The coronavirus pandemic has thrown us all smack bang in the middle of an apocalypse movie, and many of us are being forced to stay locked down at home, which comes with some… interesting consequences.
Many of us are grumpy that our workout routines are being interrupted, others rejoice at the fact that they now have an ostensibly valid reason to post their daily home workouts all over their social media feed and make the rest of us feel bad. Some in South Africa are mourning the fact that they won’t be able to buy liquor for 21 days, while others are on the precipice of alcoholism because of the absurd number of wine bottles they’ve panic bought and are now stuck in isolation with.
First world problems aside, there’s one factor that everyone is going to notice and have to navigate, and that’s the effect of the lockdown on their relationships. For couples, this comes in one of two forms: either you’re stuck at home with your significant other, with no way of escaping (unless you live in a 26-room Kylie Jenner mansion, I guess) or you’re suddenly forced into what is essentially a surprise long-distance relationship. Both of these can be tough if they’re not what you’re used to or what you signed up for, but there are ways to manage them.
Option A: the Quaranteam
Love may be a 24/7 thing, but time spent together usually isn’t, even for the closest of couples. For those who live together but who are used to being able to get some space from their partner by going to work, to gym, or out with friends, being stuck in a confined space, all day, every day, can cause some conflict.
It might be even harder for new couples, who were forced to decide between isolating together or apart and opted for the co-habitating trial run. Suddenly having to share space with someone, no matter how much you love them, can be a tough adjustment when there ISN’T also the mounting pressure of a pandemic and escalating economic strain. In light of all the surreal changes we’ve had to make to our lives, it can be unbearable.
Julie Gottman, co-founder of the Gottman Institute calls this new living arrangement a “four-walled pressure cooker”. When you can’t escape bickering and disagreements by running off to the gym, the “steam” thickens. “With coronavirus shutting off our normal escape valves, how do we release the lid and turn off the heat before our relationship has all but melted down?”
Erika Boissiere at Forbes has five actionable tips for those who have chosen to share spaces during this stressful time, and they include:
Carving out alone time: creating separate spaces is more challenging now than ever before, but Boissiere emphasises that it’s still just as important to spend an hour or two away from your partner every day, to avoid losing your marbles. “Go into your backyard, your child’s bedroom, your home office—anywhere where you can carve out some alone time. If you live in a studio or loft where there are no real walls, create zones for each other and retreat to your separate corners.”
Communicating your need for space in an empathetic and honest way has never been more important. Create an environment in which the request for space is understood and respected. Make it clear that it’s nothing personal when you do need some time to refresh in your own company, and when your partner requests the same, honour it.
Grounding yourself using routines: Boissiere says that routines can help ground us, and stop us from falling apart at the seams when under extra pressure. “Planning meals, scheduling exercise times, devoting specific hours to work or outlining a plan of attack for a DIY project, can restore some semblance of normalcy to your otherwise-upended life”, she writes.
Focusing on the short-term and developing plans together: It’s important not to get swept up in the what-ifs that come with uncertainty (and there’s certainly a lot of THAT going around right now). Take things one day at a time and, together, create short-term plans, and strategies with which to execute them.
Practicing kindness: Keep in mind that nobody is perfect, and your partner is probably going through many of the same emotional struggles you are. People behave differently under stress, and being able to respect and accept that, and communicate your feelings about it, will do a lot to calm any conflict or anxiety that being trapped together may cause. Yelling or snapping at your partner will only worsen the situation, so take deep breaths and remember that now, more than ever, is a time to practice kindness. “Tell jokes, laugh when you can,” writes Boissiere. “Weather this storm together, and above all, be kind to each other.”
Try to think of this time as a couples retreat, and use it to grow closer to your partner, and to talk through any issues that are bothering you.
Gottman adds that it’s essential to look for what your partner is doing right, not what they’re doing wrong. In fact, this rule applies whether you’re in quarantine or not. “Say ‘thank you’ a dozen times a day, even for something as simple as making the wake-up coffee for the umpteenth time”.
Option B: Love From Afar
Long-distance relationships are no fun, particularly if they get sprung on you (such as in a nationwide lockdown) and you haven’t had time to plan or consider them. Fortunately, lockdowns are temporary, and you only need to get through a few weeks without snuggles. Even better news is that it’s 2020 and, unlike during the Spanish flu outbreak one-hundred-and-something years ago, we have the internet! This time apart can still be used to deepen and strengthen your relationship, and learn more about your partner, and here’s how:
Plan things to look forward to: It’s crucial to have something you can feel certain about amidst all the uncertainty, and something exciting to motivate you through the tough times. This can be as simple as a post-lockdown date, or even a video call scheduled fo the next evening. Mark Manson writes that in long distance relationships, “the minute you stop having some milestone to look forward to, the harder it will be to maintain the same enthusiasm for, and optimism in, each other”. Even though you’ll probably only be apart for a few weeks on account of lockdown, it can’t hurt to keep up the excitement and enthusiasm. Get on the phone, whip out some pens and a piece of paper, and get to writing up a fun list of things to do either while under lockdown, or once you get out.
Get creative with your communication: We’re so lucky that we’re going through this in the age of the internet, where putting a smile on your partner’s face is a mere meme away. You can send pictures (but it’ll probably be memes), audio clips, videos of your life trapped in the house, and all these seemingly little things will make your partner feel loved and remembered.
However you choose to communicate, it shouldn’t always be scheduled and prescribed. While keeping a strict communication schedule might work for some couples, it can often be a better idea to keep communication organic. Manson believes that if you force mandatory communication, you’ll eventually run out of interesting things to talk about, and resent the nightly call that has now become an obligation, as well as the person on the other end of the line.
“The best way to avoid this mistake is to make all communication optional,” he says, “meaning that both of you can opt out at any time. The trick is to not take these opt-outs personally when they happen — after all, your partner is not your slave”. If your partner doesn’t feel like spending an hour on the phone tonight, respect that feeling and catch up when you’re both feeling up to it.
Do things together: Again, we’re extremely fortunate that we have streaming services like Netflix, which allow us to watch movies together even though we’re apart. Plan a date night with bae. You’ll each have to bring your own snacks, but if you have different tastes, or if one party usually hogs the popcorn, that might work out for the best. Have a catch up over a glass of wine, do a hundred buzzfeed quizzes together, start a two person book club, or enjoy a home workout together over Skype. Almost anything that you can do on your own can be shared thanks to the internet, so you really don’t have much of an excuse not to enjoy activities together.
Enjoy the time apart: We all need time apart to develop our own identities, and to remember to put ourselves first. Three weeks away from your significant other might seem like a challenge, but it might be a great opportunity to focus on your own hobbies, your skills, or your relationship with your family. In addition, seeing less of each other means you might have new, interesting things to chat about when you do arrange that romantic video call dinner, so it’s not all doom and gloom.
So yeah, relationships have slightly different rules right now, but hopefully it’s only temporary, and we can use them to strengthen our connections. We’re all in this together, and if we exercise patience and understanding (with our loved ones and ourselves) we can turn this surreal lockdown experience into a really valuable one. Good luck, lovers!