Staying safe and staying connected.
Social distancing really means physical distancing, but staying connected virtually. Without staying connected, we are really isolating ourselves. Isolation increases the risk of a variety of health problems (heart disease, dementia, depression) and leaves us feeling hopeless and alone as we try to make our way through the uncertainty and constant changes.
How does social distancing and staying home affect our relationships?
Social distancing and staying at home can have both a positive and negative impact on the relationship. The stay at home quarantine prevents couples from missing their partners when at work and are stuck together day in and day out. Underlying issues in relationships come to the surface rapidly when stuck at home in a crisis, causing more and more conflict within relationships. The emotional distress people feel shows up in poor reactions, emotional attacks, and withdrawing. It may feel like you have no space to clear your head, or no time to yourself – this adds to the stress. More and more couples become combative because they are in fear, grieving, adjusting, and taking it out on one another.
The positive impact of staying at home is that couples have more time to spend together, focused on their relationship and family, and increase the intimacy. It allows the time for one on one time and more meaningful time together. The sexual intimacy will increase because it’s free, fun, and helps with boredom. There is more time to connect and less outside distractions. This is also a great time to get silly with your partner/family. Make that pillow fort like you did as a kid and watch a movie in it, have a pillow fight, finger paint to Bob Ross together. Just because we’re staying in our homes doesn’t mean we can’t have fun.
So how can we strengthen our relationships at this time?
In order to maintain and improve your connection with loved ones, you must make sure you are taken care of first. Just like they say on the planes, “Put the air mask on you first before you help someone else.” This is our new normal for now, so it is important to have a predictable schedule for self-care. Humans thrive on structure and routine. Create a routine for yourself to help you stabilize emotionally. Add moments of whatever self-care will increase your mood. Maybe you have an afternoon coffee outside or by a window to give yourself a break from work. Maybe you light your favourite candle or put on a good smelling lotion. Take little moments for yourself throughout the day. Stay connected with others through electronics as a way to help you. And limit the time you have on the news or social media to decrease anxiety!
Work on having good communication:
Talk about how you are talking. It is more important to work on how you are talking to one another and staying away from negative communication patterns during this time of staying home. You’re spending more time in a confined space with your partner, family members, or roommates… and less time around other people you turn to for support or even just distraction. Avoid reacting with critical comments, defensive stances, or shutting down. Instead, start with a heads up on where you are coming from, use “I statements,” and then ask for what you need.
The more you soften your stance, the better chance you have to stay connected. If you need to take a break, take one. Reassure your partner that you will be back in 30 minutes to continue the conversation. If you need longer that’s fine, take longer, just communicate this with your partner and do a self-care activity while you step away to help you keep your emotions regulated. This will help prevent your partner from becoming frustrated and it gives you the time you need. Another way to have good communication is to be aware of your negative communication pattern so you can prevent reacting that way in the future. Since you have more time on your hands, read the book “Hold Me Tight” by Sue Johnson. The book can help you take more control of your communication patterns and improve your connection.
Work on projects (either separate or together):
We all have those household projects that never get crossed off the to-do list, but there never seems to be enough time to tackle them. Now you have the time, so work on household projects either separate or together. Then come together to celebrate your accomplishments over lunch or dinner. Show off your hard work. The more accomplished you feel as a team around the home, the more connected you will be.
Give and get space:
If you are going to go read a book, give your partner a heads up that you are going to read for a while. If you can give a time frame, even better. This prepares your partner to support your own self-care and helps them give you space of your own. If you are the type of person that needs a lot of interaction (especially the extroverts), reach for connection in a way that doesn’t smother your partner. You will need to find a balance of connection and giving space. This is a great time to be reaching out to connect with others virtually or on the phone. This is a win-win. You get to interact with a loved one while your partner gets alone time, AND you’re strengthening another relationship.
30 Minutes Connection Time:
If you are running around after your toddler, entertaining your child, or dealing with your complaining teens, there might not be time for you as a couple. Take 30 minutes a day to be alone as a couple and unwind. Keep COVID-19, or other stressors, talk to a minimum.
Bring back the romance:
You may want to get further away from your partner, but now is the time to rekindle the romance. Some ways to bring back the romance include: have a dinner date with candles and romantic music, take your partner on a picnic in your backyard, or pick some flowers from your yard. Put your phones down and, again, keep the talk of any stressors to a minimum. If you have children, ask them to give you space for your date.
Get Counseling Online:
Good news! Therapists are providing video and telephone sessions online to help you learn how to manage your emotions and stay connected as a couple. Find a therapist that specializes in relationships so they can help you during this time. Our team provides relationship counseling online to help couples work through the distress and learn how to connect with one another. Therapy is cheaper than a divorce!
This is a difficult time with numerous stressors. With all this extra time at home it’s easy to tune into the media (social or news) far too often. Keep your social media and news to a minimum. The amount of fear and negativity you are exposed to will directly impact your emotional stability and how you connect with your partner.
Stay focused on the present to help you avoid anxiety and fear. When the anxiety or fear does creep in, think about something (one thing) you can do today that will alleviate some stress.
About Jennine Estes, MFT
Think of me as your relationship consultant, I'm your neutral third party that can help you untangle the emotions and help you figure out what's really going on. I am a Marriage and Family Therapist in San Diego, CA. Certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples. Supervisor. I write relationship and self growth advice for my column Relationships in the Raw. Creator of #BeingLOVEDIs campaign. MFC#47653