Covid-19 has brought some scary times; it has also brought a slew of funny videos. This week I watched people making jokes about the quarantine. One man pretended to put bricks between him and his spouse and wrote, “8th day of quarantine.” Another jokes that women created COVID-19 to get men to do chores. One guy has to decide if he wants option A or B during a quarantine. Option A: spend quarantine with his wife. The guy replies “option B” without any of us knowing what it is. We are to assume that anything is better than being alone with his wife. All seemed to be saying: “I am a prisoner of this quarantine and a prisoner of this marriage.” About ten “videos/pictures” had this theme. I noticed that the gender roles were pretty consistent — none of them featured a woman complaining. Not one. Interesting, right?
My guess is those men were unhappy before COVID-19. Yet, Covid-19 precautions restrict our freedom. To spend long hours with the same people in the same space can increase negative feelings and fights. To have less freedom does not feel good, and we all (even introverts!) need breaks and alone time to recharge. In normal circumstances, we have the ability to increase physical and emotional distance when we are unhappy. Now, our inability to take this needed space could lead to increased tension, conflict, even thoughts about divorce. In normal circumstances, time apart works like a pressure valve. People stay even though they are unhappy because they can recharge. Remove the freedom of movement, and the result can be explosive. Even in healthy and generally happy relationships, current restrictions can be challenging.
So, is there a healthy way to navigate your relationship during this quarantine? Sure! Here are some tips:
- Set up personal space for each one of you in your house. Introverts tend to recharge by themselves. Allow each other needed time and space for recharging (remember this works like the pressure valve), and try not to take it personally when your partner needs this. Happier couples generally need less personal space. Distressed couples generally will have 23% more distance than couples who are happy. There is some evidence that in heterosexual relationships, the male partner’s happiness is what determines the distance. Unhappy partners will seek more distance. So asking what your partner needs from you can be helpful. Ask to understand what they want, empathize with the lack of freedom and space. Be a team fighting a common enemy (distance, COVID-19, quarantine).
- Remind yourself of your good interactions. What was present? How can you recreate it? Work on remembering and verbalizing all the things you like about your partner. Think of their qualities, your best dates, your intimate conversations. Then verbalize them to each other. Be creative! Have a picnic in your living room and make the rule that you can only talk about positive things. Order Chinese food and play the fortune cookie game (i.e. you read the cookies and add “in bed.”) Watch stand up comedians or funny movies together. Go for a bear hunt or a rainbow hunt as a family (if you have kids). Look at pictures of happy times & reminisce together.
- We are all likely feeling a bit restricted and anxious, and these two things are a tough combination. Anxiety often creates a desire to control, but restriction makes us want to resist control. Recognize that both of you are dealing with mixed emotions. So, decide that you will not control your spouse (you can’t anyway). Instead discuss your primary emotions with each other. Drop your masks. Be vulnerable. We are human, we are all scared. We don’t need to dwell on the fear but recognizing it allows us to move on in a healthy manner.
- If you are teleworking and have kids, be compassionate with yourself, your spouse and your kids. Relationships are more important than outcomes. Your kids’ online school, excellent behaviors or a perfect household is not the goal right now. Give yourself permission to not have high standards.
- Remind yourself that this is temporary but your relationship does not have to be. Soon (it can’t be soon enough) COVID-19 will be a distant memory.
Your relationship can actually thrive during these circumstances. This is a great time to close the distance that may have grown between you and your partner. The restricted space can allow for deep and well-meaning conversations. Also, it may be a good time for online counseling. It works almost like in person counseling, though we do lose some of the warmth and richness that are created by being in the same room together. Yet, counseling is better than no counseling, and we are here to help you navigate these stressful times without damaging your relationship.
Sabrina Bowen, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our downtown Bethesda, MD office and virtually. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary telephone consultation with Sabrina.