This year, we’ve learned that being cooped up indoors is a small price to pay to help halt the alarming spread of coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19. But that doesn’t mean it’s always fun. It can be boring, it can be lonely, it can be anxiety-provoking — and if you’ve been shut in with a romantic partner, it can be downright aggravating too. So aggravating, in fact, that the city of Xi’an in China, where there’ was a semi-lockdown of several districts earlier this year, saw an “unprecedented number of divorce appointments” after the marriage registration office reopened on March 1, reports the Global Times.
Not to be a downer, but it kind of makes sense. Pre-COVID-19, many people only really hung out with their live-in partners for a few hours at night, plus weekends. But during periods of self-quarantining and social distancing in the US, many made the transition to 24/7 contact — no breaks — which was tough. It also threw any incompatibilities into sharp focus. And now we’re more than half a year into this thing, and tensions are high.
But fear not, you can absolutely flatten the curve while keeping your relationship intact.
Recruit extra help
Proof that tons of people are going through relationship issues caused by quarantine? The prevalence of apps and programs popping up that are in the relationship-repair genre. There’s Rise, a program designed to help couples develop “relational intelligence.” “I think of it as a halfway point between ‘actual date’ and ‘couples counseling‘,” one Refinery29 writer said. Another goodie: Relationship Hero, which offers group couples therapy sessions in addition to one-on-one relationship counseling. Or go old-school, and take this time to sign up for an actual couples therapist. Plenty of them are offering virtual sessions right now.
Ask this question
“What are you expecting from me over the next few days?” Rachel Sussman, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist and relationship expert, tells Refinery29. This conversation starter helps open the door to a discussion about each person’s needs, and areas where you can compromise.
For instance, you may assume that the two of you will be chatting throughout the day, while your partner is working from home and wants to save the small talk until after 5 p.m. Knowing this ahead of time will help you avoid miscommunications and frustration when you poke your head into the home office to ask how they’re doing, and they bark at you to get out. Remember: Neither one of you can read the other one’s minds.
Set a schedule
It may feel silly, but having a structured plan for each day can actually make your time at home pass more quickly. It can also minimize conflicts, Sussman says. “Say one person has to be on the phone all day and the other person has a job that’s quiet, that could be problematic,” she explains. If you plan a daily schedule, you’ll be able to talk through solutions. Maybe the quieter person schedules a walk during their partner’s longest call of the day; or the two settle on specific quiet hours when no calls are allowed. You can also pencil in specific times to connect with your partner, such as over lunch.
Use ‘I statements’
You’ve heard it a million times, but now is the time to put it into practice: Drop the blaming ‘you statements’ from your vocab. When you’re in the groove with a project and your SO decides that’s the perfect time to start up a (loud) video game, it’s fine to speak up, says Moraya Seeger DeGeare, MA, a licensed marriage and family therapist and the co-owner of BFF Therapy in Beacon, N.Y. But she suggests saying: “I really need to be able to concentrate on this thing I’m doing, so I need to be alone in this room for a while. Love you, let’s reconvene at 2 p.m.” See how that sounds better than: “You’re annoying the shit out of me right now”?
Switch things up
When you’re not working, keep things fun by seeking out some novelty, suggests DeGeare. “You have time together that you typically don’t. What do you and your partner have an opportunity to do together that you normally never would? That could be as a family or as a couple,” she says. Cook a new-to-you meal together, dust off your deck of cards and learn a new game, work your way through those documentaries you’ve been meaning to watch, take your time in bed and try something different.
Or put away every distraction and go deep. Start to work your way through a list of questions like this one. Even if you’ve been together for years, you may be surprised by what else you can learn about each other when you have the time.
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