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Tips for Couples During COVID-19

By Shannon Kakkar, Ph.D., LCPC, LMHC, NCC

The recent pandemic of COVID-19 has created a “new normal” for everyone worldwide. We do not have the ability to go places and do things that we were used to doing. The shelter-in-place order, especially, has had an impact on relationships of people living together. Both home and work space have become the same which has a psychological impact on our ability to function. Many people are working remotely from home, while essential employees are forced to work longer hours and more days. Partners and couples in particular are struggling with how to cope with sharing workspaces and being together more often.

Despite the difficulties of managing a new home life, many people are also sharing the positives they are experiencing. Understanding each other’s work lives and expectations has improved communication regarding needs. A lack of a long commute has people grateful for the increased time spent with their partner or family. Positive memories can still be built which could help strengthen the connection of the relationship. Let’s look at some of the opportunities we have to strengthen the bonds between ourselves and our partners.

  1. Increase Communication
    The line between work and home have become blurred or obsolete. This means we have to work harder at setting boundaries, which means clarifying our needs and expectations of both ourselves and each other.

    Work needs. Setting up separate spaces for work, using headphones to decrease noise, and setting “work” time and “home” time can all help to decrease distractibility and create the feeling of separate spaces. Additionally, sharing meeting schedules to manage the internet bandwidth and phone calls is critical and demonstrates respect for each other.

    Home needs. Many people are home together with a lack of a long commute and therefore have the ability to share the household tasks. Taking the time to communicate what the chores are and how to get them done within a reasonable time frame requires some planning ahead.

  2. Plan time apart
    While we are enjoying the extra time together, there also needs to be time apart. One partner hogging the TV remote can quickly escalate into a full-scale blow out. Instead, take time to attend to your individual interests, or to spend time in parallel. This means being in the same space, but attending to separate tasks. This helps create the opportunity to have your own space and time, which is an important part of strengthening the commitment to your partner.

  3. Learning to self-soothe
    Planning time apart means you need to actively engage in your own hobbies or interests. You may not have had time to think about this until now, but it’s a vital part of maintaining your sense of self when quarantined with your significant other. Learning a new activity such as playing an instrument or knitting are options. Doing puzzles, building model planes, or trying and adult paint-by-number are less intensive but still mentally stimulating. These activities contribute to our ability to self-soothe and manage our emotional life without dumping on our partner.

  4. Reconnect
    The extended alone time together can help a couple reignite a relationship that may have become more like housemates than partners. The opportunity to reconnect at a deeper level through sharing hobbies, working together, and navigating this crisis together can increase the ability to communicate. Sexual intimacy could also be rekindled during the time we are required to be alone together. We have an opportunity to explore the turn-ons and turn-offs of our partner in new ways through spontaneous intimate encounters at any point throughout the day.

  5. Be agreeable
    One of the “big five” personality traits, agreeableness is the ability to be optimistic and generous with those around you. Being agreeable during stressful situations can go a long way in furthering a relationship, and is the number one characteristic that can predict a happy relationship according to John Gottman. Self-quarantining can be difficult and will produce hiccups that a couple needs to manage together, and being kind and patient is important. It can be helpful to spend time sharing what we are grateful for each day and in each other. Remember, the couple is a team that is working against the virus, not against each other.

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