We are living in a world that is upside down, and we are facing an existential crisis.
It is during a time like this when there is a mass threat to our existence that we tend to make decisions that we have been mulling on for a while.
In my couples therapy practice, I am noticing that some couples who were struggling to make a relationship work before the COVID pandemic started are now making leaps and bounds of progress despite being sequestered in their homes whereas others are in a downward spiral.
It is not uncommon to see a large number of divorces or marriages after a major existential crisis such as a war, the threat of a war or a pandemic such as the one we are facing right now.
Coexisting in a marriage in quarantine with your partner is a major adjustment.
Our lives are now confined to our homes, and our kitchen tables have become our cubicles. There is no or very little separation between work and home life, and days are becoming blurry with one week turning into another without us noticing any difference.
If anything, the anxiety and stress are only rising each week, and there doesn’t seem to be any immediate relief from our relationship struggles.
Here are some practical tips that couples can implement to maintain some sense of normalcy and make a relationship work during these stressful times.
1. Maintain a routine
It is easy to lose track of a routine when you are working from home, and your kids are not going to school.
When days blur into weeks and weeks blur into months, having some sort of a routine and structure can help couples and families feel more upbeat and productive.
Look at the routines you had before the pandemic, and of course, you probably can’t do most of them because of social distancing measures.
But implement the ones that you can such as having a cup of coffee with your partner in the morning before beginning work, taking a shower and changing out of your pajamas and into your work clothes, have a designated lunch break, and a clear end time to your workday.
Implement similar routines for your kids because they crave structure– eat breakfast, get ready for online learning, breaks for lunch/snacks, end of the time allotted for learning, playtime, bath time, and bedtime rituals.
As a couple, set relationship goals for yourselves. As a family, try to put into practice an evening routine- eating dinner together, going on a walk, watching a T.V. show, and weekend routines such as family game nights, picnic in the backyard, or an arts/craft night.
To make a relationship work during this pandemic, couples can do date nights in the home– get dressed, cook a romantic dinner, and have a glass of wine on the patio or in your backyard.
You can also refer to some practical tips from the UN to maintain some normally during this lockdown.
2. Separation vs. togetherness
In general, some of us are wired to need more alone time than others.
However, after spending days, weeks, and months mostly confined to our homes, most if not all of us need a balance between being with our loved ones and having some time to ourselves.
Work that balance out with your partner by giving space in a relationship.
Perhaps, take turns going for a walk or having access to a quiet space in the house, give each other a break from parenting and household chores.
To help your relationship, try not to take your partner’s request for alone time personally, and don’t hesitate to ask your partner to do their share so that you can have some time to yourself as well.
3. Respond rather than react
Wondering how to stay sane during this quarantine period?
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the news these days and the constant influx of information about worst-case scenarios making their way into our minds and lives through social media, or emails, and texts from friends and family.
It is imperative to respond to the crisis by taking all precautions and practicing social distancing but try not to react by spreading panic, anxiety, and worry throughout your household and your social circle.
This is especially important for parents because children take their cues from their parents and the adults in their lives
If the adults are concerned but calm and have a balanced view of a critical situation, the kids are more likely to be calm.
However, parents and adults who are overly anxious, frazzled, and wrapped in panic are going to set off the same emotions in their children.
4. Work on a shared project
Another way to make a relationship work is to start working on a shared project with your partner or as a family such as planting a garden, reorganizing the garage or the house, or spring cleaning.
Involve your kids as much as possible to give them a sense of fulfillment that comes from finishing a task or creating something new.
By investing your energy into creativity or reorganization, you are less likely to focus on the chaos and unpredictability that surrounds all of us.
Not to mention creation in a time of destruction is food for our souls.
5. Communicate your needs
Try to understand each other and be more open in a relationship by creating a time and space for all family members to come together and express their needs.
I suggest holding a weekly family meeting where the adults and the children take turns to reflect on how the week went for them, express feelings, emotions, or concerns and communicate what they need from each other.
Couples can hold a relationship meeting once a week to reflect on what are some things they are doing well as a couple, how are they making each other feel loved, and what they can do differently moving forward.
Everyone is feeling overwhelmed, and people with underlying emotional challenges such as anxiety or depression are more likely to feel the rigor of this crisis.
Try understanding your partner, people are more likely to be irritable, kids are more likely to act out, and couples are more likely to get into tiffs.
During a heated moment, take a step back and try to recognize that a lot of what is going on in the moment can be attributed to what is happening in your environment rather than within the relationship.
7. Focus on what is really important
Perhaps the most important thing to make a relationship work right now is to focus on what is really important- love, family, and friendships.
Check on your family and friends that you are unable to see in person, set up facetime or video chats, call your elderly neighbors to see if they need anything from the store, and don’t forget to let your loved ones know just how much you love and appreciate them.
For a lot of us, this crisis is bringing into focus something that we often forget that jobs, money, amenities, entertainment can come and go, but having someone to get through this is the most valuable thing.
People who don’t think twice about sacrificing family time or time with their partners to give more of themselves to their jobs are hopefully realizing just how precious love and relationships are because in a time of an existential threat such as COVID, not having a loved one to comfort your fears is probably scarier than our present reality.
If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
Nagma V. Clark, Ph.D., L.P.C.C., C.S.T. is a sex & relationship expert, and founder of Tri-Valley Relationship Therapy, Inc. a thriving sex therapy & couples counseling practice in the Bay Area, CA. Dr. Clark is an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist & a PACT Level II Certified Couples Therapist.
As a sex therapist, Dr. Clark specializes in working with couples & individuals struggling with low or mismatched libido, weak or absent orgasms, performance anxiety, erectile dysfunction, sexual pain, sexuality & aging, general sexual dissatisfaction etc. She also works with people interested in exploring sexual orientation, gender identity, kink, BDSM, polyamory, and atypical sexual behaviors. She has been in the field of sexuality since 2006, including 4 years of clinical experience in the area of forensic sexuality, treating sexual paraphilias.
As a couples therapist, Dr. Clark helps couples repair past hurts, heal from infidelity & betrayal, improve communication and connection to build a true partnership where partners make each other the top priority, have each other’s back and love each other unconditionally.
Dr. Clark is a licensed professional clinical counselor (L.P.C.C.) with a license to practice psychotherapy in the states of CA, PA & LA. She holds a doctorate in human sexuality with specialization in sex therapy from Widener University, PA. Since 2002, her clinical experience has spanned individuals, couples & families from diverse cultural, ethnic & racial backgrounds in the United States as well as abroad. As a bi-cultural, multilingual woman of color, she possesses an expansive & versatile view of the world which she brings into her work and her writing.
(Nagma V. is also listed in Best Marriage Therapists in Dublin)