Many of us are in a relationship that was already taxed before being quarantined and ordered to stay at home — for the foreseeable future. Some of you are in the process of divorce and now that courts have halted, you are feeling stuck. Others with children are now having to work even more as a team, which was already difficult pre-Covid-19.
This isn’t easy.
More time together in a pressure cooker of tight spaces and new stresses is rough. Maybe your partner has some really annoying habits or doesn’t handle stress well. Or perhaps your children are more likable when they go to school and wear off some energy before you hang out together. I get it.
No matter what, there are things you can do to make things better. Research shows that if even one person in a relationship makes a positive change, it can have lasting effects on the relationship as a whole.
I think of the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding when the mom says, “Let me tell you something, Toula: the man is the head, but the woman is the neck, and she can turn the head any way she wants.”
Hang with me. I’m not suggesting the obvious here. Instead, I’m suggesting we have control to turn our own neck during this time. If we want five reasons that drinking is good for us, we’ll find five. If we want five reasons drinking is bad for us, we’ll find five. Therefore, despite feeling out of control in so many facets of life right now, we still have choices.
Choice #1: Turn toward or away
Relationships are difficult, but choosing to turn toward your partner rather than away can make things better, even if the relationship is ending. I know social distancing and turning toward seem like an oxymoron, but it’s an emotional turn to build emotional intimacy. That means sharing your feelings, avoiding blame, and taking responsibility for yourself. Feelings will be all over the place in the next few months and naming them is the only way we can validate and make space for them. If we don’t do this, the feelings will come out sideways in anger, distancing, addiction, etc.
Choice #2: Making space for each other–LITERALLY
Everyone needs to have their own space. This means kids need their own space and each of you need your own space. This might mean one person at a time taking a nap or a few hours to work on a personal project. Today my husband built a stool and I took time to write this blog. During each of our projects, we took turns with the kids.
Choice #3: Move your body
Thoughts have a tendency to get stuck and cycle on repeat. One great way to get out of this pattern is to physically change your location. If you are on the couch dwelling in despair, then go to the kitchen and grab a healthy snack. If you are in bed tossing and turning, go take an epsom salt bath to reset. Also, 30 minutes of exercise a day can boost your immune system and raise endorphins to help you feel better. Helping each other take this time is an act of kindness.
Choice #4: Love Mapping
The Gottmans, a therapist team known for their insights into healthy relationships, ask that couples “remap” every six months. After years of knowing each other, we start to think that we know everything about our partner and begin to predict what they will choose, say, and do. However, things change. People change. Asking each other random questions and listening to their answers as though you don’t already know them can be a helpful reset. Remember when you were first dating and you would stay up late talking about your favorite artist, musician, food, etc. Let’s do this again as a way to connect. Check out the Gottman Institute’s Card Decks free app for questions to get started.
Choice #5: Appreciate each other’s Enneagram number
If you haven’t heard of this personality measure, you now have all the time it takes to complete the assessment. Go to www.enneagraminsititute.com and take the test for $12. Once you both take the assessment, google “numbers ____ and ___ in a relationship.” This will provide you a brief description of your strengths and weaknesses as a couple. This new awareness will really be helpful during this stressful time.
Acceptance is what we are searching for here. If we know that we are in a relationship with a 3 and they need to make a list and be productive, then we can accept that. If we know that we are in a relationship with a 7, then we will better understand their need for adventure and impulsivity. It is always better to accept your partner rather than try to change them. Know that change only happens if the person is seeking to change on their own.
Choice #6: Random Acts of Kindness
This works for any kind of relationship. It shows care, concern, love, and respect. It fosters happiness and joy for all. I know that sounds flowery, but we can choose this new lens every day moving forward. A few things to try: take a task off of someone’s to-do list, buy them flowers, send an email or text with a detailed expression of love, have a favorite food delivered, watch what they want to watch, read out loud to each other, sing to them, tell them to take a break, or make them dinner.
My wish is that everyone will grow closer during this time, focus on what’s important, and love each other. Even if your relationship is coming to an end, you have a choice to be respectful and leave that person with a little more closure and understanding.
Crystal Clair is a therapist and mom of two littles. During the summer you can find her and her kids mostly outdoors either at Foster Beach, Lincoln Park Zoo, or any local park with a water feature. She strives to find the joy in parenting even in the tough times.