How couples can grow closer together amid COVID-19
Connecting with loved ones is hugely beneficial for our mental health, especially when we’re experiencing something as stressful as a pandemic. But as many couples are sheltering-in-place and working from home, they’re realizing that spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week together can be the ultimate relationship test.
Mastering the art of communication is the most beneficial way to strengthen a relationship. It’s all about learning the best ways to communicate with each other.
Knowing the rule of two is also important: It takes two to ruin a relationship and two to save it. Both parties have to be willing to work together. Relationships are like muscles—they need to be strengthened every day or they get weakened. You don’t just work out your right arm and leave out your left arm—both sides need to be invested.
Here are ways to enhance your relationship, and maybe have fun in the process.
- Give each person a time out. After work (whether or not you’re working from home) take turns letting each person have fifteen to 30 minutes of alone time. After saying hello, your partner should not engage with you at all. Change clothes, shower, take a nap—do whatever you need to do to decompress. Then give your partner a chance to do the same. Stress is cumulative and it builds up. If you don’t have time apart, you might blow up and say something you don’t mean.
- Make quality time for each other. Having time together is equally important—and sitting around scrolling through Instagram doesn’t count. Because you’re together non-stop, it can be difficult to carve out dedicated time together. After the kids go to bed, change clothes and have a picnic in the kitchen, play a board game, pick a movie and cuddle on the couch.
- Designate a safe space for honest communication. Choose a room of the house where you two can go to create a non-threatening, non-judgmental environment. Anything you say in this room should be taken genuinely, sincerely, and seriously.
- Make sure you understand the message. Listen to the context of what your partner is saying. Take the word bow: it could refer to something to wrap a present with, something you play the violin with, a type of pasta, a way to exit a situation gracefully, the sound a dog makes, something you use to shoot an arrow. This three-letter word has several definitions, depending upon the context. Context is everything.
- Remember that your partner isn’t a mind reader. One of worst things you can say is, “I shouldn’t have to tell you.” Why shouldn’t you have to tell them? The more explicit you are, the better.
- Know that intimacy can be shown in many ways. Have a romantic dinner or snack together, sneak kisses throughout the day, take a bath together. Anxiety can reduce sexual intimacy, so if your partner is feeling anxious, hold hands, give them a massage—small gestures can really help. Let that person know you’re there for them. It’s not always about making love—sometimes we can gain emotional and passionate connections in other ways.
- Divide chores equally. I often recommend making a grid and assigning household chores based upon who is better at what, or who enjoys doing certain chores more than others. After the chores are dispersed, you have to actually let your partner do them. One of the most common arguments I hear regarding the household is how to load the dishwasher. One person will stop loading it because they were constantly told they weren’t doing it correctly. Sometimes they feel they’ll be disparaged.
- Validate the other person’s feelings. Never dismiss how someone feels—always acknowledge them first. Then you can explain or question. Validating doesn’t mean you agree, it means saying, “I’m sorry you feel that way.” It’s letting them know that their feelings are real, and that you didn’t realize you were hurting them.
- Don’t always try to solve your partner’s problems. Sometimes we just need a listening ear. And if that’s the case, let that person know. Say, “all I need is a bobble head right now—I don’t need you to solve anything, I just need to vent.”
- Dating someone new? Let your relationship dictate milestone moments, not the virus. If this is a person you’d like to live with and spend time with, that should be why you should do so. If you cook caramel too quickly, you’ll burn it. If you rush things, you could ruin it. If you shelter-in-place separately, date virtually through video chat or watch a movie together while on the phone. You can keep the relationship going in other ways. Forcing something too early ends up putting more pressure on it.
The overarching theme here: Don’t overthink it. We make so much extra work for ourselves. There’s an acronym called KISS, which stands for “keep it simple, stupid.” At the end of the day, we just have to let people know what our needs are.
Jay Weiss, M.A., LLP, is a certified health and wellness coach and an employee assistance program therapist at Henry Ford Health System.