As a Relationship and Sex Therapist, I am conscious that self isolation will have an impact on relationships in the next few months. As millions of people adapt to their life as an individual/couple/family/flatmates in isolation, one thought that immediately comes to mind is ‘How will people cope?’.
Many relationships are based on actually spending a large part of the week apart, time spent with other people, and time that gives space for people to balance their needs for time as an individual, couple and family. The majority of us have probably never truly appreciated our own space until now. I wouldn’t mind betting that some people will soon start to miss a tedious commute to work or trying to get the kids up and out in the morning. There is one thing that many of us like (even when we don’t like it all that much), and that is what we know as our normality, the normality that we have chosen.
It is often very difficult for people to have their routine disrupted, not least when it is disrupted in a way that stops us from doing the things we like doing. So it’s worth considering how you can get through this period. It’s going to be challenging, but for relationships it can only go one of two ways – it weakens or it strengthens. I don’t think anyone is alone in wondering what direction theirs will go. The truth is there are too many unknowns. We still don’t know enough about the virus. We don’t know who will get ill and how that will affect us. We don’t know how life will look in two weeks from now let alone two months or one year. People are worried about health, money and the unknown. Furthermore, we just don’t know how we will feel.
AGREE ON COMMUNICATION
One thing is probably certain for most right now, we would like life to revert to ‘normal’. It can be difficult for couples to maneuver through change so it is good to think about really sharing how each of you are feeling on a daily basis. This is a time to really work on communication. One thing that is now more important than ever it is: Don’t leave things down to interpretation. Don’t expect your partner to guess how you are feeling or how you want something to be. Equally, avoid trying to guess what they are feeling, what they mean when they say something. During this time I feel it’s more important than ever to stop second guessing. Consider how you communicate so that you ask open questions and avoid criticism or anything that could be perceived as contemptuous as these two things will create a really unpleasant atmosphere and have a destructive impact on the relationship. Quit any stubbornness. If you need time out, take it, go for a walk, call a friend but don’t harbour resentment and create a defensive atmosphere. Instead take the time to communicate what you need and want, this is definitely the time to be negotiating. However, ultimately it’s a two player game and both partners have to buy into it to make it work so it’s worth taking the time to discuss communication and how you might like it to look.
HAVE A COMMON GOAL
It may be helpful to see yourselves as having a common goal – to get through this time and appreciate all you can. One way to do this is to see each other as teammates. If we want the relationship to feel good, we each need to feel good and the best way to achieve that is being on the same page. Be open, be compassionate, and hold the other in positive regard, you’re in it together and you want it to succeed and achieve that common goal.
Try and structure your day and space so that each person has time to get the things they really need to get done. The quicker you can create a new schedule for the day, work, kids and chores the easier it will be. Some things are going to have to give as there will not be enough time or freedom now to get it all done. It may be helpful if you can work out the priorities and a structure together.
GIVE EACH OTHER SPACE
In whatever way this is possible, giving each other some space is likely to help. Working on the premise of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ most people like a bit of their own time, space and will appreciate their partner more for having it. It may be helpful to ask yourself every now and again if you are feeling stifled and communicate with each other if you need more time out. E.g. a walk, work in another room, take turns looking after children etc. The best relationships balance individual, couple and family time so consider how this can be achieved as best you can.
CREATE COUPLE TIME
Something that is important to many couples is time for them just as a couple, separate to time together as a family. Consider how this could still be achieved. You may not be able to go out for meals or date nights but you could have an evening a week when you eat separately from other family members. Create a date night atmosphere, cook, play games, watch a movie together, plan some amorous fun. Right now a date might just be the pair of you sitting in another room and having a glass of wine or chat. It doesn’t really matter what it is but making that time for you as a couple keeps you more connected.
MIX IT UP
Think about making home life as comfortable as you can but avoid falling into any patterns that could become unhealthy. Consider things such as alcohol consumption, keeping a routine going such as to get up and dressed at a certain time each day, and keeping things going as best you can such as diets or exercise. It’s tough but you need to feel as good as you can in your body, your mind and your relationship. Try different things, explore different apps and consider hobbies or interests you haven’t had time to do for a while. Maybe you love reading, doing puzzles, gardening or might enjoy an online exercise class or tackling a project at home.
It may not be easy but this is a time when relationships that have previously struggled can create some new foundations and get closer. It’s going to be a testing time for many but it’s also a good time to think about how you would like life to look when we’re back out of isolation. It may be a time to dream and think of hopes and wishes for the future. Ultimately we have to keep going so it makes sense to keep on going the best we can.