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Even the happiest of couples are finding themselves in new relationship territory as social distancing and orders to shelter in place continue due to COVID-19.
Since the option to engage in a social life and activities outside of the house has been eliminated, couples are faced with potentially endless time together and new areas of conflict.
Living with your partner while experiencing the heightened anxiety of the coronavirus pandemic may feel like a huge undertaking. You may have noticed that you and your partner are pushing each other’s buttons and fighting more as a result of living in tight quarters.
And, for many couples, it’s not just a party of two. In addition to working from home, many couples are caring for their children and managing their homeschooling, planning meals, and taking care of pets. A significant portion of the population may also be handling financial and/or job losses, and persevering through pre-existing mental health disorders. The result is a relationship that is under increased stress.
If your relationship was already rocky, the coronavirus pandemic may be intensifying your concerns or problems. Negative emotions may deepen, leaving you feeling even more trapped, anxious, frustrated, and lonely in your relationship. This may be the case if you were already contemplating a breakup or divorce prior to the pandemic.
On the other hand, you may notice some silver linings of increased time together and less outside social influences, and you may feel more hopeful about the future of your relationship.
Regardless of your situation, you can take steps to ensure that the natural stress you and your partner feel during this pandemic doesn’t permanently destroy your relationship.
Here are five tips so you and your partner not only survive but thrive through the coronavirus epidemic:
This tip is especially important if you have a history of anxiety, panic disorder, and/or OCD because COVID-19 can make any underlying symptoms worse. While the hope is that you have a supportive partner, it is vital that you take your own mental health seriously and manage anxiety through healthy coping skills.
Remind yourself that it is natural to feel anxious while living through a pandemic. However, letting your anxiety or OCD run the show (as opposed to listening to scientific data and advice from public health experts and epidemiologists) will result in a higher level of discomfort and suffering. Make the commitment to stay informed but limit your exposure to news, social media, and nonstop chatting about COVID-19 so you avoid information overload.
Allow yourself to check reliable news sources one to two times a day, and set limits on how much time you spend researching and discussing anything coronavirus-related. Do your best to create healthy habits and a routine that works for you.
Consider incorporating physical activity or movement into your daily routine and get into the habit of preparing nutritious meals. Make sure you are getting adequate sleep and relaxation, including some time to virtually catch up with friends and family. Use technology wisely, including working with a mental health professional through phone or video.
Also, understand that you and your partner may have different styles of coping with the stress that the coronavirus breeds, and that’s OK. What’s important is communicating and taking proactive measures to take care of yourself and each other.
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself becoming annoyed by the little things your partner does. Stress can make us impatient, in general, but being critical of your partner will only increase tension and dissatisfaction.
Pointing out the positives and expressing gratitude will go a long way in the health of your relationship. Acknowledge with frequent expressions of gratitude the helpful things your partner is doing.
For example, verbalize your appreciation when your partner keeps your children occupied during an important work call or prepares you a delicious dinner. Letting your partner know what you appreciate and being gentle with each other will help you feel more connected.
You and your partner may have different definitions of personal space. Since the usual time apart (through jobs, social outlets, and activities outside of your home) no longer exists, you may be feeling suffocated by so much more contact with your partner and less contact with others.
Or you may feel even more alone in your relationship because, despite being in the same space 24/7, there is zero quality time together and life feels even more separate. That’s why it’s important to balance individual time with time as a couple, and be considerate if your needs are different.
For example, if you are more extroverted and your partner is more introverted, social distancing may be harder on you. Communicate with your partner that it is important for you to spend time with friends and family virtually, and keep up with your other relationships from afar. It may be equally important for your partner to have space and alone time for rejuvenation. Maybe you can allot time for your partner to read a book while you arrange a Zoom get-together for you and your friends.
The key is to discuss your needs with your partner as opposed to keeping them to yourself and then feeling resentful that your partner can’t read your mind.
Maintaining a positive relationship with your partner as you adjust to life in crisis may be the last thing on your mind. Yes, it’s true that now may be an appropriate time to change or lower your expectations, but it’s also important to work together to get through this unprecedented time.
Asking questions, such as “What can I do to support you?” and “What do you need from me?” will help foster intimacy and togetherness. Your needs may be changing in this unique situation, and you may have to renegotiate time and space apart. Answer these questions honestly and give your partner time to respond, approaching the conversation with sincere interest versus judgment. If you find yourself fighting more, check out my advice for fighting fair and communicating constructively.
Again, working on your relationship and getting your spark back may be on the back burner as you both juggle anxiety, financial hardships, work from home, and taking care of kids.
If you are focused on how stuck you feel at home, you may forget that your home can be a place for fun, relaxation, romance, and joy. Set aside some private time to connect. Plan a themed date night or recreate a favorite meal or event you miss.
Get out of the yoga pants you may be living in (no judgment from me as I type away in my sweats!) and put some effort into your appearance. Put away distractions, take a break from discussions about the coronavirus, tuck the kids into bed, and spend quality time together.
Don’t wait for the coronavirus to end to go on dates. Plan them in your house or outside and soak in some vitamin D with your partner at a safe distance from others.
Life prior to the coronavirus outbreak may now feel like distant memories. We’ve all had to make lifestyle changes that naturally have an impact on our relationships and marriages.
Figuring out how to adapt to this new reality may take time, patience, and lots of communication, but if you put in some effort, your relationship or marriage can still thrive, offer contentment, and stand the test of time and the coronavirus.