Spending time at home with your spouse is one thing. Staying at home with your spouse due to a pandemic is a whole other experience and one no one prepares for. Having to do something changes the way we look at things. You might adore your spouse, but 24/7 confinement can grate on even the most compatible, loving couples.
It comes as no surprise that reports coming out of China, the country most recently shutdown from the corona virus, are that divorce rates are skyrocketing. It is thought that prolonged time spent together exacerbated underlying problems that might otherwise have been minor or worked themselves out.
Now it’s our time. States are now on stay-at-home orders around the country. Couples, maybe for the first time ever, are having to adapt to being with each other 24/7, sharing space, coordinating routines and being unable to get much alone time.
The good news is you can survive this time. With some effort, you might even thrive as a couple! Here’s how:
No Shame Game
It’s ok to be irritated, even aggravated, by being holed up together 24/7. There’s no shame in that. We are social creatures, yes. But we also need our alone time and play time. What you may be feeling is more the loss of that freedom than negativity towards your spouse. Be careful not to take the situation out on them.
Respect Each Other’s Space
The smaller the physical space you’re in, the more important this becomes. You’re going to be sharing space that you might otherwise occupy in different times. Think about all the things you’ll be doing over the course of the day. Will you both need certain resources like the computer or TV or internet for work? Will you have to share a desk? Who gets to use things when?
Sitting together and figuring out the logistics can go a long way towards avoiding unnecessary territorial skirmishes. They might be tolerable on day one but can become tiresome by day 3.
Make A Schedule Together
You’re used to a daily routine. Your spouse has their own. Now, you have to balance the two so that you are each able to get your tasks accomplished. Even if you’re not working, you still need a routine that is predictable. Having a schedule gives you purpose and direction. It also let’s your partner know what you’ll be doing so they can coordinate appropriately.
As you’re making your schedules, be sure to include some time for each other and some time for yourselves.
Do Something Fun Together
Being home together can be an opportunity to strengthen the bond you have. Work, kids, commuting and all of life’s demands can send couples time to the back burner. Why not take this extra time to rekindle that connection? When was the last time you shared some pillow time, just talking about hopes and dreams, feelings and needs?
Being home doesn’t have to mean the same old thing. Think about some things that might be new and interesting.
- Try cooking something new together. YouTube is full of great cooking class-style videos.
- Watch that movie you’ve both wanted to see.
- Learn to dance. Again, YouTube for the win!
- Listen to some music that takes you back to the early days of your relationship.
- If you’re musical, write a song together.
- Write a story or poetry together.
- Take walks or ride bikes together if it’s safe for you to do so.
Make Time for Yourself
As much as you might love your spouse, you also need time apart. In a stay-at-home situation, that can be tricky. In normal life, you probably each have things that you do without the other – going to the gym, running, chatting with friends or indulging a hobby of some sort. It’s time that you spend nurturing yourself as an individual. Taking care of you is an important part of overall health and well-being. When we neglect ourselves, every other aspect of our lives suffers. As contradictory as it sounds, taking time for yourself makes you more emotionally available for those you love.
So, with a shutdown, what can this time for yourself look like?
- A walk or run alone if it is safe for you to do so.
- Do a home workout or online yoga class.
- Make time to chat with friends via Skype, Facetime, social media, etc.
- Work on your hobby if possible.
Personal time might be nothing more than taking an afternoon nap or sitting on your porch with a warm cup of tea. The important thing is to take time for self-care, let your partner know you’ll be doing it and, encourage them to do the same.
Work on Communication – Speak Mindfully
This is a hard one. Couples have a way of communicating that is sometimes a kind of “shorthand”. Under normal circumstances, it probably works just fine. Under duress, however, that cute code can become an annoyance real quick. Nerves may already be raw and stress levels high. Miscommunication is a real danger here. Especially during stressful times, it is important to communicate in a clear and kind manner. This is not the time for half-answers, assumptions or off-the-cuff response.
One of the most effective ways of communicating with your spouse is to use “I statements”. These statements are a way to express what you think or feel in a way that is positive, non-judgmental and invites your spouse into the conversation. It communicates respect and dignity. An “I statement” also gives your spouse useful information so that they can understand and respond in a helpful way.
Here’s an example:
Blaming: You never tell me how you feel but expect me to know. That’s so confusing!
I-statement: I feel confused when you tell me I should know how you feel. I feel inadequate when I don’t get it right.
Imagine if the response had been, “Don’t be a jerk. I’m not a mind-reader.” You can imagine the conversation from there. It would not end with anything better than more hurt and frustration. That’s never a good resolution and it’s worse when you’re going to be confined to close quarters for an extended time. Keep it positive and focused.
Beware of Unresolved Conflicts
Bickering is inevitable. You want to be sure, though, that you are not letting these little skirmishes fester into larger conflicts. You’re going to be together 24/7 for a while so you don’t want these things between you.
Use this time to work on positive communication strategies with your spouse. Work on resolving conflicts, even little ones, instead of just sweeping them under the rug.
- Practice talking to each other instead of talking at each other.
- Practice listening with the intent to understand instead of just waiting to respond.
- Choose your words mindfully and speak with kindness.
- Use your I-statements
- Take a grown-up time-out when you need to. Take a walk, take a minute in the other room. Take what you need to cool off so you can speak kindly.
- Come back after your time-out and work to resolve the conflict.
- Own your part. Apologize if you need to.
These are skills you’ll be able to use for years to come. Being able to work through conflicts is one of the cornerstones to a healthy, long-lasting relationship.
Comfort Each Other
People cope with adversity in different ways. Some are very open and vocal about it. You know exactly how they’re coping. Others are more reserved and even apprehensive about sharing feelings. And still others believe that the way to cope is to keep a stiff upper lip while coming apart on the inside. Which one are you? Which one is your partner? Even if your spouse doesn’t say it, they may be feeling quite distressed. What can you do?
- Check in with each other daily.
- Ask your partner how they’re doing and feeling. Not everyone is ok with asking for help.
- Tell your partner how you’re doing. Ask for what you need.
- Support each other. Ask, “What can I do today to support you?” And then listen.
- Hug it out if it is safe for you to do so. Physical touch, while always important, is especially important now in this time of social distancing. Touch is soothing and comforting. Humans need touch and struggle without it. We’re not specifically talking sex here, but intimate touch may bring you comfort as well. Hold each other’s hand. Snuggle on the sofa (if it is safe to do so).
- Reassure each other. If your partner is worried, help them to put their worry in perspective. Let them know what you love and support them.
We are in unprecedented times for sure. We will no doubt learn so much about each other and about ourselves. When you come through the other side of this, what will you have learned? Will you be stronger as a couple? The time will pass no matter what. What you do with the time together is up to you. Why not use it to build a relationship that is stronger than before? Choose to thrive.
Originally Published on Thrive Global (April 7, 2020)