As a couples counsellor I’ve been thinking about how the lockdown may put a strain on relationships in our city and nation. Couples will be spending a lot more time than usual in the house together, sharing working space and leisure space with little opportunity for the freedom of movement and variety of activities we can usually enjoy. Many of us are experiencing stress, anxiety, low mood and grief which will impact on our ability to relate to and support our partners. For those couples who are trying to both work from home and look after children at home there are added complexities to negotiate. There’s a greater potential for conflict over day to day practicalities and a risk of over-reliance on each other for company, support and comfort.
It’s not all bad though. There are also opportunities for couples to spend more quality time together as many of our usual activities are cancelled; a chance for greater intimacy and appreciation of each other; a chance to develop new ways of living together which could be healthier and more fulfilling.
Here are some simple steps you could take to give you and your partner the best chance of maintaining a healthy relationship during lockdown:
1. Make plans together. There is a lot of uncertainty at the moment and it helps to identify what choices we still have. Sit down together and discuss how you want your lives to look during this time. How will you build in rest and play? When are the key times that will you connect with each other during the day and during the week? Meal times could be a good opportunity to check in with each other about how you are both doing. Can you plan in something to look forward to each week such as a “date night” at home on a Friday evening or having brunch together on a Saturday? You might find it helpful to write down your daily and weekly routine.
2. Work as a team on the challenges you face (for example financial issues or parenting problems) using this simple problem solving exercise: Write down a clear definition of the problem, then together list a range of possible solutions which includes ideas from both of you. See this as a brainstorm and don’t dismiss any ideas as impractical yet. Discuss the pros and cons of each possible solution (you may want to write these down separately) and agree on a “solution for now” which you will try in the short term. Agree on a timescale for reviewing whether this solution is working for you both. For example, agree to revisit this exercise in a month’s time. At this point you may decide to try one of the other possible solutions.
3. Talk about how you are feeling and bear with one another. Accept that your partner may not be at their best at the moment due to the impact of the situation on their emotional wellbeing and have realistic expectations of each other. Acknowledge difference – the situation is impacting everyone differently and some are finding it easier to adapt than others.
4. Continue to stay in touch with family and friends via phone or video call so that you’re not relying solely on your partner for friendship and support. It’s also a good idea to spend some time on your own as well as time together, so that you maintain some independence and freedom over how you spend your time.
5. If you’re finding things really tough consider speaking to a couples counsellor. They can help you talk through the specific challenges you are facing and identify coping strategies. We are offering sessions via video call and you can book an appointment via our website.