Being with a partner 24/7 is challenging for most people. Adding to that is the stress of COVID-19, which can include financial hardship, challenges related to childcare and homeschooling, and potentially coping with illness and death. This article outlines relationship tips to ease the tension. The suggestions are for couples who are in generally healthy relationships. I recognize that some people are dealing with intense stressors such as domestic violence. Those individuals may want to skip to the end of the article and use the information provided to secure professional help. In the meantime, here are my tips for maintaining the peace and even helping your relationship thrive during this crisis.
1. Say I love you.
This seems so basic and it is. You should tell your partner that you love them every day. If you don’t feel like saying it, maybe you have some unaddressed frustrations that have built up over time. In that case, focus on the best qualities in your partner, what are they doing right? How are they being helpful? Reflect back on what made you fall in love in the first place. Try to be as kind as possible and do things that show you care such as bringing them a drink or snack, asking if they need a massage, or anything you can think of to extend the olive branch.
These kind acts should elicit a positive response, and as the relationship improves, you might find an appropriate space for addressing past frustrations. But keep in mind that some couples thrive without needing to address all their issues. By increasing their positive interactions, the negatives become less important. Change occurs slowly and if your relationship wasn’t in a good place before this pandemic, the quarantine may have exacerbated the problems. As you move toward a more stable and healthy place, the “I love yous” will hopefully follow.
2. Choose your battles.
You are going to get annoyed with each other, that’s a given. No two people can be with each other ALL THE TIME and get along perfectly. But some things are better left unsaid or unaddressed. There is no need to point out that your partner left some bits of cereal on the counter, it won’t do any good. So, choose your battles wisely, especially during this stressful time, and leave things unsaid that won’t serve a relationship-enhancing purpose.
Importantly, try not to repeat suggestions or criticisms over and over, it is a sure way to drive your partner crazy. There may be some real issues to address, and you can decide which of those are imperative to tackle, but if something does not need addressing, and especially right now, either drop it or wait until other pressing stressors subside. And don’t underestimate the power of perception: If you can’t change your partner’s annoying behaviors, changing your perception of them can go a long way toward improving your well-being.
3. Do your part.
The happiest relationships are those in which the housework is shared. In some relationships, one person is the breadwinner and the other mostly does domestic work. But even in those relationships, partners are happiest when both are contributing to the chores and childcare.
One of the biggest predictors of women’s happiness in a relationship is whether her partner contributes significantly to housework. Openly communicate with your partner about a division of labor that suits your needs. For some couples, this might involve alternating between morning and evening shifts or assigning chores to different days so that schedules can be accommodated.
Be considerate towards your partner and talk through options to find a solution that is agreeable for both of you. Doing your part doesn’t have to start and end with housework, it can also apply to things like saying “I love you” and planning stay-at-home date nights. A healthy relationship is not one-sided, it takes two. Make sure you are doing your part to keep things positive, functional, and enjoyable.
4. Be kind to yourself.
This may seem like an odd thing to suggest in an article about relationship improvement but if you do not take care of yourself, it will be difficult to care for others. You could end up giving too much at the expense of your own well-being or risk damaging your relationship because you say or do something that stems from unhappiness with yourself.
Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is essential, especially during this crisis. If you are able to get some alone time for self-care (e.g., gardening, reading, writing, taking a bath), do it. If not, you can still do things like meditating or praying when you lay down to sleep, doing your best to eat right and get enough rest, and fitting in some exercise — think YouTube workouts, running in the back yard, doing squats and lunges, daily stretches, etc.
Importantly, don’t engage in negative self-talk or ruminate about things. If you find yourself doing this, think about the way you would treat or talk to a good friend and apply the same guidelines to yourself. Treat yourself with kindness, recognize that things are challenging right now, that you can’t do everything, and that’s okay.
5. Prioritize safety and each other.
During this dangerous time, both partners must do their part to keep each other and the family safe. If one person is being vigilant while the other is not, then both are at risk. Safety means staying home unless absolutely necessary, wearing protective gear when going out (face mask, gloves), keeping distance from others, regularly washing hands and clothes, and sanitizing products that come in from the outside. During this time of crisis, conflict will ensue if couple members are not aligned in their efforts to stay safe. Taking precautions will also reduce the risk that one or both partners will have to cope with illness or even worse, death.
In many relationships, one or both people are working outside the home. Be especially considerate in such cases. People are under tremendous stress if they are unemployed and yet those on the front lines are also experiencing extreme stress. Check in with your partner regularly to ask how they are doing and how you can help. Work as teammates to stay safe and get through this crisis together.
For couples in trouble
As I mentioned at the outset, the above tips apply to generally healthy couple relationships. For those whose relationships include emotional abuse, violence, alcoholism, or other conditions that threaten safety, there are resources available to help. Call 9-1-1 if you are in danger. If no immediate threat is present, consider therapy sessions via Zoom, FaceTime, or phone calls. Many therapists have modified their practices to accommodate social distancing requirements. Therapists can be located via the Cetmaps Therapy Directory and by calling or going online to access your health insurance’s directory of providers. Services such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 and the 24-hour Mental Health Line 1-800-854-7771 can also be used.
For more information
I am currently involved with a campaign to provide resources on personal well-being, relationships, parenting (including homeschooling), and work and finances to the broader community. The information is being distributed through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. You can also learn more about couple relationships through my podcast, Let’s Talk Relationships. Stay safe everyone.