You love your significant other, and both of you want to avoid the coronavirus involved in the global pandemic, and COVID-19, the disease it causes. So you’re isolating yourselves at home. After several weeks, you might find that all that extra togetherness is overwhelming. How do you maintain harmony and not drive each other crazy? Chris Kraft, Ph.D., a psychologist, and expert in relationships and sexuality, shares some tips and encouragement for couples waiting out the pandemic together.
Couples and Cabin Fever
Spending day after day in the same place can make even devoted couples a little stir-crazy. Kraft says, “Even committed couples can start to become lethargic and lose the sense of time, asking themselves, What day is it? A sense of monotony can cause numbness to feelings, which is part of coping with so much uncertainty in the world right now.”
Though relationships can offer solace, it’s important for each person to take responsibility for individual health and well-being.
Maintain self-care and a routine “Self-care is essential. With everyone’s schedule changed, it’s important to establish and maintain some kind of a routine,” Kraft says. He recommends sticking to regular sleep hours, waking up on time, making the bed, and getting dressed each day. Eating nutritious foods is important, too. Scheduling breaks, such as a midday yoga video or mediation session, can break up the day and help partners stay grounded.
Keep the workday limited
“For couples who are working at home, it helps to set boundaries between work hours and time spent together,” Kraft says. “The anxiety caused by the pandemic may tempt some people to lose themselves in work, particularly people who invest a lot of their personal identity in their professions. They might miss the routine, the meetings, the structure that goes with that.”
Beware substance use and abuse
Increased stress can aggravate habits such as smoking or substance abuse, including drinking more alcohol. “Keep an eye on the cocktails,” he advises. “Too much alcohol can set the stage for unhealthy interactions.” He adds that people in recovery from substance use disorders may need to be especially vigilant because being stuck at home without in-person support meetings can raise the risk of relapse.
Go outside together
Exercising outdoors together can be a powerful way to reduce stress and strengthen positive connections, Kraft says. “For couples that are used to spending time in the gym, it might require some changes to keep up with fitness and exercise when you can’t work out on machines or take live classes.” He recommends partners go for a run or a bike ride, dig in the garden, or even just take a walk together. “Couples who are more sedentary can start a healthy habit, such as a regular walk outdoors together during this time,” Kraft says.
Work together to keep kids occupied
Kids sequestered at home during the pandemic create another whole dimension of family togetherness, along with overwhelming stress, especially when one or both parents are trying to work from home. It can be all but impossible to do work, attend video meetings, help kids with home school lessons, and deal lovingly with their emotions and behaviors. Couples should plan kids’ days in advance when possible, and ensure that each partner is taking an equitable amount of time to keep children occupied and content.
Don’t count on amazing sex
Staying at home to help contain a dangerous, viral pandemic is not exactly a romantic vacation. Kraft says couples should modify their expectations around sexual intimacy. “People are distracted, and there’s a blur between work and home life,” he says. “The stress is very real, particularly if one or both people are dealing with children at home, financial concerns, job loss, or illness affecting a friend or family member. These concerns, along with a generalized uncertainty about what’s going to happen next, can interfere with sexual desire.”
Broaden your support system
Your partner is just one person, no matter how amazing, and Kraft advises against leaning on any single individual for all your emotional needs just because you’re under the same roof. “It’s important for both people in the relationship to stay connected with family and friends who can be available for them, especially as time wears on with continuing physical distancing measures. “Talk with other people on the phone and use technology to keep your support network intact,” he says.
Plan something fun Though couples’ pre-pandemic plans may be canceled or postponed right now, Kraft suggests making new, different ones. “You can take a drive together, plan a special meal, or, if you have the resources, even make a small purchase that you can both enjoy. “Apps can help couples virtually get together with friends for dinners, game nights, or movies. The important thing is to create things to look forward to, even if they’re small.”
Use the time to make things better
“Couples who were in a good place before COVID-19 will have an easier time withstanding the stress of the pandemic,” Kraft says. But, he notes, even partners who were struggling before the stay-home mandates began can use the time to work through some of their problems. “In the context of sheltering in place, couples can find opportunities to communicate and connect, working through feelings, even those around very painful situations, such as infidelity,” he says.
Make a plan for relationships in crisis
For relationships that have worsened to the point of abuse or violence, Kraft says, safety comes first. This is an example of why maintaining connections with family and friends is important. “Anyone who feels in danger due to a potential domestic violence situation should have a plan in place to leave and get to someplace where they won’t be harmed,” he says.
When Couples Are Apart Due to the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has separated some couples, due to work schedules or just geographic distance. Young couples and new relationships might be suffering from the strain of physical distance as each person shelters in place with his or her own family, sometimes miles apart. But, says Kraft, there might be a silver lining in separation. He says, “This situation affords couples an opportunity to get to know one another through conversation, without physical contact. Learning more about the other person can help intimacy grow, and create a strong foundation for when they are reunited.”
Be on your best behavior It’s helpful for partners to look at the shelter-in-place situation realistically, and make a conscious commitment to stay strong for one another during these unusual — but finite — times. “Most people understand that these are unprecedented circumstances, and are willing to work at being more patient and considerate than usual. “The pandemic won’t last forever, even though on some days, it feels like it might,” he says. “Treating one another well could leave couples even better off once the pandemic is under control and we return to a more normal life.”
Ask for help if you need it
In the meantime, Kraft points out that mental health professionals and therapists are still seeing patients with safety measures in place at their offices. Many are working remotely through telemedicine. “Reach out for mental health support if you need it,” he says. “Practitioners are available, and insurance is likely to cover your treatment. Couples can stay healthy and get through this.”