Relationship Survival Tips: How to get through quarantine with your partner
We normally lead very busy lives, only sharing home space for a limited amount of time after work or on the weekend admist chores. Prolonged periods of time at home together can bring up emotions and resentments that have been piling up over time. Add to this the extra effort involved in entertaining the children, working from home, and maintaining sanity amidst uncertainty and global chaos, and we see why divorce rates are predicted to rise after the pandemic. With the COVID-19 crisis, couples and families are being asked to work and live in close quarters, with little personal space and high stress levels. Being aware of how this can have a negative impact on your relationship and putting protective measures in place can help your relationship weather the inevitable ups and downs in the upcoming months. Here are some pro tips of how to engage in relational self-care during quarantine/self isolation:
Steer clear of the four horsemen on the (relationship) apocalypse:
Contempt, criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling – in their research, the Gottman’s identified that these communication patterns were the ones that predicted which relationships would not last. In times of stress we are not usually our best selves, nor the best communicators. But for the sake of the relationship – watch your words and actions. Try to highlight (to yourself and them) your partners positive traits. Make an extra effort to notice good deeds and say thank you. These small acts of kindness will likely be the ones that maintain your relationship.
Be Curious (not furious) and Compassionate
From research, we know that couples that are similarly activated (show similar levels of stress hormones) are more likely to be in distress, fight, and experience rising tension in the household. Likely this occurs because we have a tendency to feed off of each others stress. We see a loved one stressed out and we, often unconsciously, put ourselves in their shoes and feel what they are feeling – leaving us both trapped in the negative emotions. Or, we see our loved one stressed and it triggers memories of a time in which they behaved in a hurtful way in a time of stress, which leaves us on the defensive. Luckily, we can disrupt this pattern by recognizing that our partner is suffering and approaching with warmth. Practice compassion by getting curious about your partners state. Remember, as humans we co-regulate, if you can get into a calm space before interacting with your activated partner, your partners nervous system will respond in kind. For help with this try out the Giving and Receiving Compassion mediation. Also, this Compassion with Equanimity saying from Christopher Germer and Kristen Neff is a good one to keep on hand to repeat to yourself in challenging moments:
Everyone is on his or her own life journey.
I am not the cause of this person’s suffering,
nor is it entirely within my power to make it go away,
even though I wish I could
There are times when this relationship is difficult to bear,
yet I may still try to help if I can.
Know each others stress symptoms:
Everyone reacts to stress differently. It is helpful to know what our own and our partners signs of stress are (i.e. withdrawing, ruminating, compulsive behaviour, irritability, irrational thoughts) so that we can identify when our partner is “in that place” and not take it personally. Sit down and have a chat with your partner about what signs you want to both look out for to know that the other has gone beyond their threshold, and also a self-care plan for how best to regulate that stress. Check out our other blog post for tips on this.
Create a routine:
Structure can be a soothing balm for stress and anxiety. It gives us a sense of control and predictability, which are even more important in uncertain times. This does not need to be a strict schedule, nor does it have to be militantly adhered to (in fact, during this time the more easy we are on ourselves in general, the better). Rather, sit down and try to work out when would work best for you to work, gather for meals, play, take space, etc. This is likely to lower the overall stress levels in the household.
Create space and take space:
If you can, designate separate rooms or areas of the house for each of you to be able to go to when you need personal space. If you don’t have a lot of space you can even designate a spot in a room (i.e. if I am sitting in this chair, it means I am taking space and am not available to interact). Also, make sure to carve out time in the day where you spend time in your personal space.
Schedule in time to connect :
Depending on how you react to stress, connection may be the first or last thing you want. However, we know that relationships are better able to weather life storms when there is intentional time put aside to be present with one another. Schedule in a date night, maybe you put the kids to bed early and watch a movie together, play cards, cook a meal, take a bath, etc. Know that it may take a few minutes to ease into a more relaxed state together so be patient.
This may be the most important relational stress reduction tip. Take 15-30 minutes before bed every few nights to take turns listening and talking. We know that being seen and heard is a basic human need (in fact, part of what makes therapy so effective), and during times of stress we can feel disconnected and misinterpret one another. So take time to speak about your thoughts and feeling – one partner speaking for 5 – 15 minutes and the other just listening and not responding (other than maybe to make soothing vocalization – umm hmm, ahh; or to encourage the speaker – “tell me more” “ go on.”). This is not a conversation, nor it is a time to air grievances. it is just a holding of space for one another in order to help maintain trust and connection. Click here for tips on compassionate listening.
Mindful touching :
Mindful touching is also a good exercise. This is different from sex in that the goal is not penetration or orgasm, but rather to experience giving and receiving touch. Such activities enhance closeness and communication, and help stimulate hormones that regulate our stress response. Click here for more instructions on this.
Laughter and humor are connecting and stimulate positive emotions. Instead of getting tense, lean into the ways that you normally make each other laugh.
Schedule time to argue:
Knowing that you have time set aside to air out grievances can often keep your day to day interaction lighter. It also has the added benefit that by the time you get to speak about the things that are bothering you, some of them may not bother you all that much anymore.
Just do it, its good for your health, it’s good for your relationship. You will fight less, or the fights will have less of an impact, if physical intimacy stays consistent. For an extra boost, try some of the guided sex sessions from the Dipsea app.
Go easy on yourself. You are not perfect, neither is your partner. You will get stressed out, you will act out from time to time, you will fight. Just do your best to take care of yourselves and each other!