Relationships and running households in general can be challenging to navigate in the best of times, throw in a global pandemic and things can get even more difficult. As I have worked with my clients in navigating being home with significant others and running households with the added stress of social-distancing, shortages of toilet paper, working at home in general, and for some trying to homeschool children while also trying to work full-time, some patterns have been emerging. Couples are feeling more tense, with increased stress and demands, shorter tempers, and overall increased reactivity. Here are a few things that may help you and your significant other as you continue to try to make your household run as smoothly as possible as you navigate through this trying time.
1. Vocalize and communicate your needs to your partner. Even in the best of times, we want our partners to read our minds and figure out what we need without having to ask. We expect our partners to be mind-readers and expect them to know what we want/need without having to ask. Having these unrealistic expectations of them is both unfair and unrealistic. We are setting our partners up in these moments, increasing opportunity for resentment. Instead, tell your partner what you need and want from them. Let them know when you have hit a wall and you can’t do that load of laundry or make that meal for them. Show your vulnerability and be honest when you have hit your limit of what you can handle.
2.Be aware of what your partner’s needs might be. While it’s important to vocalize to your partner what your needs/wants are, it’s also important to try to tune into what your partner may be trying to communicate non-verbally or indirectly. There are a lot of feelings going on right now for everyone and we are struggling to always make sense of them. You should be the person that knows your partner the best, so by being aware of when he/she doesn’t seem like themselves and then checking in when you see that can really go a long way.
3.Process through the emotional toll that this situation is having on you with your partner. It is also really important for you as a couple to acknowledge when your reactivity to one another may really be about the bigger picture of coping with how covid-19 is affecting the world around you, and then in response your household. We know that in general, we take our negative emotions out on the person that we feel the closest to and safest with. In the same way that a child may take anger and aggression out on the parent they feel the safest with, as adults we often take out the stress we have associated with outside triggers on our significant others. So, take this as an opportunity to be vulnerable. Explore with your partner your fears, worries, and anxieties. Express to them how you feel and open the door for them to be vulnerable with you as well. This is an opportunity for you to also acknowledge that you and you partner’s reactivity to the world around you may be coming out as reactivity to one another and by being open and vulnerable, you may be able to create a new closeness to one another that you had not experienced before.
4.Give each other breaks, from each other and from your children. Let’s be honest here – I do not care how much you love your partner or how much you see your partner as your best friend, there is no one in this world that you can be with 24/7 without getting frustrated or annoyed. Allow your partner to have some alone time and autonomy and ask for it for yourself too. Having space is a really important part of how we recharge. Tell your partner you need to take a walk by yourself, or suggest they take a time out and watch a show by themselves that they really like. Additionally, if you have children, offer to take the kids for a walk or a drive so that your partner can have alone time in the house and also speak up and ask that they do the same for you.
5.Offer to do chores or tasks in the house that your partner usually takes care of. Being home more means more chores. More laundry, more cleaning, more cooking. Talk with your partner about how to make everything work for both of you. Take turns cooking and cleaning so that neither person feels too much weight on their shoulders. Also pay attention to the ebbs and flows of both of your work responsibilities if both of you are still working and how stressful household tasks may be. Lastly, make sure you are both sharing expressions of appreciation for what the other person is doing. It is very easy to take things for granted in terms of household tasks, but especially in this time of high stress, being thanked and shown appreciation will go a very long way.
6.Find your shared interests. There are so many couples that are finding new things to do at home together. Through this stress, it can be so easy to get lost in the anxiety and worry and disconnect. Try to figure out what connected you in the beginning of your relationship and build upon it, or try to find new things that you and your partner can do together in your house. Play games, do puzzles, cook together, get outside and enjoy nature, or take on a home project that you have been wanting to tackle. Just remember, do these things together.
7.Take timeouts from technology. This is something I stress to couples in all sessions, but I think it is especially important right now. Not only is technology a distraction from one another during shared time together (which in and of itself is enough reason to take the technology time out), it can also be extremely triggering right now. Our phones and computers are now filled with a lot of stressful news, triggering social media posts, and unending e-mails and requests for work. Since we are (mostly) working in our homes now, setting boundaries around work time and home/family time can be difficult but it is also more important than ever as we need to let our brains rest. And, while I think it is very important for us to all be informed about what is going on in terms of the virus, we also need to make sure we are not allowing ourselves to be flooded by the information or triggered by how it is being delivered. Talk with your partner about setting time aside where neither of you will be on any of your devices and giving one another allowance to remind each other when the devices need to be put away.
Through all of this, you and your partner are going to be working toward building new routines and rhythms together. You both need to give one another grace and be patient if one of you is struggling to catch up and adjust. Throughout the past month and a half, things have been shifting and changing quickly and the adjustment to these changes can be difficult as we all are trying to gain control over whatever we can. Communication and connection are key as is allowing your partner to process through their emotional response to the stress around them. Be there for one another and be together.
I have been practicing therapy for 15 years and have worked with countless individuals, families and couples. While I do not want to claim to be an "expert" on all things therapy or life (because I always believe that there is room to grow and learn) I have noticed throughout my time connecting with my clients that similar struggles and repetitive patterns present themselves that affect how clients experience and see life. I wanted to take this experience with my clients and the knowledge I have gained and share it here, so that maybe it can touch others lives the way it has helped my clients.