They’re leaving laundry on the floor. Eating all of the quarantine snacks — and not the perishable ones first. And chewing so obnoxiously loud, who can pay attention to this morning Zoom meeting? (Did they always chew like that?) And the constant trail of crumbs left on the kitchen counter…Who is this person I’m living with?
Coronavirus quarantining has pushed many of us to spend more time with our partners than ever before. Now we have to figure out how to work, parent, and simply get along as we move through the same rooms all day long. This can quickly deteriorate even the most stable relationships.
“This isn’t a vacation in the Bahamas,” says relationship therapist Carole Landis. “For a lot of couples, they’re going from a situation where they’re used to passing like ships in the morning and night to now really being with each other, and under a real amount of stress.”
You can’t spell “divorce” without “Covid," Twitter users remind us. And in China, where people have been in lockdown for much longer, that concept is feeling a bit like reality. Both cities of Xian and Dazhou reported record numbers of divorce filings in March.
So how can you save your relationship during quarantining? We asked local experts for advice. On the bright side, those home-isolating should have plenty of side-by-side time to put it into practice — and, perhaps, come out stronger.
How to save your sanity
You’re going to get annoyed. Talk about it
Sure, you love your partner’s quirks. But with tensions high and quarters close, that morning humming may suddenly make you want to scream.
It could be your partner who’s annoying. Or, pro-tip from editor @mollytolsky for couples suddenly working from home together, it could be an invisible person who’s to blame:
“Get yourselves an imaginary coworker to blame things on. In our apartment, Cheryl keeps leaving her dirty water cups all over the place and we really don’t know what to do about her.”
But really, communication is best. “What you were able to tolerate before, you now might need to talk about,” says clinical psychologist Deb Derrickson Kossmann. “Communication is essential for preventing your annoyance from turning into anger.”
Stress, Kossmann explains, can heighten people’s idiosyncrasies — anxious habits are often coping mechanisms. In other words, don’t be surprised if your partner’s foot tapping or nail biting amps up, which, in turn, could create an irk never felt before.
Address it in a way that’s inviting and shows that you notice your partner. Instead of “stop biting your nails,” try “I see you’re biting your nails more than usual, how are you feeling?”
Be extra understanding in ‘I don’t want you running on crowded Kelly Drive’ situations
“To a point, whoever is more anxious about the virus should win out,” says Nicholaides. “We should try as best as we can to help our partners feel comfortable in this time.”
Find a compromise, and do your best to have empathy. If one partner feels better about grocery delivery than grocery shopping, and you can afford it, don’t put up a fight — even if you feel it’s unnecessary. And if they want to wipe down every single grocery, that’s not for you to judge.
Balance 'I' and ‘we’
While it’s your civic duty to stay inside, there’s no need to watch every Netflix show together.
“There needs to be a space for you to feel like you — to listen to the music you like, to do your own hobbies,” says Brian Swope, licensed marriage and family therapist of PHL Therapy Collective. “Once you start to feel like you’re losing who you are in a relationship, that brings on a whole new type of anxiety.”
Don’t feel selfish if you want to take walks by yourself. Personal space can be refreshing, and make you a better partner.
How to keep the fire alive
Build a fort or have an indoor picnic
It’s still important to schedule date nights.
“Just because you’re spending 24/7 together doesn’t mean you’re spending quality time together,” says clinical psychologist and couples therapy specialist Anna Nicholaides.
Order delivery from your favorite restaurant, or, as Nicholaides suggests, try a new experience. And keep it playful.
“Although we can’t go very far while sheltering in place, our minds have an unlimited capacity to journey to new spaces, while being silly encourages flirting,” says Nicholaides.
Throw on some music, and make a pillow fort. Or have a pillow fight. You could also cover your table with paper, and draw a cityscape together. Or finger paint. Puzzles are trending right now. Don’t own one? Take a cue from this guy who built his own:
Small and sweet surprises, daily
Being in a relationship lets you navigate life’s ups and downs with a co-pilot by your side. Show extra kindness to remind each other you’re in this together.
“If your partner’s in a work meeting, bring them a cup of coffee,” suggests Nicholaides. “Small acts of kindness can make them feel less alone in the world.”
Other ideas: notes on the bathroom mirror, affectionate afternoon texts even when in the same room, slipping in a treat on your next grocery run.
So, about the sex
Stress can lower your libido, but if you’re in a good place with your partner, Nicholaides encourages you not to let stress stop sex.
“It might be harder to get into that headspace right now, but try to keep in mind its benefits,” says Nicholaides. “Sex releases oxytocin, the ‘love hormone,' that can make you feel closer and bonded together.”
How to keep your arguments quarantined
Trapped in close quarters, tense moments are inevitable. Landis shares a pro-arguing tip: Write your frustrations in a notebook.
“Twice a week, sit down and share one, and only one, criticism with each other,” says Landis.
For those with kids, block out time to do this far away from their ears. “Kids need stability right now,” says Landis.
Ask for what you want
“Every year, you should re-establish your needs. Now that you’re spending more time at home, those needs are likely to change, so you need to reopen that conversation,” says Landis. “If suddenly you need alone time in the shower, but your partner’s used to barging in, they’re not going to know unless you tell them.”
Be specific and direct. Skip statements that begin with “you never” (...help with the chores) and “you always” (...forget to take out the trash), says Landis.
“These absolute statements give the other person nowhere to go — they’re cornered,” says Landis. “Reminding someone of their shortcomings isn’t motivating.”
How to cope right now
Make a ‘coping list’
Write down what soothes you (music, meditation, running, etc.). Then, make a second list of things your partner does that help you relax, whether it’s back scratches or making the morning coffee.
“It’s a small toolkit of ways you can care for one another and a cushion for when there are the inevitable arguments,” says Nicholaides.
Daily laugh time
To keep your spirits lifted, schedule a daily laugh session, and use it as a bonding moment.
“It could be as simple as routinely sending a funny meme to each other every afternoon,” says Kossman. “A sense of humor through all this can help relieve built up stress.”
Say goodnight, every night
Unfortunately we can’t go around hugging family and friends right now. But you can embrace your partner. End the day on a positive note, says Landis, by remembering to say goodnight.
“No matter how exhausted you are, a kiss or hug each night can go a long way,” says Landis.