The stresses of self-isolation are wearying everyone as we shelter in place to beat back the coronavirus. Here are some tips on how to manage better, especially in protecting the relationship with your spouse or partner.
Battling coronavirus has put most of us into self-isolation for weeks now. And it may feel like years.
For many that means living with our spouse or partner 24-7. (Not to mention the other members of the family, but here we are concentrating on that primary couple. Of course, these ideas can be applied throughout the family as well.) The close quarters, abnormal anxiety, and unfamiliarity of constant chatter or long periods of silence can be unnerving, and bothersome. As a result, tempers may rise, impatience flares, and negative comments can slip out.
So how can we successfully navigate this ongoing situation, which is queued up to last a while longer?
Let’s step back and think about our relationship with a partner or spouse before the coronavirus pandemic began. The average couple normally doesn’t spend a lot of time together. As partners, we are busy making a living, raising a family and fixing up a home. In a recent survey, it was found the average married couple spends only three or four hours a week together, without the children, and that may be collapsing on the couch and watching T.V.
Due to today’s hectic pace, each partner tends to develop their own schedule and routine around work, family and home demands. Then an experience like the pandemic comes, and we’re forced into close proximity with those we love.
We want to make this enforced togetherness the best it can be, but a guaranteed good time will not just happen. Like all other aspects of life, handling these new living arrangements requires planning and effort.
1. Respect and plan for privacy
As part of your plan, it’s important to recognize that you and your partner have built up your own space and privacy needs. Each of you needs time to pursue your interests, hobbies, tasks and just ‘chill out alone.’
One train of thought is if you were apart from your partner eight hours a day during your regular working days, you should plan to be apart approximately four hours a day when in self-isolation. This enables each partner to have their own time and space. Be sure to talk with each other about your individual needs and agree on how those needs can be successfully fulfilled.
June and Rob agreed that while sheltering at home, in the mornings, June would enjoy her hobby, oil painting, and Rob would work in the garage or do yard work. The couple agreed that they would have lunch together and then, again ‘do their own thing’ until five o’clock when they’d have a social drink, make dinner and spend the evening together playing board games or watching their favorite T.V. programs.
2. Establish roles and responsibilities
You and your spouse need to tell each other what living together round-the-clock means in terms of roles and responsibilities. By doing this, you create a mini job description; it can outline dates, duties, responsibilities, and authorities. Let it be as loose or detailed as suits your personalities, but make sure it gives you both a clear understanding of what to expect from each other.
Before Mike and Whitney began their self-isolation, they discussed who would be responsible for what when restricted to their home. It was mutually decided that Mike would do the emergency grocery shopping and garden raking. He would make the bed each morning, prepare for dinner and several other domestic chores. As part of the division of duties, Whitney would do the cleaning and vacuuming, washing and drying of clothes, folding and ironing. They agreed that a couple of household decorating projects they now had time to pursue would be done together. This sharing of responsibilities assisted Mike and Whiteny to maintain a harmonious working relationship without one partner feeling they were doing the lion’s share of the work.
3. Don’t let lack of communication derail your relationship
For some couples, however, there has been no discussion about what self-isolation means to them and who will take care of life’s numerous household tasks. This often leads to disastrous results.
Paul is a senior manager for a transportation company and is used to telling others what he wants and by when. His wife, Paula, is a successful advertising executive. When they self-isolated, both looked forward to some downtime and spending time together in their garden. However, three days into their isolation, Paul began to criticize Paula’s housekeeping and cooking. Paul’s nitpicking continued until on day five Paula got so angry she stormed out of the door and sat in the family car for four hours. Paul was shocked when he got a text from Paula saying that she may stay at a friend’s place for the duration of the pandemic.
Don’t let this be you! Communication is the roadway to a strengthened relationship. Now more than ever is the time to let your partner know how much you care.
4. Don’t take each other for granted
The essential elements of a happy relationship are (1) feeling valued, (2) feeling appreciated and (3) feeling loved. When a couple lacks any one of these positive feedbacks, the relationship suffers and the partners drift apart. Accepting the status quo wears away at a couple’s intimacy and bond.
In good times, it is easy to take each other for granted. In difficult times, that can be an even bigger mistake. Deliberately planning for this long period together provides you and your spouse an opportunity to assess and enhance your relationship. Are you thoughtful? Do you express appreciation? Have you got a sense of fun and adventure? These traits can add to the quality of your relationship and the satisfaction level between you and your partner.
Don’t fall into the trap of believing if your partner isn’t complaining; everything must be OK. Keep the communication lines open and take the time to listen to your spouse. Encourage discussion about each other’s issues and concerns with the mindset of finding solutions.
And take note: If you tend to be indifferent about your appearance thinking it’s not a big deal, take the time and make an effort to look good—even when you’re just lounging around the house.
5. Be proactively kind and generous
To add spice to your relationship, do the little things. Say ‘thank you’ to recognize what your partner does for you and your relationship. Spend planned time together sharing fun activities. Relationships are like a garden. They require regular care and feeding—especially in a tough environment—if they are to continue to grow and be fruitful.
Try this now
Take some time now to list a few acts of kindness and appreciation you can do to let your spouse know how much you love them. It could be something like getting up first to make the coffee or tea in the morning, helping with meal preparation, or washing the car. Taking the time to offer a thoughtful gesture tailored for the other person in this time of duress and anxiety will help them individually, help you individually, and add strength to your relationship as well.