Relationships in isolation are hard work. Many of us are now spending 24/7 with our partner, which is not how intimate relationships usually look! Here’s some expert advice on maintaining your relationship (and sanity) in social isolation with your partner.
Before COVID-19, most of us would have had regular chunks of time away from our partner – to work, meet up with friends, exercise, shop, explore and create. But now, we may be feeling exhausted, uncertain and climbing the walls, suffocated by our live-in partners and families
It’s not unusual to be noticing increased tension, or getting more snappy and irritable than usual. Our relationships are struggling under the weight of constant and unrelenting closeness, sharing a confined space with our partners and kids
Now that it looks like this will be our reality for the near future, how can we stay intimately connected and nurture our relationship when it feels like the very sound of our partner breathing might send us into a rage?
Here are 8 key tips to survive and thrive in relationships in isolation:
1. Be gentle with each other
This is an anxious, scary and dangerous time for many, and it can bring up a huge range of different emotions. If your partner has a compromised immune system, disability or other risk factor, or if their employment is up-in-the air, be extra gentle with their feelings. They may be confronting great vulnerability and uncertainty at the moment.
2. Turn the mirror inwards & learn about yourself
It’s completely normal and expected that you’ll get on each other’s nerves at times. Take a few deep breaths and consider – why is this annoying me so much? What behaviours is my partner exhibiting that are activating something in me? Is it my need to control? To be productive? To be independent? Whatever it is, you can learn something from this. What annoys us about our partners are the very things we need to grow into ourselves. Reflect on why something is upsetting you rather than stewing over why they’re doing it.
3. Establish ground rules
Sit down for 10 mins and write down what each of you need to feel safer and more ‘at home’ in the current situation. Then discuss these and try to establish a common list. Do you need to set some boundaries around discussion of Covid-19? Do you need to establish work hours VERSUS play hours? How will you transition between these? How will you make decisions around food and sharing other finite resources (cough TOILET PAPER & TISSUES cough)? How will you discuss arising tensions and issues? Planning and communicating are key to help you anticipate and handle difficulties.
4. Set up opportunities for separateness
You thought pillow forts and ‘no boys allowed’ signs were all in your past? Think again! Individual work and play spaces are essential for even the strongest of relationships. Make sure you squirrel away a little corner that is just yours – whether for work, relaxation, exercise or Scomo-deemed-essential-puzzling, you need your own space!
5. Check-in at the beginning and end of each day
LISTEN to how your partner is feeling about the current situation, what they feel they need in the moment, and what they’re still grappling with. LISTENING means visiting the other person’s world and mirroring back what you are hearing. Try to hear from a place of curiosity rather than defensiveness. Their reality is as true as yours. So, take a breath and be present while they’re talking. If you’re able to really listen to them, there will be more space for you to get your turn.
6. Expand your support network
It can be easy to expect our partner to be everything to us – our friend, lover, confidant, workmate, co-parent, entertainment and playmate. But it really does take a village to keep us sane, secure and balanced, so reach out to old friends, extended family and even engage a professional counsellor to process what is a strange and confusing time. It’s always okay to ask for extra help – you deserve it.
7. Remember the potential for intimacy in slowness
We are all being forced to SLOW DOWN. To stay still. To take things slowly. Intimacy struggles in the chaos and pace of life, so take this chance to re-focus on how you like to connect with each other. Cuddle, make out, touch each other, explore your sexual connection, re-visit old experiences, read erotica to each other – remember that you have an opportunity here to discover newness in the known, the stranger in your partner. There’s always more to discover.
8. Lastly, maximise opportunities for fun and laughter
Drag out the old board games, watch a comedy special, dance, play with makeup and glitter. Do whatever you can to bring some lightness to each day. It can feel a bit awkward to ‘schedule’ fun, but if we don’t consciously prioritise it we risk getting stuck in the monotony of the day-to-day.
Giverny Lewis is a couples counsellor and sex therapist in Wahroonga, Sydney. She is currently offering Zoom sessions for individuals and couples at a flexible rate to accommodate changing incomes in light of COVID-19. Visit her website for more information on her services or to contact Giverny.