They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder. But over the next few weeks and months, a lot of us are going to be finding out if the opposite is true. The Coronavirus lockdown means that if you live with your loved one, you’re going to be spending a lot of time together. Like, a lot. How will your relationship cope when you’re together on steroids – forced to spend every waking and sleeping moment together?
Read on for some tips!
Create house rules
Lockdowns are intended to be temporary, but we don’t know how long they will last. It could be weeks or even months before life goes back to normal. For the sake of your sanity, it’s crucial to treat the current situation as your new normal. You’re not on vacation; you’re in the middle of an endurance test. Without some clear house rules, you’re going to get very frustrated with each other, very fast.
Even in quarantine, there are chores that need doing. It’s a good idea to agree who is going to do what, and when, to make sure you’re both pulling your weight in the tedious-tasks department. Minor household infractions – such as leaving a dirty cup on the countertop instead of putting it in the dishwasher – are quickly forgiven under normal conditions. But after a few days of quarantine, they boil and escalate until one of you is battering the other with the last remaining toilet roll. Seriously. Make a list of house rules and stick to your new routine.
Keep your distance
There are two types of people in this world: those that can endure closeness well, and those that need a lot more distance. If you or your partner fall in the latter camp, then it’s critical that you keep as much physical space between you as possible. Not being able to get out of each other’s hair is a massive source of friction between partners – and not the fun kind. Just look at Wuhan, where there’s been a massive spike in divorce filings for couples coming out quarantine.
Whatever your living conditions, demarcate some physical boundaries and enforce them like Checkpoint Charlie. Everyone should get a designated space (room, corner, balcony, zone, or whatever you can manage). You can permit others entry to your private zone, but only on your terms. For social time, designate a communal space where family members can roam freely, chat and play board games without needing a visa. (Top tip: Take care with Monopoly. I swear that game was invented to expose the bottomless void of evil in all of us—which is not a good look during a lockdown).
You may have dealt with testing times in your relationship before, but this is not like those other times. The Coronavirus lockdown is unprecedented. It’s a mistake to assume that your partner will act and feel a certain way because they’ve acted that way in the past. When people are scared and frustrated, they act out the stressed version of themselves, which might be the exact opposite of their usual personality type. The only way to understand how your partner is feeling is to keep communicating.
With so much going on, it can be hard to talk openly and rationally about your feelings. The heightened anxiety can cause people to act out of character – lashing out in anger or slipping into the blame game, for example, even though it doesn’t help anyone. Now more than ever, you need to exercise good communication hygiene. For instance, you might use “I” statements (“I feel upset because…”) instead of shaming your partner (“You did this [very bad thing]!”).
In the words of Bill and Ted, be excellent to each other.
Fan the flames of romance
Nothing much happens in quarantine – that’s the point. So unless you put the effort in, there’s a fair chance that romance will quickly decay into another evening of mindlessly binge-watching Love Is Blind with a plate of pasta pesto dripping onto your pajama-clad knee. How long before you run out of things to say to each other?
If the global pandemic has a silver lining, it’s that you have a rare opportunity to spend quality time together. For the first times in years, you get the chance to close the distance that naturally arises in times of busyness and stress, and actually listen to each other. Perhaps you could make a special effort to meet up for a nice meal and have a proper conversation. Or maybe you could treat yourselves to a few luxuries, or offer small romantic gestures to one another. Cuddling is free. Use the time to really talk and grow together.
Think twice before raising sensitive issues, however. This is not the time for pseudo couples counselling where you bring up every perceived hurt you’ve experienced in your relationship. Some things will need to be parked in order to keep the peace. Choose your battles wisely!
Don’t make a drama out of a crisis
Being cooped up together is challenging enough, but for many of us there is also fear: fear of getting sick, fear about job security, fear about the future. There may suddenly be a shortage of money and concern for a family member’s well being. Getting along in this climate of uncertainty is really tough, and it demands a level of empathy and emotional maturity that many of us don’t tap into that often.
In practical terms, weeping and ranting are not going to help anyone. Not even a little bit. Think twice before going into panic mode or using your partner as your sole emotional crutch. It’s okay to feel trapped and it’s great to have someone to share those anxieties with but remember, your partner is trying to manage their own cabin fever. If you react emotionally, you can transfer those anxieties to your partner, triggering their defensive responses. Soon, you’ll both be spiralling down instead of supporting each other.
The bottom line is, we’re all flying blind on this one. Whatever you need to do to calm your anxiety – whether that’s meditation, exercise or Facetiming friends – do it. Panic is an enemy to be taken seriously. Our relationships will come out of this much stronger if we take responsibility for our own emotional responses and keep a cool head.
The final word
Just a few weeks ago, lockdowns were impossible to imagine. But here we all are, stuck at home with our loved ones for weeks, months...no one really knows. And no matter how dearly you love your partner, these weeks are going to be tough. The soaring Wuhan divorce rate shows there really is such a thing as too much intimacy, and we’re all going to have to work extra-hard if we’re going to survive this period with our relationships intact.
The good news is, the lockdown situation is temporary. In a few weeks we’ll all emerge, blinking into the sun. Here’s hoping that we can use this time to strengthen our relationships and make the most of this precious time together. Perhaps if we listen, talk, laugh and love together, we will be able to transform this new stress into strength.