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April 6, 2020

Cohabitation In The Time Of Quarantine

Shaun Ali

Two women drinking coffee lying in bed smiling at each other while in quarantine.

Relationship Optimization

When I think of couples spending quality time together, it summons images of John and Yoko’s bed-in for peace.

Many of us almost have this Disney-style optimism of what it would mean to be “stuck” at home. 

It’s idealistic, of course—a couple weeks social distancing with a partner will confirm it’s not the reality. That doesn't mean reality has to be the opposite though. Familiarity doesn’t have to breed contempt. 

Most of us are redefining our roles at home, whether as a partner, parent, or now a remote worker or even homeschool teacher. To avoid getting caught up in the difficulties, we can focus on relationship optimization: developing emotional intimacy, building resiliency, and managing relationship stress.

Being Together While Being Apart           

First things first, just because you’re together all the time, doesn’t mean you have to be together all the time. It’s normal and healthy to claim your own space with alone time. Some of us may not have the physical space to separate, but we can still spend time “alone” reading books, listening to music and podcasts in headphones, and exercising.

We might be forced to reimagine how we interact with our community, but we can always strengthen our virtual communities. Virtual dinner parties, video chats, and even Netflix parties are all excellent alternatives.  You can check out Esther Perel’s post, How to Engage in Social Connection While Socially Distancing, for some other great ideas.

For people with substance use or mental health issues, the quarantine and routine disruptions could be dangerous. It’s important to set boundaries and keep everything in moderation. A healthy mind and body are both vital to keeping relationship stress at bay, as well. Try a cuddle break if things get difficult. We can look for new ways to express gratitude and compassion for our partner, too. Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, and his website offer some practical strategies for expressing love.

Sometimes we start things on a bad note which sets our future course. Many of us are sinking into the idea that isolating, social distancing, and working from home also involves balancing childcare needs. Here are some tips from experts on how to talk to your kids about COVID-19.

To stay ahead of the curve in terms of relationship stress, we should take a moment to think about a few things. First, conflict in times of stress such as this is completely normal. We won’t always remain two steps ahead of arguments, disagreements, and damage control after a fight.

The repair phase is critical after an argument. Instead of stonewalling, hurling insults, or engaging in screaming matches, we should look at our partner’s side of things and try to connect.

Know Thyself 

I can’t drive home enough how important it is to educate ourselves on our own stress levels. It’s important in general and critical in uncertain times such as these.

In life, we all have different triggers, fears, and concerns. These don’t change just because our material conditions change. Likewise, we can’t assume our partner or family members think the same way we do.

First, it’s essential to establish a routine. We’re not on vacation. Many of us still must work, homeschool our children, and check-off tasks from our to-do lists. I recommend keeping a work mindset and setting boundaries, even while we’re home. Plus, this helps us separate work time from time to relax.          

For anyone working from home for the first time, I recommend NPR’s podcast, 8 Tips to Make Working from Home Work for You, or this blog on working remotely by Shift’s co-founder, Jordan Axani.

The better we manage our stress, the less it will manifest and pour out in other areas such as relationship stress and disputes. When I feel myself getting worked up and irritable, I like to ask myself, “how much of this is my stress talking?” I wrote a blog on this topic called, 7 Tips for Changing Negative Behaviour.

Know Thy Partner

Some people find working from home an ideal situation, some have had experience making it work for them, while others are completely out of their element. As always with learning or experiencing something for the first time– such as starting a job or going on a first date– it will create some stress and that will affect our close relationships. 

In order not to take our partners for granted, it’s essential to validate their concerns and problems. Just because we may not see the big deal, that doesn’t mean our partner isn’t going through a massive transition – whether themselves or indirectly through someone close to them. If your partner is dealing with concerns with COVID-19 or fallout from it, it’s unlikely you can make the problem disappear. You can, however, be present and attentive.

Consider this article from The Atlantic, reminding us that in times of relationship stress or in quarantine, we may need to separate ourselves physically but not emotionally. 

Learn to lean into the discomfort and new temporary reality while thinking about this quote from Jose Ortega y Gasset’s Meditations on Quixote from 1914:

“I am I plus my surroundings; and if I do not preserve the latter, I do not preserve myself.”

While we’ve come a long way since 1914, the essence of that quote may now be more appropriate than ever before.

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