The strain that the coronavirus is putting on our lives is immense. And it is affecting most relationships in some way. As a licensed psychotherapist specializing in relationship therapy, I’ve received many emails and calls in the past few weeks from concerned people worrying that their relationships were not going to make it.
It makes perfect sense to be struggling in your relationship now. We’re stuck inside our homes, forced to spend more time together than ever before. We’re relying on a partner for almost all of our social support because we can’t see our friends or relatives. We’re balancing new responsibilities like working from home, child care or housekeeping. It’s undoubtedly a lot of change all at once. At the same time, some people feel guilty acknowledging their relationship woes because it seems as if there are much bigger issues to worry about.
It’s OK to acknowledge the ways your relationship is being affected by the coronavirus crisis. Try these tips for supporting your relationship during these tough times.
First, take care of yourself
Nurturing your relationship has to start with nurturing yourself. It’s simply too much to expect your partner to be your sole source of stress relief. Here are some of my favourite forms of self-care:
- Allow yourself to feel your feelings. What we resist persists. When we give ourselves permission to feel the full range of our emotions and validate that what we’re feeling makes sense, emotions dissipate much faster.
- Journal. Spend five to 10 minutes every day writing freeform.
- Meditate. This is one of the absolute best things you can do for your mental health.
- Move your body. The endorphin rush you get from exercise can be invaluable for managing stress, improving your mood and even boosting your immunity. If you can safely go outside while you exercise, that’s even better.
- Seek other sources of connection. Reach out to friends and relatives, without your partner by your side.
Make a plan
Sit down with your partner to discuss everything that’s on your plate, and make a plan for how you’re going to handle it as a team. Create a shared calendar with all of your tasks and responsibilities, and carve out specific times for when you’re going to do them.
I recommend having a brief weekly meeting every Sunday to anticipate the week ahead — schedule and map out as much as you can. I also recommend a quick meeting at the end of each day to discuss the plan for the next day. There are so many things that we can’t control now, but it can feel soothing to have a plan for the things that are in our control.
Check-in with each other daily
Planning for the next day is one thing, but it is also important to remember that your partner is not a robot and probably experiencing the same range of emotions that you are. It can be useful to stop and ask each other questions like:
- “What was your day like today?”
- “What sorts of feelings are coming up for you right now?”
- “Are there any ways I can support you or be a better partner to you?”
Be intentional about time spent together
You’re probably spending more time together than ever before. As much as you love your partner, this can quickly lead to tension and frustration. Set some healthy boundaries:
- If you’re both working from home, carve out separate workspaces. If you can close a door between the two of you, that’s ideal.
- Try to give each other space during the day. If you can, limit your verbal communication. Try texting instead.
- It’s normal to need alone time. Be creative about how you can carve out that time. For example, maybe you can trade off taking the morning shift with the children so you give each other the chance to lie in bed alone for a few precious moments.
- Be creative with date nights. Sticking to (or starting) a date night tradition can bring some much-needed joy and anticipation into your relationship. Try visiting a museum online, reading a book to each other or cooking an elaborate meal together.
Practice appreciation and gratitude
These next few weeks and months are going to be a challenge for everyone. None of us are going to be perfect partners. Do your best and thank each other for being willing to make an effort. Tell your partner: “I see all the work you’ve been doing. Thank you.” As challenging as everything is at this time, there’s also a lot to be grateful for. Try to share a few things you’re grateful for every few days. The more gratitude you express, the more often you’ll find yourself noticing little moments to appreciate. And we could all use more of those now.