In the beginning, this whole social distancing sounded amazing. You’d get to spend lots of time with your partner, doing fun things together straight off of your bucket list, like baking bread and planting a garden. And for a week or two, it was pretty awesome. But then, reality started to set in, and now getting to share time together feels more like being stuck in an escape room that you can’t get out of. Now, you’re at the quarantine stage where you’re starting to snap at your partner for the way he chews his pasta. So, can your relationship survive COVID-19? Hopefully, yes.
Look, right now we’re in unchartered waters. The last time the world saw something of this magnitude was the Spanish flu back in 1918. So if you’re a little on edge and petty with your partner, it’s to be expected. “While it may be a challenge right now, it is important to believe that just as other challenges have passed, this too will also eventually pass,” says Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, a licensed clinical professional counselor and a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist. “If you’re having a particularly challenging time being ‘locked up’ with your spouse, take it one day at a time. Live in the present and don’t project into the future.”
Learn how your relationship can not only survive COVID-19, but thrive as well.
Fighting with your partner might be par for the course, but when you’re under such extreme circumstances, everything might feel magnified. Thing is, try not to let it warp your view of your relationship. “When you have a fight with your spouse or get triggered, your whole picture of reality is clouded,” says Rabbi Slatkin. “Don’t condemn your relationship to failure, or catastrophize and assume that the state you are in now is the fixed reality and incapable of changing.” You might find that you’re pissed at your partner now, and in an hour be laughing over something silly. Try to not make your moods more monumental than they already are.
When you have to wear a mask every time you’re outside (when you can even get outside, that is), and it’s hard to find basic staples, it can definitely put you in a negative head space. But that’s when you need to take a breath and be thankful for all that you do have…such as your sweetie. “When a couple is in a negative space, it’s important to start shifting the focus on the positive,” says Rabbi Slatkin. “Even if there are considerable challenges with your relationship, there are undoubtedly good things as well. Focus on your partner’s positive points, and be grateful that they’re there with you during this troubling time.
Being stuck inside can feel just like that; like you’re stuck, emotionally and physically. That’s why you need to put a big focus on fun. “When couples are stuck, having fun is an effective way to shift the energy,” says Rabbi Slatkin. “Find ways to have lighter moments together. Laugh together, be silly, anything that can break the tension.” Even though you might not know when life will return to normal, realize that even if you annoy each other, you should still make an effort to incorporate fun activities into your day to get through the prickly parts of it all.
Learn To Listen
From incessant news reports to your kids complaining about homeschooling and not seeing their friends, there is so much noise assaulting your ears right now that you probably want to tune it all out. But listening, especially to your partner, can help make your relationship stronger, even during the quarantine. “Many people think listening is a passive activity, but active listening is crucial for relationships to feel safe enough for partners to share their true thoughts and feelings without judgment,” says Natalie Mica, a licensed professional counselor in Houston, Texas. “Active listening occurs when individuals are willing to put their own beliefs, feelings, and thoughts to the side while they fully engage in what their partner is saying.” So before you’re quick to offer your input into the conversation, try listening to what your partner’s really saying, and ask open-ended questions rather than giving advice, advises Mica. This will give both of you the space to speak freely and be yourselves.
Set Clear Boundaries
Sure, life is chaotic right now, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be. There are ways to weave in healthy boundaries so that everyone knows what is expected of them. “All healthy relationships require boundaries, which are simply rules about what is ok and not okay in a relationship,” says Mica. “Boundaries can cover many topics such as sex and affection, personal space or free time, finances, family, friends, and conflict.” Even though you might have though that boundaries could create more distance between you and your partner, they actually work to smooth the rough patches in your relationship, they can help couples have more open and honest communication.
Learn To Handle Conflict
Fighting with your partner isn’t always fun, but it’s normal—and necessary. “Conflict is normal in relationships and is actually a sign that a relationship is engaged,” says Mica. “Handling conflict, however, may not feel normal or comfortable for many partners.” One way to increase the ability to handle conflict is to recognize your own triggers and work on the root causes of why you may be triggered. Knowing what irks you (say, your partner leaving their coffee cup right next to—and not in—the sink might be one), and figuring out how to calmly discuss your pain points can lead towards real resolutions.
Ideally, the workload in a relationship would be done 50/50. But it’s unrealistic to expect that you and your partner are going to divvy up the duties easily and fairly. Talk with your partner about the division of labor in your relationship and see how you can better share the load. “While everything will not always divide up equally in every moment of a relationship, healthy relationships should be balanced,” says Mica. “Partners should work toward a balance of effort, support, individual free time, opportunities for personal growth, and importance.” After all, equality in the relationship fuels respect—and decreases the chance of bitterness building up.
It’s easy to let a day (okay, several) go by wearing the same jammies you slept in. But in order for you to feel better about your relationship, (and really, yourself), you should take the time for self-care. “Taking care of yourself during this time of high-stress and anxiety is crucial if your relationship is to thrive,” says Lesli Doares, a marriage coach and relationship expert, and the author of Blueprint for a Lasting Marriage: How to Create Your Happily Ever After with More Intention, Less Work. “Making sure you are staying physically and emotionally healthy is critical by acknowledging difficult emotions and finding healthy ways to express them.” It might be anything from eating healthy to exercise, to meditation and practicing mindfulness. But really, when you find healthy ways to cope, you’ll be a better person…and partner.
Although you might be feeling a little (well, a lot) on edge lately, it’s important to find ways to remain calm, especially when you’re communicating with your partner. “Being in close quarters can test even the most patient person,” says Doares. “Knowing how to make reasonable requests in way that can be heard will make life easier for everyone.” But don’t wait until all your feelings are bubbling up inside; learn how to share your concerns on a regular basis so communication doesn’t become a sparring match, and you feel heart and supported.
Make Real Time For Each Other
“Yes, you are sheltering together but that doesn’t mean you are connecting,” says Doares. “While there are real downsides to this situation, evaluating your relationship for what’s working and what’s not is an opportunity to prioritize your relationship.” So as unconventional as it might be, try to spend time truly talking to each other and going on dates, no matter how different they might be from the real thing. And talk to your partner about how they’re really feeling—and really listen to what they have to say.
Life as we know it has taken a sudden (and drastic) change. And in the place of old activities, there’s a likelihood that some things we do to replace them might not be healthy, such as drinking, binge eating, or spending too much time focused on the kids. “Now is the time to reset things,” says Doares. “Learning healthy relationship skills and implementing them now, when there is time, is what will help you not just survive this crisis but come out thriving.” Although it would be ideal if your partner could help you in the process, be a role model for good behavior. “One person, doing something different, can make a big difference,” says Doares. And if you find that your relationship is really struggling, you might want to seek outside help to get you through this pandemic period.
Try To Stop The Stress
Let’s face it: life is stressful now. And if it’s chaotic both at work and at home, it can do some serious damage to your relationship. So even though it’s going to be hard, try to make your home less stressful and more like a sanctuary. “Don’t bring even more stress into your relationship by trying to force your spouse to talk about issues when your relationship isn’t ready for that,” says Kimberly Holmes, CEO of Marriage Helper. “If the opportunity arises to talk about issues that have happened in your relationship, take advantage of it, but don’t try to create the opportunity, since it will more than likely backfire.”
Turn Off The TV
It’s easy to turn on the news and watch every breaking story, but it might not be the best thing for your relationship. “It is so tempting to watch this crisis unfold minute by minute, but if it’s causing you or your partner to feel fear and panic, limit it,” says Jessica Baum, a licensed mental health practitioner and founder of the Relationship Institute of Palm Beach. “Go to your trusted news sources for 30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening; don’t stay glued to stress.”
Just because you’re social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t ever go outside. In fact, being out in the fresh air can work wonders for your mental health—and your relationship. “Being confined together can bring up issues around personal space and the need for breathing room,” says Baum. “Get outside and take a walk when you can.” Even leaving the house for a 15-minute walk can do wonders for you mentally.
While things might be uncertain right now, this is also a moment full of opportunities, both for yourself and your relationship. “Remember your common goals,” advises Holmes. “Set anger and frustration aside and remember that you both have the same goal: to stay safe and healthy.” So focus your conversations on your common goals, be willing to compromise if need be, and work together to get through this tough time.
Certainly the Coronavirus has caused us to rethink almost everything about our lives, including our relationships. But it’s important to be grateful for all the good in our lives (including our partners), and redefine our relationships so they can become even better and stronger.