Covid-Proofing your Relationship

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Relationships can be hard hit by Covid-19, whether partners are living under the same roof 24/7, trying to stay connected long-distance across borders, or something in between. We have bizarre new things to argue about now. Whether or not to spend two hours wiping groceries down with Lysol. Managing space when more than one person is working from home, especially when there are kids and pets in the mix. Who to include in a social bubble. How to pay the rent after job loss. Whether to put off or reorganize big life events like graduations, weddings and funerals. How to celebrate holidays and stay safely connected to extended family and friends.

Many worries and multiple losses to grieve, without roadmaps for coping with uncertainty and rapid change. While facing challenges together can strengthen bonds between partners, prolonged stress can turn the fissures that exist in any relationship into chasms. I have no magic solutions to offer, but here are some simple suggestions to make your relationship more “covid-proof”:

Make time to be fully present to each other. You can spend 24/7 with someone and never actually see them. Create a ritual of connecting for at least 10 undistracted minutes. Be together in relative stillness with minimal conversation. Take notice of this person close to you. Do they seem different at all, tired or worried?  Let yourself be seen by them too. This is a powerful practice, that can be done virtually if you live apart.

Priorize getting outside every day. Especially if you are living in a high-rise and working from home. Being cooped up indoors leads to irritability and escalates disagreements. Feel the sun on your face. Go for a walk or a run. Smile at the people you pass. Take pictures of nature. Return refreshed.

Create spaces in your togetherness. The immortal words of Khalil Gibran never rang truer. A universe of two can easily become a closed system. Stay connected with individual friends and relatives. Within your living space, create zones for connecting with each other and designated areas for each person to connect with themselves. A chair and a set of headphones will do in a small apartment. Respect each other’s boundaries and individual differences in the need for alone time.

Separate work from home. This is not easily done when one partner is working at the kitchen table but try to keep work from bleeding into home life. If you work outside the home, use your commute to let go of the workday as much as possible.

Be mindful of substance use. Line-ups for liquor and marijuana stores have never been longer. Notice if you or you partner are over-using substance to numb out from stress. Are you arguing more as a result? Be willing to have uncomfortable conversations about the impact of substance use on your relationship, and to seek help.

Strive for good endings and beginnings to the day. Make the bedroom a sanctuary if you can, free from clutter and electronic distractions. Try not to watch the news before sleep. Take arguments to another room. Remember to say goodnight from afar when living apart.

Recognize and have compassion for symptoms of grief in yourself and your partner(s). The entire planet is grieving right now, and grief has many faces beyond sadness. Waves of irritability, loneliness, numbness, anger, apathy, all are symptoms of grief. Find ways of identifying and expressing these emotions. Support each other and tap into outside sources of help when it feels like too much to bear.

Seek help for depression and anxiety. Symptoms that impair functioning need to be addressed. You can be there for each other, but you cannot fix each other’s mental health.

Keep your dreams alive. Talk about that trip you want to make in the future. Go to Google Earth and explore another country virtually. Watch a foreign film.

Be kind. Simple rituals and acts of kindness can go a long way. Learn your love language and ask for what you need from your partner. Some of us thrive on hugs, others on acts of service or words of appreciation.

Find a shared project. Do something together that you both feel passionate about, such as creating a garden, learning a new skill, volunteering or training a puppy. (Good luck finding a puppy…)

Have the courage to work on or walk away from an unhealthy relationship. Not all partnerships will survive Covid. It may be better for both parties to separate than to cling together unhappily. If pre-existing issues have escalated to the point of unbearable tensions or violence, this may be the time to get out or seek help.

There are many other ways of strengthening intimate relationships during these crazy times. I would love to hear more about what is working for you and your partner.

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