- Robert Schwebel, Ph.D.
7 Relationship Survival Strategies During COVID-19
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
Posted May 7, 2020 on psychologytoday.com.
Loving partners can rise to the occasion and keep their relationship intact.
After many weeks at home and as we venture out and encounter additional stressors, this could be the ideal time to think about relationship survival strategies. Here are seven of them you can use to maintain positive feelings with your partner and avoid blow-ups during the current crisis.
(1) Escape Space
Everyone is living under the same roof and sharing the same resources. Everyone is feeling more anxious and stressed, and probably more irritable. If you’re stuck at home and need a place to sort things out, one suggestion is that couples designate an “escape space” where either person can go to get away, relax, calm down, and think. It could be a separate room if space permits, or a spot in a shared living area where it is agreed that you or your partner can be left alone.
If an argument gets too heated, you can go to the escape space. Make an agreement with your partner to allow “escape” to avert blow-ups. The person leaving should express a need to isolate and offer a reasonable time frame to come back in a better state of mind. For example: “I’m too worked up. I need about half an hour to calm myself down and then I can come back to talk with you.”
Routines have been totally disrupted. This gives rise to the question of who is responsible for what, everything from shopping for food, preparing meals, cleaning the house, to childcare and schooling if children are home with you. Ideally, you and your partner recognize the need to make adjustments and can talk it through cooperatively. If this hasn’t happened yet, you can suggest such a discussion. If that doesn’t work, one possibility is to assume leadership by volunteering to take one additional task that had not been your responsibility before. “I’m going to be doing the dinner dishes” or “I’m going to clean bathrooms every week.” In other words, take one for the team. If nothing else, it shows commitment to confronting the challenges you face, sets positive precedent, and builds good will. Usually what happens is that partners counter with their own generous offers. This can evolve into an informal and gradual negotiation of arrangements. If your division of labor remains problematic and cooperative negotiation is not your strong suit, you could start to gently ask for help, one task at a time.
(3) Raise The Bar
Though it might sound simplistic and trite, it does help to privately make a commitment to “be better.” When stressed by circumstances, we sometimes get worked up, edgy, and then take it out on the person nearest us. Also, unresolved relationship issues are sometimes expressed through teasing, sarcasm and wisecracks. None of this is ever good, but it’s even more harmful now. Commit yourself to a high standard with extra self-awareness and self-control. Don’t be grumpy and blurt out something hurtful. Be disciplined. You’ll actually feel good about yourself when you do this, and surely avoid creating bigger problems.
(4) Cut Extra Slack
Misunderstandings and conflict are part of every relationship, even the best of them. Now problems are compounded because everyone is experiencing extra stress and is a bit on edge. What do you do when your partner annoys you? Normally, the ideal thing would be to either let it pass because it’s trivial or resolve the problem with good communication. But these are not normal times and you might not have good communication skills. So, this could be time to let more things pass than you would under normal circumstances. Try to dismiss little annoyances and irritations for what they are (little) and resist urges to let them percolate. Remind yourself of what you love about your partner. Think twice before blurting out resentments.
(5) Positive Focus
In order to sustain a relationship when conflict arises, it’s important to have a base of good will and positive feelings. Now’s an excellent time to reinforce your foundation – get in touch with any and all positive feelings for your partner. To do this, you might have to put aside hurt or resentment and suspend negative thoughts. You can deal with that stuff later. Make an effort to remember what first attracted you to your partner. Think back to the good times. Think about everything you like and admire about your partner and the most wonderful times you had together. Start saying positive feelings out loud, and do it often. During the day, watch for opportunities to sneak in compliments and expressions of affection. Notice even the smallest positive things your partner does and voice your appreciation. You can also show affection with touch. You’ll be surprised how a positive focus puts minor disputes and disagreements in perspective and makes them less important.
It can’t be all work and no play, or all “Let’s watch Netflix.” Many of the usual ways to have fun together are not available right now. Think of things you have done at home in the past that you enjoyed with your partner and do them. You could do some of the same stuff, but differently. Perhaps candles with dinner, or a picnic on a balcony, backyard, or front porch. Be imaginative, expand your options, and try some new things.
This crisis has given new meaning to the expression “You’re my everything.” For the time being, your partner is pretty much your everything. However, you and “your everything” can use a little something from the outside. Take advantage of the available ways to stay in touch with friends, family, and co-workers. Alone or together with your partner, you can write letters, use the telephone, or set up video calls. This will help you as a couple.
Steady the Ship
Crisis is an opportunity for partners to bond together against a “common enemy.” If you can maintain an even keel through the turmoil, you will be putting wind in your sails and heading for continued success when all this passes.