As we navigate week 8 of the coronavirus shut-in, I see a lot of couples with kids struggling. What’s expected of parents at the moment is extremely intense: chores, schooling your children, getting groceries, keeping everyone happy at home, all while maintaining your own work schedules and trying to give each other a little attention whenever you can.
For some parents, the fireworks are exploding everywhere. And I don’t mean in the bedroom — there is a lot of arguing going on at home, as they find themselves spread to thin by the struggle to take care of themselves, one another, and their children. The financial, medical, and emotional strains of the pandemic can put unprecedented stress on couples, too, while they navigate the uncertainties brought about by COVID-19.
So, how do you keep your relationship healthy during this coronavirus crisis (and beyond it)? Here are a few simple tips that should not be overlooked:
- Find acceptance for the current situation. We don’t have any control over so much of what’s happening right now, but we can manage how we deal with it. Track down negative thoughts and emotions and then let them go (in a balloon, basket, cloud – whatever image, figurative or literal, works best for you).
- Compliment your partner. We often tend to look only at what the other person is doing wrong or isn’t doing at all. But it is much more constructive to state what the other person did well and how much you appreciate it – and it will do wonders for their ability to cope with what’s going on and how they feel about what they have, in spite of everything, been able to accomplish.
- Be honest about what’s bothering you, and where you need help. Discuss the difficult things that you have been walking around with. Air it all out and be honest about what you’re dealing with, one step at the time. Your partner isn’t a mind reader, so if you need help with certain things, please ask him or her. Communication is also about the division of tasks, so make a daily schedule and stick to it. For example, you can take turns taking care of the kids or working without being disturbed. If it’s possible, schedule time into that routine for you both to relax, run, do yoga, watch Netflix, etc.
- Hold each other on a daily basis. Even if regular, prolonged periods of intimacy are off the table for you and your partner while the stay-at-home order persists, it’s so important to find at least one moment a day to connect physically. A hug, kiss, or even a stroke on the arm can turn a stressful day into a much more manageable one. Physical touch releases the neurotransmitter oxytocin, which makes you feel good and facilitates bonding.
- Give each other your undivided attention. A relationship is like a plant – it needs to be nurtured. Finding time for one another, whether it’s in the form of a good conversation or physical affection, can be difficult when you are simply in survival mode. But it’s so important that when you are able to make that time, you are present with one another without outside distraction. You’re a team, and being with one another without the outside noise of your daily responsibilities will help you stay on the same page later as you tackle those stresses together.
There are couples whose relationships were unstable before the Coronavirus pandemic. These parents are struggling now more than ever before, and for some, being quarantined with their partner may not feel “safe at home.” Are you reading this and suspecting that a family member, neighbor, or friend might be a victim of domestic violence? Please contact your doctor or National Domestic Violence hotline.
Tilda Timmers is a therapist specializing in Postpartum depression, and author of the forthcoming book This Is Postpartum