couple bored during quarantine

How Couples Can Thrive in Quarantine

By: Isabelle Morley, Psy.D.

Couples are being challenged more than ever before because of COVID-19. Stable households have been thrown into chaos; finances are stressful, children are unexpectedly home, jobs are changed or gone, social interactions are limited or virtual, and usual outlets for stress relief are no longer available.

After several months of being cooped up together even the best of us can get irritable or resentful. When this happens, relationships suffer. With the pandemic continuing for the foreseeable future, couples need to find new ways of communicating, negotiating, and supporting one another. Although this sudden change has been detrimental for many couples, crises such as this can be an opportunity and motivation for couples to address issues and strengthen their relationship.

Complain Kindly

If you have complaints, remember to say them in a compassionate way. Avoid accusing the person of what they “always” or “never” do. If you begin with an attack, they will respond with a defense, and the outcome will be that neither of you will feel heard or understood.

Instead, start by acknowledging what they do right and what you appreciate about them. Although you have a complaint or request of a behavior you’d like them to change, emphasize that you love them and don’t mean this as an assault on their character. Then share your complaint in a kind and gentle way.

Schedule Time to be ‘Apart’

Couples are spending an extraordinary amount of time together because of COVID-19. Prioritize quality over quantity. Getting positive, enjoyable time with your partner is the goal, and achieving that is easier if you’re not spending every second together.

Make an effort to create different workspaces or to have scheduled time where you are apart from one another. Close the door and act like you’re in a different house instead of a different room. Agree to stagger lunch breaks. Then, plan to intentionally and mindfully be together (phones away and TV off!).

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Renegotiate Roles

Chances are that your roles have changed since the pandemic started. Whether it’s working from home instead of being at the office, losing your job, or becoming the primary caregiver to your children, your routine and role have probably shifted dramatically. At first, it was survival mode, but now it’s time to sit down and discuss how to balance tasks.

Is one person going to be working full time while the other takes care of household-related chores? Will you both be working and trading off who helps the kids with remote learning? What will a manageable schedule look like for both of you? Remember- don’t agree to things you don’t think you can sustain, and be open to changing the roles if the original agreement just isn’t working.

Socialize Together and Apart

Socializing with your partner is important, but socializing without your partner is equally as important. Make time to see friends and family together, whether in person (safely) or remotely. But also schedule a virtual get together with your siblings or meet a friend outside for a walk, without your other half. Spending time apart was a normal part of your relationship pre-pandemic and continuing to do this will ensure you don’t become closed off from your social network or codependent on each other.

The Secret to a Happy Relationship

Humans respond better to reward than punishment. Point out the good things and your partner will be more encouraged to continue them, whereas if you’re always commenting on their flaws or mistakes, you’ll end up with a hurt and resentful partner.

Voicing your gratitude will go a lot farther than you think. Small gestures of kindness go a long way. Make a point of starting the day on a good note with a hug or laugh, take time to tell them what you love and appreciate about them, and say thank you when they do something sweet or helpful.

Seek Help

If you’ve tried everything and are still in a tough place with your partner, find someone who can help. A therapist who specializes in couples therapy can teach you how to communicate more effectively, prevent fights from escalating, and change bad patterns. Be sure to find someone that has expertise in couples therapy, that you feel comfortable with, and that is the right ‘fit’ for you and your partner.

These tips are for couples who are in healthy, safe relationships but struggling due to the pandemic. If you are in an unsafe, abusive relationship, please seek help. Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or visit www.thehotline.org . Also, consider starting individual therapy to help support you during this time.