31 Mar Couples Quarantine: How to Care for Your Relationship (and Yourself!) During Lockdown
As a marriage and family therapist, one of the most common complaints I hear from my couples is “we don’t have enough time together.” However, as our society copes with the spread of COVID-19 and the resulting quarantines, self-isolation, and social distancing, many couples are now finding themselves spending a dramatically increased amount of time together while also experiencing a significant increase in stress. So, as couples, how do we be supportive of one another, avoid damaging our relationships, and ultimately make the most of this time together? Check out the tips, information, and resources below on healthy ways couples can quarantine together.
Space or alone time – we all need it, but it’s likely to be in short supply
We often assume other people define concepts like “space” or “alone time” the same way we do, but they may not! Take some time to define what having “space” or “alone time” means to you. Explicitly discussing expectations about what space means, when you need it, how long you need it, and what you need from your partner to feel like you are getting space can save a lot of confusion, hurt feelings, and frustration. Also, be sure to invest in relationships outside your romantic relationship. Call or video chat with friends and family or write a letter or email to someone you are thinking of.
Get some structure in place – clear boundaries will go a long way!
Have conversations about whether household division of labor (cooking, cleaning, purchasing supplies, etc.) needs to change. Are one or both of you working from home? Talk about work hours, what kind of space and electronic access you might need and be sure to plan in advance if you have a small space or needs that might overlap.
Pay special attention to your communication skills during couples quarantine
Positive communication in romantic relationships can be difficult even in times of low stress. During periods of high stress, communication is even more likely to become challenging. Here are some simple tools you can add to your communication toolbox to improve communication and help you and your partner navigate this new normal.
- “I-messages” can help your partner feel less defensive and facilitate a more open conversation when you need to address a concern.
a. Begin statements with “I feel _______ when you _______.” This encourages more constructive conversation than beginning with a criticism.
b. For more info check out: I-messages
- Perception checks are used to check in with your partner about what you believe they may be thinking or feeling before you act on your assumption.
a. Part 1: Tell your partner what you are seeing, hearing, or understanding from their words and actions.
b. Part 2: Give at least two possible interpretations of what you are seeing, hearing, or understanding.
c. Part 3: Ask your partner to clarify if you are correct or if they would like you to understand them differently.
- Reflective listening refers to communication techniques and tools that are used to communicate to your partner that you are truly listening and trying to understand where they are coming from. Examples include paraphrasing what you hear from your partner and validating their feelings
a. For more info, check out The Gottman Institute’s blog on listening without getting defensive
- Gottman’s Four Horseman and Antidotes refers to four common relationship communication pitfalls (criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling) identified by researcher John Gottman and four remedies to those common pitfalls (gentle start-up, building a culture of appreciation, taking responsibility, and physiological self-soothing).
a. For more info, check out The Gottman Institute’s blog on The Four Horseman and the Four Antidotes
- Use humor and assume best intent.
Spend intentional, quality time with each other during couples quarantine
- Play favorite games or learn new ones.
- Encourage each other to pursue personal hobbies and interests, then share your work with one another.
- Increase physical intimacy – this can be anything from cuddling and watching a movie to sex!
- Invest time and effort in your home – deep clean together, rearrange furniture, hang that wall art you’ve been keeping in the back of the closet.
- Invest time in revisiting important relationship conversations – finances, physical intimacy, family relationships, career aspirations (don’t forget to use the communication skills I listed above!)
a.This card deck app from The Gottman Institute is a great tool to facilitate building emotional and physical intimacy!
Finally, understand that this is an unprecedented time and you may face unprecedented stress in your relationship. Don’t be overly concerned about whether what you are experiencing in your relationship is normal or not because these are not normal times. Try to make a conscious effort to support one another in the difficult thoughts and feelings you both may be experiencing and remind yourself that this is temporary, and we will ultimately emerge on the other side. And don’t forget North Shore Family Services is providing telehealth sessions to help you and your loved ones navigate these stressful times.
Rachael is an Associate Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist who earned her Master of Science in Human Development and Family Studies from Purdue University Northwest. Rachael also completed her bachelor’s degree in Child Development and Family Studies at Northern Illinois University in preparation for her graduate degree. Rachael has experience working with individuals, couples, families, and children in therapy as well as helping clients navigate larger systems such as schools, healthcare settings, and DCFS.
Rachael takes a collaborative, non-judgmental approach to therapy and believes that she has a responsibility as a therapist to create a safe, supportive, open environment where clients feel empowered to take an active role in the therapy process. Rachael focuses on patterns within and across generations of families, the balance between connectedness and individuality, and increasing an individual’s ability to cope with and tolerate stress. Rachael uses Bowenian family therapy, Narrative Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and play/experiential therapies to work with children, families, couples, and individuals to address behavioral, emotional, and relational issues and facilitate positive change. Rachael regularly includes art, music, storytelling, and games in her work with children and families to help children to feel comfortable in therapy and connect what happens in therapy to the children’s’ home and school lives. Rachael’s other areas of expertise and interest include trauma, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, grief and loss, life transitions, identity formation, and communication. Rachael is certified in Gottman Couples Therapy Levels 1 and 2 and has completed SafeZone LGBTQ Ally training.
When Rachael is not working with clients, she enjoys discovering new music, reading, cooking, visiting museums, and spending time with her fiancé and hound-mix dog.