How to Keep Your Relationship from Imploding During LockdownNone By Marisa Cohen
In a pre-pandemic world, did we ever imagine a relationship could go bust because someone dared to wear their outdoor shoes inside the house or talked too loudly on Zoom calls? Could anyone have predicted that couples would be driven to tears over who is going to teach their 7-year-old about the water cycle for virtual school?
But when couples are sheltering in place together 24/7, and anxiety over the state of the world is at an all-time high, the tiniest annoyances can grow into major relationship issues. “Couples who were used to spending the day separate from each other are now either working from home or idle at home,” says Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D., a psychotherapist and author of How to Be Happy Partners: Working It Out Together. “This greatly increases the irritation factor, and, added to the generalized anxiety, it can create a lot of friction in the home.”
We’ve all been living with the threat of coronavirus for weeks now, but for couples, the pandemic is bringing another danger–to their relationships. In China, where the virus hit first, there have been reports of a spike in the divorce rate beginning in March as the quarantines began lifting, and lawyers in the U.S. are expecting a similar surge. Couples across the country are finding that lockdown life is straining their relationships in ways they didn’t expect.
For David, whose career in the nightlife industry kept him out and about several nights a week, the new normal of being home every. single. minute with his husband has proven to be quite a challenge—especially since they share a tiny one-room apartment in New York City. “Our biggest issue is that he loves to watch news programs all day long that give me extreme anxiety,” says David. “I’ve asked him to watch them on his computer wearing headphones, but not all of the programs are available online and it drives me crazy.”
For others, close quarters are proving to be kryptonite to any thoughts of intimacy with their partners. When you’re in contact with your partner, kids, and dog all day long, you may not be in the mood to touch anyone at night. “How are supposed to have sex with little people around us all the time?” asks Alison, a mom of two young kids in St. Louis. “At night, I’m exhausted from teaching and trying to squeeze my work in. On top of that, our 8-year-old is having trouble sleeping from anxiety, so she is constantly getting out of bed, and I’m nervous she’s going to start pounding on the door.”
But your relationship doesn’t have to become another coronavirus statistic. You can survive being quarantined with your partner if you follow a few simple rules for nurturing your relationship, says Tessina.
Give Each Other Space
Some couples are blessed with backyards, man caves, and extra bedrooms to escape to. Others have to spend quarantine constantly within each other’s line of sight. “The ‘how can I miss you if you don’t go away?’ factor makes it more difficult to transition from daily life to intimacy,” says Tessina, who suggests creating a schedule of “me time,” even if that means one partner disappears into the bathroom for a half hour. “Give each other permission to ‘escape’ by reading, listening to music with headphones, or taking the dog for a walk,” she adds.
Create Romantic Transitions
When every day blurs into the next, and there’s no difference between morning, noon, and night, many couples are missing out on the normal cues for romance, such as Friday night dinner, or the “Honey, I’m home” moment after work. “All cohabiting couples need to learn about transitions and reconnecting,” says Tessina. “It's not easy to get from taking out the garbage to being affectionate.” She suggests couples come up with signals that they’re open for romance, such as gentle caresses on the hand or back, the use of pet names, or that look (you know the one).
Ditch FaceTime for Face-to-Face Time
Zoom, FaceTime, Instagram, and TikTok have been more popular than ever during quarantine, and your 17 concurrent games of online Scrabble may be keeping you sane, but when you’re staring at a screen all day, it creates more distance from the person you’re actually living with. “Don’t allow too much of your time to be absorbed by TV, e-mail, computer games, or video chatting with other people,” says Tessina.
Come Up with Compromises
From arguments over the TV to fights about the endless pile of dirty dishes, couples need to figure out how to navigate the new normal, says Tessina, who points out that families may no longer have the services of a cleaning person or babysitter to help balance out the workload. If you haven’t renegotiated the division of labor, sit down and do it now. And if there’s one issue that’s driving you both crazy, set a time to come to the table to make a deal, as David and his partner did with their TV-news squabble. “After some vigorous arguing, we agreed that he was limited to one MSNBC show per week,” says David. “On the plus side, we’ve found new shows we can watch together that bring us both some happiness.”
Plan Date Nights In
Dining out at your favorite bistro and holding hands at the multiplex are off-limits for now, but that doesn’t mean you can’t create a fun date in your own home. Pick a day and time for your date, and for crying out loud, change out of the sweat pants and T-shirt you’ve worn for the last six days in a row! (You may even want to break out that lipstick or aftershave that’s been collecting dust since March.) You can eat a homemade meal by candlelight, make popcorn and stream a movie together, dance in the living room, or hold hands and stroll through a nearby park. “When you look back on your most intimate experiences, they’re more likely to have been spontaneous and simple rather than elaborate and expensive,” says Tessina.
Just remember, at some point, the pandemic will be over and we’ll get back to real life. And when you and your partner emerge from your quarantine, you may find your relationship is stronger than ever. “Any time a couple survives a difficult time with their good feelings for each other intact, it strengthens their bond,” says Tessina. “If you can keep a good connection and a sense of humor and compassion while you’re going through this, you’ll be rewarded with a stronger, happier relationship afterward.”
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