Take charge when your partner needs a break or some time alone. One friend said that the best thing her husband did was to put a beer in her coat pocket and tell her to go take a walk in the park when she was totally overwhelmed. This is especially relevant if you are both cooped up at home with restless kids running around: Taking the little ones out for a stroll and giving your partner some alone time can be an enormous gift to them. (But make that walk in the park a socially distanced one, of course.)
Make time for self-care. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Especially now, it’s crucial to carve out time for your own mental health. Even if you feel like there are 100 other things you “should” be doing, build at least 30 minutes into each day for a hot bath, a solo run, a good read, or a Zoom call with a friend. You’ll be able to approach your partner with more patience and less resentment afterward.
Do more little things. Little things can do a lot to help a relationship. Bring in a bundle of spring flowers picked in the park, wash the dishes, fold the laundry, offer to make dinner… do things that aren’t typically “your” tasks. Your regular routine is already turned upside down right now in a big way, so all the more reason to break out of your comfort zone in small ways.
Practice gratitude, especially with your partner. It may sound trite, but in challenging times, remembering what we have to be grateful for may ease tension and offer a dose of perspective. Have a Gratitude Jar you use to write 3 things that you are grateful for each day and re-visit them regularly. Especially talk about what you appreciate in each other. Even if you know 100% how much you appreciate them, they may not take it as a given, and vocalizing it on a regular basis can be a huge help. Particularly in a situation where we’re all working at 110% to preserve a semblance of normalcy, it’s crucial to make sure your partner doesn’t feel their efforts are being taken for granted.
Laugh more. Share funny jokes, cartoons, and memes, and reflect on funny times together. Don’t feel like you’re not allowed to laugh because of everything going on in the world right now. Laughter is proven to relieve stress, and a little levity can go a long way in times like these.
Watch things together. Co-viewing creates a shared history that helps couples bond. The internet is overflowing with recommendations for quarantine viewing right now, so whether you want to escape into an alternate universe or chuckle at a sitcom, there’s something streaming out there for you.
Create schedules that meet your needs. That might mean you waking up an hour early to get in extra work time before your kids wake up, or designating an hour-long block during the afternoon for each of you to get out of the house and have some alone time. If your day is going smoothly and you’ve created strategies for avoiding stressors, you’re both less likely to take out negative energy on each other.
Work out a division of domestic labor that feels fair. If you’re in a situation where one parent is working full-time from home and one is not, the non-working parent can be implicitly expected to pick up the slack in terms of chores and newfound round-the-clock childcare duties, creating additional strain. In this case, as in all cases, communication is key. Voice your needs while trying not to have preconceived expectations, and look for compromises: Perhaps one parent can care for baby in the morning before their workday starts, allowing the other parent to sleep in. Maintaining work-life balance is more difficult when working from home, so it’s important for working parents to establish defined start and end times for their job duties—as well as lunch breaks if possible—such that non-working parents get the chance for some down-time, too.
Cuddle without expectation of sex. Be explicit that you just want to cuddle (and mean it). These are harrowing times, and physical touch has been proven to increase dopamine and serotonin, thereby helping your body relieve stress and anxiety.
Have sex. Take advantage of that hour you gained back from your morning commute!
Practice Active Listening. Remember, it’s NOT about the nail. This takes energy and time.
Make time for therapy. This can be hard when you have limited time and young kids, but it can save a marriage. We have this list of member-reviewed entries for Couple’s Therapists and Counseling. If you’ve got issues that start with you, or if your partner doesn’t want to attend, reference our member’s recs for individual therapy. Of course, this is easier if you already had a therapist in place before the pandemic, but if not, there are still options—and in fact, with telehealth restrictions being lifted and some insurance companies expanding coverage for mental health care during this time, in some ways it’s never been a better time to start getting help. Vox has an article on how to find a therapist during COVID-19 to get you started.
Read about Relationship Resilience and do workbooks together. The big names in couple’s therapy right now are John Gottman (The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work) and Sue Johnson (Hold Me Tight and Emotionally Focused Therapy) but don’t discount oldies but goodies like Harvell Hendrix (Getting the Love You Want, Imago Therapy) and simplified but useful constructs like Gary Chapman (The 5 Languages of Love are: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, physical touch; quiz here.) You can order the books that interest you online (preferably from a local bookstore if possible) and curl up with them individually or read them together during your quarantine downtime.
Listen to Esther Perel’s podcast together. Perel is a psychotherapist whose free podcast, Where Should We Begin, offers a glimpse into her real-life sessions so that you can learn, explore, and experience alongside couples who have been gracious enough to let listeners in. There is a wide range of issues to explore—including several “Couples under Lockdown” features—so you can start from the beginning or pick and choose the episodes based on your interests. Perel also has a coronavirus couples resource page: Love, Loss, Loneliness, and a Pinch of Humor Under Lockdown.
Here are some great ideas sourced from PSP members:
Dance together. Do it without music, and as badly as possible. It’s a way to be silly and vulnerable in front of each other, remind you of who you are beyond the latest fight, and physically shake off the bad vibes and tension.
Establish some ground rules. Pacts like “no name-calling” or “no sarcasm when things are tense” can help you avoid each other’s triggers and work through fights more amicably. Slip-ups may happen, but an acknowledgment and an apology go a long way.
Have a mantra or item to remind you that your partner is on your side. One member explains, “this can be a love note, a photo, etc. In the heat of the moment, when I'm feeling triggered and the reptilian part of my brain goes into "fight or flight" mode, it helps me to slow down, pause, and try to remember that this person is on my side.”
Spend time outside. Whether you’re venturing out for a solo run as part of your self-care time or strolling through Green-Wood Cemetery as a family, a change of scenery can do wonders toward clearing your head, reminding you that there’s a world outside of your apartment, and easing tension.
Talk about how the next day is going to flow the night before. Uncertainty and lack of control are major sources of strain during this time, and it helps to focus on the things you CAN control. Collaboratively create a framework for the day, but be flexible in executing it—this is meant to be a general guide, not a reason for further tension if one of you doesn’t follow it to the letter.
You are not alone! In this unprecedented, bizarre, terrifying, time, one small comfort is the fact that we are all going through it together. That applies to the struggles of remote learning, the loneliness caused by isolation, the heightened mental health challenges brought by uncertainty, and the added strain that you’re feeling on your relationship. All of this is natural, understandable, and—with time and support—surmountable.
Further reading on PSP: