Pandemic wasn’t one of the vows. How to hunker down with someone and love them still.
Right now, many people are holed up alone with just one person (plus maybe a couple kids): the one they love and adore—the very same one who absolutely drives them up the wall. Healthy relationships involve some measure of closeness and separateness, and for many of us, the key to our relationships is that we can get away from each other from time to time. But… that’s not possible right now.
Here, some tips for maintaining kindness, closeness, and intimacy when we are living on top of each other.
Be kind. When we’re feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed, fearful, and depressed—all natural things to feel during a pandemic—it’s easy to take it out on the one person who is around all the time. That’s inevitable, and there will be a spat here and there. Practice seeing the good in your partner, and verbally thank them when they do something nice—like the dishes, making dinner, or giving you space. Remember that this is the person you are stuck in a bunker with, so try to see the best in them.
Forgive (a lot). Bad moods usually cycle, which means, most of the time, two people won’t be in a bad mood at the same time. If it’s your partner’s turn to be in a bad mood, take a breath—not the bait. Give your partner the space to be cranky—it’s normal and natural, and if you wait it out, it will probably pass. Hopefully your partner will do the same for you.
When your partner does something annoying, pause and think about how much it really matters. You might need to have a conversation about it, but most of these things are probably no big deal. Take a breath, go into another room, and do what you can to let it go. One strategy might be to agree to a certain day of the week where you air grievances: Write them down when they happen instead of bringing them up in the moment. By the time you get to that day, you will likely find it doesn’t matter anymore.
Space is still sexy. Couples therapist Esther Perel has written, “Eroticism requires separateness. In other words, eroticism thrives in the space between the self and the other.” It might seem like a blessing to suddenly have all the time in the world together—especially if you are a newer couple. And, in many ways, it is—but the mundaneness of life together can be hard on the energy of a relationship.
In confinement, ensure you have times when you leave each other alone. Do your work or take your hobbies into different rooms or different corners. Maintain separate interests and do separate things so you have something to talk about at the end of the day. You might like to keep a rough workday and then reconnect over dinner like you used to. Relationship researcher Carol Bruess shared one couple’s strategy in a recent article: wearing a special sweatshirt to indicate to each other they wanted to be invisible while on—a silent signal of needing space.
Create routines. In isolation, it can be hard to remember what day it is, let alone what time it is. Try to organize your day in some fashion, building in time apart to work or tinker with projects, and time to connect and focus on each other without screens involved. Plan at-home “dates” or special occasions and dress up for them. Make online double dates with other couples.
Above all, be gentle with yourself and your partner. Do your best—but forgive each other when you can’t. Expect a spat here and there—it’s normal. Just remember to apologize and appreciate your partner when it’s over.
Want to dive deeper? Read more in this series: Intimacy and Sex in Isolation.