As we all adjust to life in lockdown, it’s bound to put pressure on your relationships. From spouses dealing with the pressure of looking after kids, to couples experiencing living together for the first time, many relationships will be feeling the pressure.
We spoke with Perry King, a Relationship Therapist for her advice on what couples can do to navigate this time.
How can couples support each other during this time?
There is no doubt the current changes we are experiencing have been rapid and stressful for many, which can lead to increased anxiety, reduced tolerance and a lot of pressures on couples. Couples may feel this relationally and also because either may also experience personal, professional and wider relational impacts such as wider family impacts.
For those many couples who are not used to spending so much time together and supporting each other, finding a way to navigate through this time is important for everyone’s wellbeing. For many couples this will require putting their issues and difference aside.
It is important to negotiate clear boundaries around working from home, couple time, family time as well as individual time.
Be thoughtful, clear and explicit about your wants and needs are during this time. It is helpful to recognise your partner too will have certain needs and wants. As such be open to discussing situations calmly and non-defensively as you negotiate with your partner what ideas and suggestions be can implemented and how. Think “team work” as you support each other to find positive outcomes.
Of equal importance is being aware of how you are personally being impacted by the current changes and challenges and the effects they are having on your own behaviour. Take responsibility for yourself and how you are interacting with your partner. Take note if your tolerance fuse is short and you are easily irritated or triggered and make time to talk to you partner about what you are noticing and explore what YOU can do to support yourself and manage situations differently.
What are some relationship challenges they might face?
Spending so much time together creates the potential for differences to become more visible which can then lead to creating tension and conflict. It is important to try to appreciate each other’s differences rather interpreting them as problems and resist the need for right and wrong.
Try agreeing to differ. If your partner needs a bit more alone time that you do, don’t take it personally, try to remember we are all different and we manage stress differently.
Changes in routine can add to the stress and working from home can present additional challenges for couples, particularly if they have limited space or children at home. It is important to try to create clear boundaries and divisions between work and home. If you don’t have a home office or spare room you can use try to find an area that you can temporarily demarcate and dedicate for work. Co-creating the routine for this new normal AND regularly reviewing this weekly or more often as the need arises within this changing situation will help immensely. Flexibility is a key.
Create structure and routine in your day to support self-confidence and a sense of purpose. Define clear working hours and manage expectations of the time partners have available for each other, particularly if one partner is working and the other is not. Taking regular breaks from work activities can help maintain focus but be aware of being distracted by household activities when you have a job to do.
Finding ways to effectively switch off at the end of your working day is important. For many the drive home from the office would have provided the opportunity to change hats and let go of the work issues to help you be more present to your partner and family. So be creative, taking a quick walk around the block, whilst adhering to the rules of social contact during this time. Knowing how your partner likes to do this and actively supporting them can enhance the relationship.
It is common for alcohol consumption to increase when we are off work, however, couples need to be mindful of their alcohol consumption during this time as alcohol can contribute to anxiety, stress, depression, domestic violence and to an escalation in conflict.
What is important to communicate to each other?
It is important to be clear about your expectations. Be open to hearing each other to discuss things calmly and be prepared to negotiate with your partner to find working solutions.
Create the space to be able to talk about your worries, fears and concerns with your partner. It is helpful to be present and really listen to each other, this requires slowing down and checking in with your partner if it is a good time to talk, switching off the TV, putting down cell phones and other distractions and facing each other.
Another really helpful approach is letting go of the idea that you need to be able to come up with solutions or required fix for what your partner wants to talk about. Most people feel much better as a result of just feeling heard. However, it is also helpful to time box these conversations, endlessly focussing on worries and fears can create more anxiety which can become counterproductive. Being an effective and empathic listening is key at this time, most of us do not want a problem solver at least not at the start!
A good exercise is to set aside time for each partner to talk for ten minutes about whatever they want to say, while their partner listen calmly without interrupting, judgement and problem solving, they are looking to understand and have empathy. Once the ten minutes is up swap roles and the next person then says what they would have said if they had the chance to go first.
Be aware of when you are being triggered and take ‘time out’, give each other space when stress and pressures start to escalate to prevent regular blow ups.
What are some ways couples can create moments of joy and fun during this hard time?
It is time to start being creative in the way you spend time together – we are only limited by our imagination. Cooking together with a theme, eating alfresco by candlelight, walking at sunrise, star gazing, dance off’s and the list goes on.
Of course this can also include connecting with extended family and friends. If you are normally a very sociable couple arrange dates online together, you can meet up virtually for a coffee or sharing a meal together.
How often have you wished you had more time to engage in a joint activity like cleaning the garage or re-organising your wardrobes, or start planning a new project together for when things pick up again, the time is now!
It is helpful to take time daily to express your appreciation and gratitude for your partner and family and what you both enjoy in your life. Look for ways to bring humour into your home, watch comedy shows and uplifting movies. Be kind to each other.