Even if you’ve happily lived with your partner for years, you probably never imagined you'd spend quite this much time together. Quarantine is a unique situation (to put it mildly), as you and your partner become each other’s unofficial office mates, personal chefs, co-homeschool teachers, and possibly even the only daily social interaction the other person has IRL (besides your kids). Being together constantly has the potential to be a bit stressful, and when you throw in the anxiety brought on by a global pandemic, things can get hairy. Fortunately there are things the best couples can do for each other during quarantine to make this time just a bit easier for everyone, according to relationship experts.
Whether it's learning to fight fair, getting creative with quarantine date night (which will have to happen in your home, along with almost everything else you do) or just finding opportunities to give each other space and let the small things go, it's important to "acknowledge that this is a strange, unprecedented situation and that everyone is feeling stressed and over-burdened," Kirsten Brunner MA, LPC, and perinatal mental health and relationship expert tells Romper. Once you've addressed that no one (at least no one I know) is feeling their absolute best right now, you can start to find simple and creative ways to support your partner (and yourself!).
Read on for six things thoughtful partners can do for each other that will help manage your relationship (and maybe even your entire family) during quarantine.
They Embrace Separate Activities
It's great to have shared interests, but when you're with someone else constantly, it can be easy to forget the things you like to do without your partner. "Make room for the things that you like that you don’t share," Rockey tells Romper. "For instance, maybe one of you likes to run, and the other practices yoga. Make time for those separate activities and don’t begrudge your partner’s alone time."
It's especially important if you and your partner have kiddos that you each get some time, ideally every day, to do something just for yourself. If you can help it, try to make sure this alone time isn't some essential errand like going to the grocery store (which these days is anything but relaxing). Instead, it should be an activity that will leave you feeling more calm and recharged than before. "Don’t expect your partner to read your mind if you feel like you are drowning and need more help around the house," Brunner tells Romper. She suggests making a chore chart with your partner (and your kids, if they're old enough). When everyone in the household chips in and knows exactly what's expected of them, it helps you avoid exhaustion and resentment, and may free up more guilt-free solo time.
They Get Creative With Date Night
Unfortunately dinner and movie is out, but you can still have a fun date night at home. "In quarantine [date night] may be even more important, because, as the saying goes, 'familiarity breeds contempt,'" Kane tells Romper. You could try turning date night into a game night, he suggests, or introducing the other to something (a game, a food, a movie) that they've never done or seen before. "Maybe it will fail, but often, it relieves the partners from trying to make some arbitrary evening into some kind of forced romantic interlude, in what for most of us will be a very unromantic setting," Kane says. It can be helpful to leave your phones in the other room, so no one is distracted, and just enjoy each other's company for a few uninterrupted hours.
They Set Some Guidelines
Not only are you and your partner sharing a house, if you're both working from home, you're effectively sharing an office. Kane suggests having a frank conversation about how your standards for quiet and cleanliness may have to adjust during quarantine. Maybe one partner is on Zoom all day for work, and the other needs quiet to write (and neither has time to help the kids with their school assignments). This is really tricky, but you have to find a way to make sure both sets of needs are met.
"Decide if the relationship needs quiet time to survive. Can both partners live with phone and video calls and the pings and chimes of phones and computers 24/7? Or do they need to set aside time for silence? Does the sound of keyboards count? Decide. Does the silent period also squelch watching TV or videos? Decide," Kane says. This may mean thinking of creative solutions, like both buying wireless headphones that block out noise, and trading off taking short breaks during the workday to help kids with their own work (or make snacks, or play a quick game).
Because you're home so much, your space is also probably quicker to get messy (and your dishwasher is getting a workout). "Set mutually agreed-upon standards of neatness. Being cooped up together can get claustrophobic, but it can also reset people's expectations of what is acceptable clutter or dirt," Kane says. You may be more or less strict than usual, just make sure you're both on similar pages.
They Get Outside
It sounds simple, but going for a quick (and appropriately socially distanced) walk either together or solo can be a good reset. "Whatever your local authorities are commanding, pay heed, but go for walks," Kane says. "Get a change of scenery. We're social creatures, it's that simple. We also get a lot of real health benefits simply moving our bodies, and weather permitting, getting some fresh air and valuable vitamin D therapy from the sun."
These walks can also be a time to reflect on how you're each feeling mentally, which can shift day-to-day. You may be less likely to have a full-blown fight when you're in public (even if everyone is at least six feet away), so it can be a good time to calmly discuss certain boundaries, whether it's that you need more privacy on work calls or you'd like the other person to leave the house so you can have some alone time. Rockey suggests also using affirmations and pointing out things they do that you appreciate to make sure your partner feels loved and supported.
You can also use your outdoor time to have a "team meeting," as Brunner puts it, though of course these can happen at home too. "When you work in an office, you regularly meet with your team to make sure that everyone is on the same page. You and your partner are now a co-everything team so it crucial to meet on a regular basis and discuss how everything is going. This will allow you to tweak any schedules or housework agreements you have set up," Brunner says. (And if you can't take a walk or the kids are right at your heels, even sitting on the front porch with your partner for a few minutes can serve as "outdoor time.")
They Fight Fair & Forgive
Even the least confrontational couples will have some disagreements in such close quarters. "It can be very helpful to approach each situation with the view that your partner is doing the best they can and that they are on your side," Rockey tells Romper. "And if it doesn’t seem that way at first, ask questions in a non-confrontational way until you understand where they are coming from." It can be helpful to avoid talking in absolutes (i.e., you never take out the trash, or you're always on the phone) and, "remember your tone has a big impact on how the [request] is received. Stay curious, loving and empathetic," Rockey says.
With the said, blowout fights happen, especially when tension is running high and everyone is feeling uncertain. Practice forgiving your partner, but also forgiving yourself when you act in ways you're not proud of. "Unless you're breaking up, then you need to forgive, whatever the transgression. Break up or forgive, it really is that choice," Kane says.
Give each other plenty of grace, patience and kindness, Brunner says, and remember that you two are new at all of this, and anything new involves a learning curve. "You never asked to juggle parenting, working and maintaining a home all at the same time. Be patient with each other and yourself. Keep adjusting and tweaking the system you are following at home," she says.
Forgiveness does not have to happen immediately, and fights can be a vehicle for talking more about the issue and each of your boundaries. But mutual understanding is always a good goal, even if it takes a few hours or a solo walk around the neighborhood.
Kirsten Brunner,MA, LPC, perinatal mental health and relationship expert in Austin, TX
Chuck Rockey, Relationship & dating coach
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