It’s possible that, thanks to the lockdown measures brought on by coronavirus, you’ve spent more time with your partner – in the same surroundings – than ever before.
Many couples have found themselves working from home with nowhere to go out in the evenings, and have had to figure out new ways of working, living, parenting and simply getting along with each other. It’s hardly a surprise that many of us are getting on each other’s nerves.
For some, lockdown has presented plenty of opportunities and time to work through issues they may have been avoiding, and perhaps reconnect. Other couples, however, may have found the high pressure conditions to put a further strain on their already unsteady or tense relationships, and not having healthy ways of dealing with stress together could have caused them to spiral downwards.
Add to that the stresses and added responsibilities of homeschooling children, financial tension caused by a sudden loss of income, fear that family members may fall ill, disparity about what constitutes social isolation and uncertainty about what is to come, and the past few months may have pushed relationships over the brink.
Even couples who were perfectly fine before coronavirus – and might be perfectly fine after it – could probably use some guidance over the next few months.
So, how can your relationship survive, and even become stronger, after these unprecedented circumstances? Here are a few tips that may help long-term couples maintain or resume healthy relationships:
Remember why you were together
While things are difficult it is important to remember how the relationship was previously; how you maintained your connection, experiences you have shared, values and interests and goals you have in common. Make time to reconnect as a couple doing things you both enjoy, but also recognise the toll that stressors like children, jobs, finances, moving home, and responsibilities to family members may have taken on your relationship.
How a couple communicates is central to resolving conflict productively. While your communication may have been challenged over the past few months, it stands to reason that if a couple can talk openly with each other they are equipped to sort out almost every area of their relationship. Try to avoid constant criticism, personal put-downs, defensive tit-for-tat responses, contemptuous remarks, and withdrawal and indifference – this form of communication contributes to the breakdown of a relationship. Pay attention to the subtleties of how you respond to each other, noticing tone and body language too.
Easing off with the criticism
You both may have been pointing out one another’s mistakes spending time in such close quarters, but it’s really important for you to look for what your partner is doing right and express appreciation for it. Perhaps try telling your spouse three things you appreciated about them that day before you go to sleep at night – but even if you can’t manage that, don’t list their failings as a strategy. If you want to be close, you can’t be critical of each other. You need to accept one another’s limitations.
Be on the same team despite life stressors
Make an effort to monitor each other’s stress levels and sooth and support each other through these difficult times. Recognize if one or both of you have gone through a hard time and work on showing them you are there for them, through good times and bad. Find ways to acknowledge their feelings and pressures and give them time to vent without judgement.
Give each other room to breathe
We all need some time away from each other, so make sure to do some things independently. Now that restrictions are lifting, try to get back some breathing space occasionally and make time for the things you both enjoy separately. Make coffee dates with girlfriends, book a massage and work on nurturing yourself as well.
Ensure the state of mind and health of each individual
If one or both partners are struggling with mental health issues – whether they were already present but have been exacerbated, or have manifested due to coronavirus – the impact needs to be addressed. Mental health issues can contribute to the well-being of a relationship and if one someone is struggling with anxiety, substance abuse or gambling issues, they need to personally take care of this problem to allow the best chance for their relationship.
Intimacy and affection
This may be as simple as making an effort to hug your partner. A hug is the ultimate non-sexual way of connecting physically with your partner – there is a real intimacy in allowing each other into your respective personal space, and it feels immensely calming and reassuring to be held in another person’s arms. Intimacy forms around all the little interactions we have as a couple, all the choices we make, all the thoughts we have and all the things we share.
Use your support networks
It is helpful for a couple to be surrounded by the support of family and friends, and often someone outside of the relationship can help you work through issues. It may also allow people to see that others have been impacted by the recent changes, too, and that they aren’t alone in their experiences. Ensure you connect with friends and family via video chat to maintain face-to-face connections where they can’t be done in person.
Seek professional help
It is often the case that both partners have served a role in the disintegration of their relationship, even if it is difficult to see or understand initially (though there are exceptions, such as domestic violence being present). And while it is the couple’s responsibility to address what may have happened to their relationship, it can be difficult to do without help. If repeated issues are arising, creating angst and not changing much, you may not be communicating effectively enough to understand what is occurring between you. Couples in this situation may therefore benefit from relationship counselling. This provides a safe, non-judgmental environment for both parties to convey their perspective, and feel listened to and understood in a way they have not been able to achieve at home.
What happens in relationship counselling?
The couple is invited into a collaborative process to join in investigating how and when the relationship may have gone off track. They are encouraged to do this without blame and judgment. Naturally, when there is long-term build-up of frustration with each other, a couple may first need to offload what is distressing them. This can be done in a constructive and useful way under the guidance of the counsellor, so that further damage is not created.
Part of the challenge to our relationships is how we manage and navigate difficult times. Your emotions, stress and tolerance may have been impacted significantly and now is the time to address how it is manifesting in your day-to-day interactions.
If your relationship has felt strained during this time, know there are options to get it back on track. Many of the difficulties that are presenting in relationships are normal, particularly considering the increased stress we’ve all felt. But with this predicament not completely over, it’s worth taking steps to ensure we get through this period with our relationships intact – and perhaps come out even stronger.