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Due to the coronavirus pandemic, many of us are spending a lot more time than we are used to with our romantic partners. If you live with your partner - whether alongside kids, other relatives, or just as a couple - it's highly likely that you'll be spending a prolonged period in close proximity with them.
This could be a positive thing to come out of the Covid-19 global pandemic: spending time in quarantine together can allow you the opportunity to press pause, reconnect and nurture your romantic relationship.
Yet, this set-up does come with its own challenges. "Crisis often brings out the best in people, but it can bring out the worst in people too," says Susan Quilliam, intimate relationships expert and author. “Any issues that already existed before the virus panic can become magnified. For example, if you’re already feeling irritated by the division of labour in the home, or who earns more money, these issues can become heightened.”
“There’s also a certain amount of time you can spend with another person – even if you love them – without getting irritated,” she says. “It’s so important to have time alone to emotionally regulate, so if you're unable to do this, more tension can flare up.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way, says Quilliam. Instead of buckling under the pressure of uncertainty, you can become a united team and, hopefully, you'll find your relationship strengthens as a result. There are so many aspects of this pandemic that we can’t control, but - fortunately - our ability to love, nurture and commit to our romantic relationships is something we can control. After all, we need close human connection more than ever in times of crisis.
So if you’re self-isolating with your partner, or you’re nervous about the possibility, read on…
1. Be aware of the challenges
Being conscious of the issues you may face will put you on a stronger footing straight away. Understanding that it’s a particularly difficult time, and you’re likely to get annoyed with your partner at times, will help you manage this period effectively. “Keep the long-term in the back of your mind,” says Quilliam. “Think: how do I want things to be with my partner when this is all over? Accept that sometimes you’re going to be irritable and not thinking clearly, and try to think before you speak to ensure that you don’t say anything you will later regret.”
2. Imagine it’s just like a holiday
Self-isolation can feel like you’re trapped, but try to change the way you think about it: if you were on a two-week holiday, you’d be spending lots of intense time together too. Except you’d use this as an opportunity to bond, have deep conversations, laugh together and enjoy one another’s company. “It might feel strange doing this at home, but imagine you’re enjoying a break together and try to embrace it,” says Quilliam.
3. Take time on your own
We all need alone time to “emotionally regulate” – this helps us calm down and think rationally. Of course, follow the official advice – but if you are able to, try and take walks by yourself without coming into contact with other people. “If you’re both working from home, spend time in different rooms,” she says. “When you do spend time together, watch movies, play games or eat together. Having space will ensure that this time ends up being quality time.”
4. Outsource your joy
Find fun things to focus on. “You’ve always wanted to watch that box-set of Line of Duty? Do it! You have a stack of books you’ve been waiting to read? Read them,” Quilliam suggests. “Sign up to an online course. Organise video-chats with other friends and relatives. Ensure you’re getting some kind of stimulation and human connection from people other than your partner.”
5. Address conflicts
Tread with caution, but spending this much time together could be an opportunity to unpack any issues you might have so that you can come back even stronger afterwards. Speak calmly and rationally, and start sentences with "I feel" rather than "you do". “Ask them lots of questions and listen carefully,” says Quilliam.
6. Ration conversations about the virus
The news can feel all-consuming at the moment, but try not to let this filter into your relationship. “Talking about it too much could cause you to whip each other up into emotional states,” Quilliam warns. “You might prefer to schedule time in your day where you’re allowed to discuss recent developments and voice any concerns you have, while avoiding mentioning the coronavirus the rest of the time.” Also remember to be sensitive if they need reassurance, as many of us do.
7. Get intimate
If neither of you are experiencing symptoms, physical touch ranging from hand holding to sex can strengthen your bond and boost your mood. “Even if you’d prefer to cuddle, skin-on-skin contact releases oxytocin which makes us feel happy and safe,” Quilliam explains.
8. Express gratitude
Even if you feel like your partner is driving you up the wall, remember to feel grateful for any small acts of kindness. “Perhaps they scoured all the local shops to find you some essentials, or they made you a cup of tea in bed,” says Quilliam. “Gratitude helps encourage a more positive mindset.”
9. Keep calm and be kind
This is important advice for dealing with coronavirus in general, but it’s especially essential when dealing with our other-halves. “Kindness can often be forgotten in relationships, as being so close and bonded can mean you dump things on each other,” says Quilliam. But if you can keep calm and be kind, you can weather this storm together.
Find Susan at susanquilliam.com
If you need some support in your relationship, visit relate.org.uk
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