don't know just how long these precautionary measures will last, and it's a recipe for stress.
No wonder China saw an increase in divorces after their quarantine ended. But quarantining with your partner doesn't have to harm your relationship.
What can couples do to offset these troubles when stuck in quarantine?
Most people are moving from environments such as work or school that include structure to home, where they suddenly have nothing to fill the hours. Even those people who are still working and studying find themselves without routine. You may not have to abide by the time clock, but you can still create structure.
Wake up and go to bed around the same time every day. Schedule at least one of your meals, and sit down with your partner at the table. If you plan to snack or grab a meal on the go, make sure it doesn't interfere with planned meals.
Specify a time for work or study. Let your partner know when you will need quiet for reading or a video meeting. Schedule errands such as picking up groceries or going to the bank. Don't forget to schedule a few leisure activities such as watching a movie, time for crafts, or taking a walk.
Although social distancing is necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19, you don't have to lock yourself inside your home. Most governments permit outdoor exercise as long as it's solo or only includes people from your household. This means you can go for a walk or jog, both of which can boost your mood and give you space from your partner.
Of course, the two of you could go for a romantic sunset stroll while holding hands, too. Just make sure to avoid parks and paths that are crowded. In these times, it's better to literally take the path less followed.
Boundaries are necessary when sharing space. Create zones for work or study and living. If you don't have a home office or spare room, this might mean setting up shop on the kitchen table. This goes along with creating structure.
Decide where your partner will be when you're working and vice versa. Tight spaces may require creative solutions. For example, wearing headphones artificially creates alone time but also protects your partner from hearing every show, song, or YouTube tutorial that you watch.
Finally, remember to create your own space even when you're not working. It's all too easy to spend every waking moment with your partner, but that can soon lead to distress.
While it's easy to focus on how you feel during these stressful times, don't forget that we're all in this together. Others are worried about health and finances and feeling cabin fever set in. It's important to practice empathy during these times. Care for your partner if they're ill. Relax if chores aren't done perfectly. They're not as important as getting through this together.
Remember that little annoyances are not intended to drive you mad; it's just a consequence of close quarters, and stress makes you more likely to notice the negative. Look for charitable reasons for your partner's behavior, instead. According to one study, refusing to give the benefit of the doubt for wrongdoings and attributing them to inherent flaws leads to relationship dissatisfaction, while the tendency to overlook shortcomings and maintain "positive illusions" about a partner sustains relationships.
Don't just stop at showing empathy toward your partners or other people in your household; however. Show yourself a little compassion, too. You're bound to make mistakes. After all, you're only human, and you need to keep that in mind in these trying times. Apologize and do better, but don't dwell on what you should have done.
Make Time for Romance
Just like you have to create a space for work, you need to make space for romance. Now's the time to get back into the habit of a weekly date night, even if that means taking a walk or ordering takeout. Cook a new recipe together, and dress up for the meal. Turn off your electronics, and have a real conversation rather than just having sex.
Consider going through old photos or videos to trigger nostalgia and reminder yourself why you chose this person in the first place. Research shows that sharing memories can make you feel closer.
Of course, sex is a great way to pass the time if you're "stuck" with your partner, and there are plenty of positions, toys, and fantasies to try out now that you have the time. Remember the birth control if you want to avoid becoming a statistic: some disasters can lead to increased birth rates nine months later.
All of the above depends upon you communicating openly, honestly and, perhaps most importantly, kindly with your partner. Communication is also a must when conflict arises, and you should be prepared for a bit of conflict during lockdown. The difference between conflict that breaks a relationship and conflict that doesn't is how you handle it. Take your time when responding when you're annoyed, and don't bring up stressful topics unless you absolutely cannot let them go.
If a couple can talk calmly about difficult topics, even in time of quarantine, they'll come out the other side just fine. In fact, working through relationship stress can reinforce that a couple is a team. However, disagreements that lead to name-calling, yelling, or abusive behavior may be a relationship death knell but likely indicate issues that existed in the relationship before COVID-19.
Having a third party get an outside look can lead to amazing growth for relationships, especially when that outside look is coming from a highly skilled professional. Couples therapy has been well known for helping couples become aware of unhealthy behavior patterns and point out their strengths in their relationship.
Social distancing definitely poses obstacles to seeing any type of professional. However, research shows that online teletherapy is just as effective as in-person therapy. If a couple believes that they could benefit from seeing a couple's therapist, waiting till they can physically walk into an office might make things worse, and possibly build resentment. Just like here at Thriving Mind Psychology, most therapists have switched to online video teletherapy for clients seeking help.
Be Proactive During This Time
If you feel as though your relationship might be stagnant or even taking a downturn, don’t wait for the COVID-19 pandemic to end to start making changes. Use these tips and this time together to build on the relationship you created.
For more information or to schedule a session with one of our Marriage and Couples Therapy professionals, visit our website at www.ThrivingMindPsychology.com.