Flattening the curve.
Dine-in options closed.
Working from home.
Travel plans canceled.
These terms are in the news, in our ears, and in our lives for the foreseeable future. That means more time with our partners, minus distractions. No bars for happy hours. No concerts, ballgames, festivals. No dining out. What are we going to do?
Here are some of my favorite ways to manage, while strengthening your relationship now. Find the ones that work for you, and send me your own ideas…we can never have too much creative thinking!
1. Create Separate Spaces.
If you live together, and you haven’t done this already, create separate spaces for each of you, where you can go without explanation or hurt feelings. Lots of togetherness can be stressful, and having some space to call your own can make all the difference.
If your partner needs to step into that space, allow for that.
The healthiest relationships are an ever-changing balance of distance and closeness, and when one or both of those are outside of our control, it can create a lot of stress. Find your own space and go there whenever you need a break from each other.
2. Learn something new together.
So many places have their online classes discounted or even free, now’s a great time to branch out into something you’ve been wanting to try: cooking, gardening, ballroom dancing, home renovation projects…the list is endless and the options are limitless.
Trying something neither of you knows how to do starts you off with a level playing field, and since each of you are likely to grasp different aspects better, allows each to be the teacher of the other. You’ll likely see sides of your partner you’d forgotten, or didn’t know were there.
3. Learn something new about each other.
More than 20 years ago, a study was published by psychologist Arthur Aron and others, indicating that by answering 36 specific questions, in order, two strangers could experience intimacy in an accelerated way. People have since used the questions to improve intimacy in their own relationships, no matter how long-standing.
Books have been written, and card decks created, all with the idea that asking and answering questions together will strengthen and enhance an ongoing relationship. In my practice, I often give an exercise like this as homework for my clients. Here are some of my favorite resources: 36 Questions to Fall (or Stay) in Love, Table Topics for Couples, 100 Date Night Questions.
4. Do something for someone else, together.
There are always opportunities to help out, whether it’s shopping and errands for a quarantined neighbor, yard work for a family with small children, making a big batch of soup for friends…being of service to others reminds us that we’re all part of a community. That realization helps to banish loneliness, isolation, and disconnection…all very real dangers in our current situation. So, take a step outside yourselves.
5. Get out!
Really, get outside. Walk, run, bike, garden, hike in the woods, visit a park. The health benefits of nature cannot be overstressed. You’ll never regret time spent in fresh air!
6. Take some time every day to have a check-in.
Get real about how you’re feeling, and look for the good along with the difficult. Talk to each other about what’s going on with you, and suspend judgment about how you “should” be feeling, thinking or acting. This is uncharted territory for us all, so the old rules and roles may not apply.
7. Tackle your to-do list.
Put on your favorite playlist, or let Spotify or Pandora create one for you, and jam through your projects. Purge closets, clear out the basement, wash windows inside and out…and afterwards, treat yourselves to carry out and cocktails. Make it fun and productive!
8. Try not to get stuck in old feedback loops.
Couples often get locked into unhealthy patterns. The more you do X the more they do Y, and the more they do Y the more you do X. It’s increasingly likely to be a problem the more uninterrupted time you spend together, and those patterns can create havoc in a relationship.
The good news is, you can change it all by yourself.
Think of it like playing tennis. If your partner serves to you, and you usually return to their right side, try returning the ball to their left next time. So, if your partner shuts down when stressed, and you usually poke and prod to get them to open up, try overtly giving them space instead.
You could say something like, “Listen, it’s pretty clear you need to be alone with your thoughts right now. I get it. I’ll be just down the hall if you want to talk, and know that I love you.” Or, if it seems like they’re trying to provoke an argument, rather than engaging, you can simply say “I love you too much to argue with you” and move on.
9. Remember, this pandemic is temporary.
Long-term, perhaps, but temporary. None of the experts is saying it’ll last forever, and while nobody knows exactly what our world will look like when it ends, we have a lot of say about what our relationships will be. Invest now, while the payday can be huge!