How do you keep your relationship fit to survive the lockdown?
With the Danish government having introduced a national lockdown, many couples and families begin to feel the strain of having swopped their colleagues, friends and workplaces for their partner, children and home office.
Being restricted in your movements and whereabouts is unusual in our part of the world, and though you probably love spending time with your partner, roomie and any children you may have, their habits can become annoying, you can run out of things to talk about, you may have different expectations on how to spend your time at home or you may be struggling working from home whilst supporting your children to do their school work. It may be that you are working in the national health service and worry about the crisis at work whilst not having much time or energy to spend with your loved ones.
Adding to the above, people also have different ways of responding to crises. Some people tend to be hyper-anxious, watch a lot of news, worry about the illness and be prone to working themselves into a state of alarm. Others have a different kind of defence system preferring to be more distant, less emotional and will refrain from following the news reassuring themselves it doesn’t concern them. The latter can find it difficult to deal with a partner with a heightened alarm state.
Furthermore, people on the extrovert spectrum can struggle with the lack of social interactions whereas more introvertedly inclined people may struggle with having people around them all the time.
Below, some advice is given on how couples can survive these testing times:
Align your expectations
Sit each other down and discuss how you want the structure of your days to be. Structure is key for mental health in a crisis; and be mindful that there should be a visible difference between workdays and weekends. Some may want to clear out the garage or prep the garden for outdoor living whilst others would prefer to snuggle up on the sofa watching films, play boardgames, read or go for long walks in the countryside. There is scope for misunderstandings and friction if you don’t overtly come to an agreement on this.
Who works where in the house and for how long?
Who looks after the children and help them with any schoolwork they may have?
Plan your days and slot in time for activities like reading, listening to music, exercise etc. It may seem trivial, but we are used to having our time planned by and around work - the longer the lockdown lasts, the more important structure becomes.
How, where and when can you have time together - and what will you do?
How, where and when can you have time alone? Remember, regardless of how you feel about each other, some people need more time to themselves that others. Give each other space.
How much time do you want to spend on social media and news?
Remember to share your concerns & struggles:
The corona crises in itself isn’t a crisis for a couple or a family, but the conflicts and struggles in a couple or a family are further fuelled when we are forced to be around each other around the clock.
Any existing concerns over money, job or illness can be intensified due to the uncertainty of the situation. Some people are under a lot of stress and easily triggered.
Talk to each other about your concerns. Accept your spouse’s or family members' opinions and worries. Try not to be judgemental but support them the best you can. This can bring you closer together and strengthen your relationship.
In the daily rut, it is easy to lose track of the important things so slowing down may offer you an opportunity to talk about what really matters for you.
Remember to make your spouse and family members feel appreciated. Praise them and support them in the little things they contribute with: Making you a cup of coffee, tucking in the children, taking out the rubbish or cooking a meal.
Watch a film together, play a game, read a book out loud to each other, laugh, hug, kiss and have sex. Laughing as well as having sex releases endorphins which create a greater sense of joy and belonging, connection and safety.
When conflicts arise:
Initially, there may be a honeymoon phase, but regardless of how much well-meaning advice you choose to read and follow, conflicts are inevitably. There is no escaping them so how do we resolve these?
It’s risky, yet easy to interpersonalise a personal dilemma so be mindful of owning your emotions and decisions and try not to drag your partner or children into these. Though living under the same roof, we are different people with different needs and preferences. Invite your partner and family to join you in your activities and accept if they choose not to. Personal boundaries become important in this ambiguous seemingly endless time of isolation.
Firstly, try to take care of as much of the conflict as you can on your own rather than projecting your own issues onto your spouse or children. If you must involve someone else, try to bracket your own needs to take time to listen to their perspective, set the stage for good communication and aim at understanding their needs.
Then introduce yourself and your needs. When listened to, most people feel respected and more inclined to listen to others. As intelligent people, we all want to come up with solutions, but when high-jacked by your emotions, it becomes more difficult - and in pressed situations like the corona crisis, we are more prone to respond from an emotional place rather than a rational. If needed, take a break from the discussion and come back to it once you have both calmed down.
In relation to children's schoolwork, remember you have not suddenly become a school. Try to reduce your expectations and do what you can within reason. Teaching your own child is always a challenge and you don’t want things to escalate out of control. Have an openminded chat with your child's teacher; they are there to support you and your child.
Schoolwork or not, children are learning a lot from this important time in history. How we as adults approach the challenges we are faced with sets the stage for their problem-solving skills later in life.
Remember, that wellbeing and good health come before schoolwork.
Money may become an issue. If you are worried about money, try to have the conversation before you are faced with an immediate lack of money, but without working yourself into a state about something that may not happen. It may be advisable to have discussed where in your budget to make cuts, if you want to dip into savings to avoid cuts, if there are there other ways of making money etc. etc. if you suspect losing your job due to the corona crises.
Remember, this too will pass. The world as we knew it, will no longer be the same; people will have lost loved ones; and we are likely to suffer financial ramifications for quite some time, but the crisis will pass. In the meantime, please back up the authorities in fighting this nasty virus, stay at home and take good care of your mental as well as your physical health.