Stuck Together Stick Together: A couples guide to staying together during the quarantine.
“In general, when people live in acute stress, either cracks in their relationship will be amplified or the light that shines through the cracks will be amplified” - Esther Perell
Do you remember the days when you first decided to live with your partner? There is a reason that they used to say that the first year of marriage was the hardest. So many changes. So many compromises. So much of each other. Let’s multiply that by 100. That is what is happening now. Except now for many of us, we are out of that honeymoonish phase where you wake up before they do, sneak off to the bathroom, pinch your cheeks, smooth your hair, wipe the gunk from your eyes and hide a tic-tac under your tongue then curl back up in bed. Nobody? Just me? There is no holding back anymore. What you see is what you get. Right now more than ever. 24 hours a day 7 days a week.
After the quarantine had been lifted in China, there was a spike in the rate of divorces. There are so many memes about divorce attorney’s waiting on the edge of their seats and couples therapists being overloaded right now. This is not necessarily surprising with the strain that this pandemic is putting on us physically and emotionally, but it does not have to be the case. There are ways that our relationships can not only survive, but thrive during this time. Here are some strategies to stick together even though we are stuck together.
1. Communicate your feelings clearly and really hear your partner communicate theirs - we are not all going to feel the same during this time. We are not going to need the same things and we are not going to cope the same ways. It can be very difficult not to assume that our partner is thinking or feeling the same way that we are. Practice communicating your needs and wants in detail. Instead of “I’m so stressed, I just need a freaking break,” try “please take the kids on a stroller walk so I can go take a 30 minute nap.”
Too often, I have worked with couples who hope that their partner will read between the lines or be able to telepathically know what we are wanting and needing. Reality check; that doesn’t happen. More often than not, they have NO idea unless we specifically tell them. Don’t leave them guessing. And if you are the one doing the guessing, then ask.
2. It is normal to displace your feelings right now - check in with yourself and acknowledge your feelings, then check in on your partner. But know that it is normal to take things out on each other especially during times of acute stress. For example, I’m beyond frustrated with my toddler after a 20 minute tantrum so I snap at my husband about the dishes not being done correctly and he rolls his eyes which triggers more anger (true story). The dishes had nothing to do with how I was feeling, yet he got the brunt of my frustration. Or the new mom who is up at 2 am for yet another feeding and screams at her husband when he comes in to try to help. These interactions will happen. We are all human. And we typically show our worst selves to the people with whom we feel closest and safest. Which leads me to the next strategy.
3. Practice offering grace and cultivating compassion - I will say it again; we are all human. We will make mistakes. We will take out our stress on each other. But underneath the unrelenting urgency and prolonged uncertainty, we chose each other for a reason. We love each other for a reason. Every time that you feel infuriated by the toilet seat or dirty dish or whatever triggers you, remember that we are in unprecedented difficult times. You may (dare I say) hate the behavior, but you love the person. Show them compassion and grace because they are likely struggling too whether they tell you that or not.
One way to make this easier is by finding ways to connect. It is easy to fall into a “who has it harder” mentality, but if you feel emotionally and/or physically connected to someone it is harder to do. Find ways to create connections with each other on at least a weekly basis. Turn off the screens and truly connect. Whatever that means in your relationship.
4. Implement a routine that includes alone time - I asked my husband what the hardest part of the quarantine is for him. I cannot guarantee that his response was 100% authentic, more so 100% safe. But I do know it was honest nonetheless. “I cannot get enough time by myself.” This is the struggle that I have heard about the most during this time especially for parents who are trying to combine so many roles in one space often with a partner and children vying for our attention at all times. Whether we are extroverted or introverted, we need time to recharge and fill up our own tank. Make sure that you have that time securely scheduled into your routine. And try not to take it personally when your partner says “I need to be alone.” Or maybe it sounds more like “give me some space.”
5. Remember to play on the same team - how often do you see a sports team win a game when the players are at odds with each other? Not often. When the quarterback refuses to throw a pass to the wide-open receiver because he said something that pissed him off in the locker room? It ain’t going to happen. Imagine that your partner is your teammate. If they win, you win and vice versa. If they lose, you lose too. This quarantine is hard on everyone. Try to imagine your teammate as your safe space and your escape. You can rely on them to always be TRYING THEIR BEST to pull their weight and they can rely on you to do the same. We are all just doing our best.
We are used to having some physical separation in our relationships allowing us to compartmentalize our different roles. If you are used to working from home together, you are used to doing so without the added pressure of not having the ability to access some away time if we needed it. We are seeing a lot of that pretty face sitting across the sofa. Soften that lens that you are viewing them through. They are doing their best. We are doing our best. Nurture that love that started your love story event in the midst of this crisis. Especially in the midst of this crisis.