By: Mychal Riley, LCSW-S, LCDC-I
Over many centuries, we as humans have developed a longing for social interaction and a desire to share life with a partner — but not all day long. Spouses have been working together in the home for months and many unmarried couples, suddenly quarantined together, are learning ways to cope with their partner. So what happens now?
Relationships are facing unprecedented stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What started out as anxiety and cabin fever from being cooped up together has turned into worry about how and when to assimilate back into the world. Add to that the stressors like losing a job, homeschooling kids, and a plummeting stock portfolio, and it’s apparent couples need to communicate more than ever in order to maintain a healthy relationship.
Here are five proactive ways to reconnect with your partner as the months-long isolation period is lifted in order to keep the relationship from crumbling under pressure:
1. Establish a new ritual or routine (or stick to an old one).
Is there something you and your partner did in the past that you miss? Are there things that you have always wanted to do? Relationships grow through routines, habits, and experiences. Look for a small new ritual or routine you can incorporate. For example, if you’ve always wanted to start running together, think about what day might work once a week and start it now. It takes at least 21 days to form a habit; if you start now, you’ll develop a healthy new habit that you can take back to your normal life.
2. Trade affection.
For one week, do five different things for your partner that you think they will appreciate. At the end of the week, each partner tries to figure out the five things they did for each other. You’ll each learn about the little ways your partner experiences affection. You may learn your partner loves when you pay them a compliment or give them a gift. These preferences are known as “love languages.” Similar to speaking to someone in their native language, becoming fluent in your partner’s “love language” can improve the flow of how effectively you communicate how much you care.
3. Make time for weekly dialogue.
Having a true dialogue can help both you and your partner feel heard or understood. In a dialogue directed toward the exploration of a subject, one partner speaks, while the other listens. Once the speaker has shared their thoughts on a matter, the listener is tasked with sharing back what they heard and checking to make sure their understanding is correct. Once the speaker confirms it is accurate, the listener shares their reaction and then the roles are reversed. This is incredibly helpful in validating your partner on difficult-to-discuss subjects.
4. Reconnect around what brought you together.
How did you meet your partner? Can you recreate elements of your first date while you’re still home together or can you plan that date for the near future? Get creative and consider what you can do to reminisce about memories tied to the beginning of your love story — and make new memories in the process.
5. Be mindful of each other’s different perspectives.
You may be someone who really wants to be close to your partner to know you are connected, whereas your partner may need some time alone, in between quality time, to best appreciate time together. It’s important for partners in relationships to know they’re loved for their differences as much as for their commonalities. If you like to be close but they need distance, consider giving them a whole day to themselves to recharge. If you like distance but they prefer to be close, consider spending a whole afternoon doing things you both love.
Therapists love to advise couples to spend quality time together, and now it’s time to adapt from being in isolation together to learning how to focus on quality time while getting back to our new normal.
During this COVID-19 lockdown, couples have either grown together or grown apart. Check in on your relationship and explore how COVID-19 has contaminated it; delve into how you manage conflict as well as how you engage each other to help your relationship thrive.
Communication is key to surviving; it’s time for you and your partner to pull together and discover the strengths in your relationship. If you can practice these tips in your relationship, your bond will be stronger as you face the world again.
About the Author:
Mychal Riley, LCSW-S, LCDC-I is the clinical program manager for Pathfinder. Before he assumed his current role at Menninger, he provided individual and family therapy on the Hope Program for Adults, as well as co-facilitated the Dialectical Behavior Therapy and the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy groups on Hope.