As couples spend more time in the same space during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) lockdown, it’s not surprising that tensions sometimes rise. Anxiety about work, disrupted routines, child care issues, lack of social connections, and struggles to be productive at home may lead couples to vent their frustrations on each other.
Premier Health Now asked Barbara Rickey, MS, LPCC, with Samaritan Behavioral Health to draw on her own personal experience and training as a counselor for some tips to make relationships survive and thrive during this crisis.
Here are some suggestions for making the most of your relationship:
- Take care of yourself first. “You can’t take care of other people unless you first take care of yourself. Keep some of your same routines,” Rickey says. In addition, you can find activities that are meaningful for you, whether it’s creating something, writing a journal, meditating, or talking to friends on Zoom.
- Carve out individual space if you’re both working remotely. Make sure you each have enough privacy to concentrate and conduct your business. Rickey and her husband, Robert, each work full time from home and have split their two-story house into work zones. He gets the first floor and she takes the second floor. As a bonus, he provides tech support for her.
- Respect each other’s time and space. You may find it best to keep interruptions to a minimum during the day. In the evenings, Rickey recommends a balance of doing things together and spending time on individual interests. Together, you might go for a car ride, sit on the front porch and talk, watch a television series, or take a walk. Separately, your interests may differ on activities like reading, watching movies, doing a puzzle, or playing video games. Rickey and her husband often choose to be in the same room doing different things.
- Don’t assume the other person knows what you’re thinking. None of us have lived through a pandemic before, so we don’t have past experience to guide us. Talk to each other about your feelings and what worries you. “Don’t assume the other person knows something is bothering you,” Rickey says. “They can’t read your mind. You have to verbalize.”
- Make a plan for your household. If your couple relationship is further complicated by having children in the household, you might want to meet weekly or even daily to discuss how you’ll take care of responsibilities as a team. Perhaps you can divide household chores or take turns home schooling younger children. Making a plan and executing it will give you a sense of control and accomplishment in these uncertain times.
- Plan a date night. A recent New York Times article suggested making a date to do something special that you can anticipate. Cook a special dinner together, set the table with your best dishes and get dressed up. Visit a museum online, listen to a concert, or read a book to each other.
- Practice gratitude. The article further recommends showing gratitude and appreciation for your spouse or partner. A sincere “thank you” will bond you much more than criticisms of what didn’t get accomplished or performed correctly. Talk together about what you’re grateful for.
- Keep your sense of humor. Lastly, Rickey recommends injecting humor and keeping things light when you can. “Find silly things to laugh about. Social media can be a saving grace for keeping a sense of humor and staying connected.”
She concludes, “Life isn’t going to be perfect all the time. The value of a relationship is that you stick by each other for better or for worse. This pandemic isn’t a permanent situation. Try to stay focused on the good things that are happening.