This post is for couples struggling with staying home together during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tensions are high with job losses, risk of contagion, loved ones with underlying health issues...all of which can exacerbate an already contentious relationship. Let me sympathize by saying it’s hard enough to be in a relationship and now our governor wants us to stay indoors together? For a month? I imagine some people are thinking No F’n way. What are we supposed to do? Talk to one another? We can barely get through the day without arguing. Maybe this is an opportunity to do something different by practicing boundaries and communicating with one another more openly.
I’ve been home for the last two weeks aside from one day I went into the office. Luckily my partner and I get along but I still get annoyed and need my alone time. As does he. It’s normal and I consider it a healthy sign of differentiation. Following are tactics we’ve been using at home to make things more harmonious. My hope is that they may also help you.
Together separateness is an important skill to learn in any relationship. It can look like being in the same room doing different things. Right now, Lucas is watching TV while I plug away at my computer. It takes comfort with silence and not feeling like you have to entertain the other. Plug in your earbuds and create an environment for yourself. You’ll be giving your partner the opportunity to do the same for him/her/their self.
Setting boundaries is trickier as it requires planning, clear communication and reminders about what you need and feel. Sometimes it takes Lucas saying, “Hey, are you okay? I feel like you don’t want me around,” until I realize I need alone time. This is totally unfair to Lucas because it’s putting the initiative on him rather than me taking accountability for my own needs. Yikes! It’s reminded me to practice checking in with myself more regularly so I know what I need. Perhaps checking in with one another at the start of the day is helpful or schedule time for yourself on a shared calendar if you need to. And if you need to get out of the house, go for a walk alone. Give one another permission to talk about what you need.
Stagger your routine. Lucas and I have different bedtimes so I get alone time at night and he has the mornings to himself. I typically suggest launching and landing together so couples stay connected but this is something we’ve had to be flexible around to find time to ourselves. I suspect couples with kids are already pretty skilled at this by tag teaming who does bedtime routine, breakfast, etc. Use that skill for your relationship and finding alone time.
Share your schedules. If you’re lucky enough to still be employed and both working from home, write your schedules and/or meetings on a board somewhere in a community space so you can be mindful of the person’s commitments. It’s really frustrating when you’re in a professional space and your partner’s howling with the dog in the kitchen.
Reach out to friends and family. It’s very important to maintain your relationships outside of your intimate one so you can find a social balance during quarantine. This is especially important for extroverts.
Designate a space you can claim as your own. It’s important to have a space where you can retreat. The quarantine situation is temporary and so will be the designated space. If one of you has to claim the living room, do it. If you live in a studio take the bathroom when/if you need it. There’s always another space you can occupy.
Plan a date at home. Change out of your day or nighttime pajamas, dress up, dance in the living room, plan a romantic dinner in the backyard (if you have one), get creative!
What I know from working with couples is we all want relief. We want to be heard. We want our needs met. Try something different. Use this as an opportunity to find intersections of connection or reconnection. Anything’s better than sitting around and being resentful toward the person you’re committed to.