If you’re holed up at home under Coronavirus quarantine or shelter-in-place with a partner or spouse and notice that things are feeling a bit more tense than usual, you’re not alone. Couples in the U.S. may want to take note — divorce rates recently reached an all-time high in districts of Xi’an, capital of Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, following the coronavirus quarantine. What’s to blame?
“Being together in a small space for a much longer period than usual under stressful conditions means more opportunities to amplify both positive and negative dynamics,” said David Cates, Ph.D., in a recent Newsweek article. “My guess is that relationships with a strong foundation will survive and may even flourish, whereas those characterized by poor negotiation skills, destructive communication, and lack of appreciation are more likely to buckle under the stress.”
While experiencing quarantine together will stress even the strongest of couples, it’s possible to not only survive but actually flourish together during this unprecedented time. Here are some tips as to how:
Clear communication is key.
For many couples, being home together for such long and indefinite stretches of time is a totally new experience. Clear communication is essential — especially for couples where both partners are trying to work from home or where work and childcare time needs to be clearly defined.
My husband and I, like many other families, are both working remotely while managing three children under age 5. Lining up our schedules at the beginning of the week to pre-determine who is working and who is taking the primary parenting role for which hours each day has been key for us continuing to juggle these responsibilities with as few flops — and as little resentment — as possible.
While one of us is working, we’ve arranged a “stoplight” system on the door of the room we’re using as an office; the red, yellow, or green paper is a signal to the other adult (and kiddos, too) as to how interruptible — or not — we are at a given time. This has helped us maintain some semblance of boundary between work and home.
Spend time together doing things unrelated to the pandemic.
It’s easy to get consumed with the coronavirus-related news coming at us 24/7, but maintaining some shared time together that isn’t focused on the pandemic is key. And if you can get off your phone, even better.
In our house, I’m often pretty depleted by the end of the day, but I know that even spending time on the couch with my husband reading our own respective books, watching a funny show or movie, or just chatting is time much better spent than holing up separately, each scrolling our own phones or consuming more pandemic-related news.
Rituals that help you come together in the morning and evening can really help “bookend” the day — maybe it’s sharing a hot breakfast or morning cup of coffee before you head into your respective workdays, a “lunch break” walk, or a five-minute check-in or backrub before you head to sleep at night.
And, thanks to modern technology, you can bring other friends and family members in to your shared time together, too, if you wish. A Netflix streaming party, online board game with friends, or Google Hangout happy hour are a couple creative options that can both help you spend time with your partner and reduce isolation.
Acknowledge your own needs, and see how you can work to meet them.
There’s no denying that this is a stressful time. For many folks, feelings of anxiety, sadness, isolation, or worry are running higher than usual. Consider what you might need to help meet your own needs, and ask your partner for their support in making this happen.
Do you need time to go for a run by yourself? Are you behind on work, and need to take the evening to catch up so you feel more prepared for the following day? Are you exhausted and needing a 20-minute power nap? Or feeling lonely and want time to FaceTime with family members? Do you need a night off from cooking and doing the dishes — would takeout help? The more specific you can be, the better.
And, of course, it’s a two-way street; when your partner articulates their own needs, do as much as you can to acknowledge and meet them, too.
Try to empathize and avoid comparisons.
Sheltering-in-place is tough for pretty much everyone, and getting into a spiral of “who-has-it-worse” will only make things harder. When your partner needs to vent about feeling overwhelmed, a hard work day, or just plain grieving life as it used to be — let them. Be curious, empathetic, ask questions, and try to use your best active listening skills. Good questions to help you reflect back what you’re hearing include: What I hear you saying is X; It sounds like you are feeling X — is that right? Could you tell me more about what that was like for you?
Avoid minimizing — whether intentionally or unintentionally — by shifting the focus to your own struggles or dismissing your partner’s concerns. Remember that at the end of the day, you and your partner are on the same team — when you can take on challenges head-on together, you’ll both be better for it.
There’s no doubt about it: coronavirus isolation is hard, and it will (eventually) pass. Sharing space for a much longer period of time during stressful conditions can challenge relationships, but it’s also a chance to implement or strengthen some positive building blocks that will serve your partnership for the long haul — far beyond when quarantine is over.