Life as a couple is another aspect that has been affected by the coronavirus crisis. Spending 24 hours a day with your partner at home without other distractions such as work, daily routines and leisure activities outside the home can generate a tedious or even conflictive climate. This could highlight differences and create tensions in the environment different from those we are used to in our relationship.

Therefore, it is important to better understand this situation and seek to create a harmonious space at home, helping each other as a team to deal with the reality of social isolation and to cope with this crisis with mutual support.

There are some difficult aspects to endure when living as a couple, and they become even more challenging when going through a situation full of uncertainty, worries and temporary loss of our freedom among other losses that we are all experiencing at the present time.

After listening to some testimonies from the couples we attend, we are able to distinguish different dynamics during the quarantine. Some couples had “hidden” conflicts that have become apparent since they are spending 24 hours a day together. Other couples are enhancing the positive aspects of their relationship as their work-related stress and workload has diminished and therefore, they have more time and motivation to strengthen their relationship. There are some others that have come to the conclusion that the problem was not their relationship but the emotional burden they would take home when working outside.

There are some steps to follow in order to enhance the enrichment of the relationship during quarantine and are described below:

1. Assertiveness, Empathy and Communication

It is beneficial to be assertive when communicating with our loved ones and therefore it becomes essential during quarantine. We use assertiveness in order to communicate in a concise and safe way so we can reduce conflicts while we respect both our point of view and the other person’s. To do so, assertiveness requires “I” messages (For example: “I feel” instead of “You make me feel”), empathy (there is always a reason why they behaved as they did, even when we find it difficult to identify that reason), and detailing the situation or describing facts instead of making interpretations (for example: “you have left the dishes unwashed” instead of “you are trying to annoy me”). The last step would be to put forward suggestions so we can prevent the same conflict to happen in the future.

There is always a reason behind someone´s behaviour. By communicating and questioning the motives of those behaviours, we will increase our wellbeing and decrease the possible negative interpretations.

We have the right to be a little bit more anxious these days, but our partner might interpret our behaviour in a negative way if we don’t communicate. It will never hurt to say “Today I woke up a little upset, I am sorry if I am acting differently”. We have the right to feel negative emotions provided that we don´t behave in a hurtful way.

2. Happy diary and enhancing intimacy

We and our partners both usually try and do things for the other person. Communicating our partner that we really liked that little gesture he or she had with us today can be very beneficial. Our partner can do the same back. The only way to eliminate negativity is by introducing positive incentives and stimuli. We can also pay attention to all those positive things that had happened today thanks to our partner and communicate it to them.

Another way of introducing positive stimuli is by enhancing intimacy, for example by hugging each other more often, sitting closer to each other, holding hands while watching a film, …

3. Avoid perfectionism

It is not the right time to be perfect. It is completely normal to behave differently when we are feeling negative emotions or when we have completely transformed our routine. We are not perfect; we are human beings under difficult circumstances and therefore by being more flexible and understanding both with the other person and ourselves we can feel a lot calmer during this period of time.

To do so, we can use self-talk statements. Would we ask someone to be 100% perfect when they had just lost their freedom? We can say to ourselves something like: “This is a difficult time; we are both losing an overwhelming number of important things and I am trying my best considering my circumstances and abilities”. As human beings, we are constantly trying to improve and to become the best version of ourselves. If we are not doing that right now, we might consider our circumstances are stopping us to achieve our goals and that we are not to blame.

4. Time to ourselves

Sometimes we tend to think that the best relationship comes as a result of sharing all our spare time together. There are lots of activities and hobbies that we can share with each other, but some of them might only be enjoyable by one member of the relationship. We cannot expect our partner to like the same activities and to have the same attitude towards a specific hobby. At the end of the day we are different human beings with diverse preferences and desires and demanding our partner to meet all our expectations can be a source of unnecessary conflicts and become strenuous.

Having time to ourselves give us space to reflect and to manage our emotions in a healthier way, as well as time to process what is happening now and the opportunity to enjoy all those activities that are only enjoyable on our own.

For example, since your partner never used to go with you to the gym in the past, do not try for him/her to join your daily exercise at home these days. If, for example, your partner used to enjoy playing videogames but you´d rather read a good book, allow your partner to have that me-time. The reality is that we all need activities that make us feel happy so we are emotionally balanced and stable, and we do not need our partner to share all their time and activities with ourselves. We can also look for all those solo activities that make us feel good, on top of sharing other activities with our partner. It is crucial to be able to find happiness within ourselves too.

5. Emotional understanding

We can keep a record of what are we feeling (name of the emotion), how intense it is (from 0 to 10) and what are the strategies that will help us to alleviate those symptoms each day. When an emotion is understood and given solutions to, it eventually fades away. This can also help us for communicating our partners how we feel so we avoid possible interpretations of our behaviours.

For example, when we feel anxious, we can try to find out what we are worried about and make a list of possible alternatives or solutions to this worry. If the worry continues or it´s too intense after doing so, we can try to distract ourselves. Psychologists recommend to worry for just a little amount of time during the day.

If we are sad, we can make a list of activities that usually make us feel happier, for example watch documentaries, sewing, talk to our loved ones…

It is also important to understand and validate our partner´s emotions. Understanding the reason why our partner feels anxious or sad may not always be possible. We are different human beings and therefore we have diverse past experiences and different coping strategies. Our partner might have learnt other abilities and may be experiencing the situation from another perspective.

If you find yourself struggling after trying all these strategies, do not hesitate to get in touch with us. We offer psychological and psychiatric therapy in multiple languages.

 

Marta Gray

General Health Psychologist at Sinews MTI

Division of Psychology, Psychotherapy and Coaching
Marta Gray Nuñez
Clinical Psychologist
Adults and couples
Languages: English and Spanish
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