These are scary times. Surreal times. The unprecedented, government-recommended social distancing has grown into sheltering in place throughout much of the country. If we can set aside the health and financial fears for a moment, we’d like to address how this crisis has affected relationships. Spending a week with your partner on the beach or in Europe is a whole lot different than spending weeks quarantined in your house hoping you don’t run out of toilet paper or food. Your homes are likely starting to feel smaller. We’ve moved to telehealth in our practices and can hear the relationship strain in our clients’ voices. There are a lot of people out there already sick of their partners. A friend commented that she was used to spending three hours with her husband in the evening and now feels like they’re staring at each other 18 hours a day. An exaggeration? Perhaps, but we’re sure it feels like that. We’d like to offer a few solutions:

  • Set some structure. Most relationships don’t operate on 24 hours a day of togetherness. That’s why many couples struggle in early retirement. There needs to be a game plan if you are going to be together 24 hours a day. Set your own structure and discuss it with your partner. If you’re quarantined, wake up at the same time every day. Set aside couple time, perhaps an hour in the morning, a couple of hours in the evening, and possibly more time depending on your relationship needs. Equally important to couple time is personal time you can count on for yourself. Set some Do Not Disturb time. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to read a book or complete a project when someone asks you a question every 10 minutes. Don’t forget to respect your partner’s Do Not Disturb time. It is easier to respect personal time when you have adequate couple time established.
  • Exercise. Seriously, there’s not a better stress reducer on the planet. You’re obviously not going to go to the gym. We’re suggesting walking up and down stairs if you have them. Following a yoga session on YouTube or Netflix. Walk outside if you can maintain social distance. Don’t forget to put it into your schedule.
  • Set goals. A sense of not accomplishing anything makes couples ripe for fighting. Block off some time in your new schedule for cleaning out closets, starting that book you want to write, reorganizing the pantry, reconnecting with people through email or phone calls. Don’t forget couple goals. Consider ways to improve your connection and improve intimacy. Google “couple intimacy exercise“ for some ideas.
  • Express appreciation. Let your partner know when they’re doing something you appreciate. Think of the child rearing books designed to “catch them being good”. When exhausted, parents focus more on their children’s misbehavior than their good behavior. It’s no surprise that leads to more bad behavior. Don’t make that mistake with your partner. When your partner does something you think is funny, cute, or helpful, let them know. It will soothe and reduce a lot of the inevitable friction.
  • Have patience. This is a crazy time. It isn’t easy for anybody. Your partner is stressed as well. There is considerable emotional, health, and financial stress. Give each other some leeway for stupid comments, insensitive remarks, and a toilet seat left up. Grace and patience go a long way in feeling loved.