During these unprecedented times, we are stuck in our homes for an undetermined amount of time with our partners, spending more hours with them than ever before. We might have always wished for extra time with a partner, but I’m guessing no one imagined it would be spent under “stay at home” orders due to a global pandemic.
Recently I’ve been asking couples, “How can you make the most of this time and benefit from it as a couple?”
Of course, you can watch Netflix and hunker down for the next 4, 8, or 16 weeks, but as a therapist and a person who wants to keep learning and growing, I feel like this situation provides couples with a unique opportunity for growth and connection. If not now, then when?
Know that you can weather this storm as a couple and even come out stronger from it. With structure and agreements in place – and hopefully some humor and fun – you can handle self-quarantine in the best way possible.
I recommend that, as a couple, you create simple structures to your day. What time will you wake up? Eat meals? Go to bed? I find that couples who are starting to slip — getting up at noon, not getting dressed, staying up too late — make their uncertainty more difficult to manage.
I also recommend couples make agreements about who cooks, who cleans, and who does what chores when. Reassess if your originally established agreements still work for both of you in your new reality. When you are fair, just, and sensitive, you take care of each other and strengthen your relationship. Schedules may change, but the principles of secure functioning stay the same.
Another subject you may want to discuss is what topics you will and will not bring up. Agree upon those. During challenging and uncertain times, it’s not always constructive to address difficult, unresolved issues. Under normal circumstances, our brain scans for threat in and around our environment. During a global pandemic, our threat perception increases even more. If you agree to discuss an issue, provide a safe and secure environment by taking turns speaking, listening actively to your partner, and not focusing for too long on one problem.
If you need to address differences immediately and you have difficulty discussing the issue together, contact a PACT therapist who can guide you through. Many therapists around the country have moved to telehealth videoconferencing, so keep in mind that therapists in your area are still available during this time.
Make the Most of Your Time Together
During this challenging time, when many people are working on the frontlines or losing their jobs, feeling sick, or losing loved ones, it may be difficult to connect to your partner. However, now may be more important than ever to build that sense of security and connection.
- Slow down. Often times, we react so quickly to things people say that we jump to a negative conclusion or assume something negative without realizing it or attempting to clarify. If your partner pauses for too long after you say something or has a blank or “neutral” expression on their face, we will start filling in the blank with negativity. This is our brain’s natural negativity bias. When your partner doesn’t send a signal or respond to you in a way you expect, you start making up negative thoughts (such as, “My partner must not really love me.”) Instead of jumping to conclusions, slow down and ask your partner to explain. Be curious. Be open to being wrong. Hear your partner out. Slowing down can help decrease misunderstanding and help you feel closer to your partner.
- Put down your phones. We’re all glued to social media and news sites. What if you took a little of that time to look lovingly at each other? Make a designated time that you and your partner will put down your phones and spend a few minutes gazing into each other’s eyes. In the beginning of your relationship, you probably spent a lot of time gazing into each other’s eyes. A mutual gaze between you and your partner helps you learn to read and to know one another better, ultimately allowing you build a stronger relationship. We fall in love through the eyes.
- Ask questions. Not only does asking questions help you understand your partner better, it helps you grow closer and connect. If you are new partners, you can do an online search for newlywed questions and have fun asking questions in a lighter fashion. You can make up questions that you always wondered about your partner: What is your first memory from childhood? Who was your first best friend?
- Have breakfast together or take a coffee break. In the morning, state something you are grateful for. Some of my couples comment that these positive thoughts carry them through the day and help them feel more hopeful. During the day, take 15 minutes to have coffee, tea, or a drink of choice together. Most couples never have the luxury to see each other during the day, so use this time to talk about something light.
- Exercise. Many couples discuss getting in shape early in the year but then resolutions fall by the wayside. Walk or run together. Do an online workout together. Search “partner yoga” and try stretching, relaxing, and even twisting yourselves into a pretzel together. If you want a good laugh, search for laughter-based exercise programs, such as laughter yoga. Have some fun exploring options that work for both of you.
- Dance Together. One of my couples was bored and wanted to try something new, so I suggested dancing. They used YouTube to look up how to ballroom dance and had a lot of fun that night, laughing at themselves in playful ways. They reported back that they are unsure if they will try it again, but the goal was to do something together and be in each other’s arms. As infants, we are hardwired for cuddling and touch. As adults, that loving touch can create a closeness and intimate bond in couples.
- Laugh. Laughter boosts your immune system and helps relieve stress by releasing endorphins. We never want to laugh at our partner unless they are trying to be funny, but we can laugh at jokes and humorous situations.
- Tune in to your favorite comedian.
- Tell or read each other jokes or funny stories.
- Watch a comedy together.
This virus may keep you and your partner stuck at home, but use this time to reconnect. Making an agreement about how you want to spend this lockdown and where you want your focus to be will make all the difference when you are able to leave your home again. Look for the positive, be grateful that you are together, and discuss what you want to do to make the most of this time.
When you look back on Spring 2020, of course you’ll remember all the stress and uncertainty. I hope you will also remember how you became emotionally closer, more loving toward each other, and took this opportunity to create a more fulfilling relationship.