How to survive your relationship during COVID-19March 31, 2020
Many couples and families are working-from-home and home-schooling in the same house because of coronavirus. These are important measures that will help contain the COVID-19 pandemic, but I am seeing an increase in anxiety from people who have to self- isolate or lock down together.
This is a stressful time. Maybe you are feeling stressed because one or both of you have lost your job. Maybe you are stressed because you are worried about getting COVID-19 or worried that a vulnerable person you love might get COVID-19. Or you are stressed and worried about how you will be able to home school your children and work from home at the same time.
External stresses really impact relationships – in particular couple relationships. Anxiety will be high therefore mental illnesses will increase, conflict will increase and any underlying problem in a relationship is likely to be amplified.
We tend to take out our stresses on our partners. And because stress for everyone is currently very high, there is the real possibility that there will be COVID-19 divorces when this whole thing is over.
But there are a lot of things you can do to help you and your partner survive this time together: –
The practical stuff: –
- If you are all isolation or lock down together – ensure you have separate working spaces in the home that are set up properly. Spend time clearing out any extra furniture or items that are not really required and are just cluttering up space. The more space and sense of space you can create, the better everyone will do mentally.
- If possible, ensure that you and your partner are not working in the same space so you have time away from each other. If you have children to supervise, take turns at this. You may even want to set up a roster (consult about this) that takes each of your work demands into consideration.
- Many parents have already drawn up a timetable for their children’s home-schooling routine. Do the same for you and your partner ensuring that you both have time to yourselves to do something that helps with stress – walking, exercise and so on.
- Limit alcohol to the days you would normally drink. Don’t drink mid-week if you usually drink only on the weekend. Don’t start drinking more or more often to manage stress. Alcohol fuels stress and is a depressant. These are not what you need right now.
- Create some boundaries in your workday. Start and stop work at the normal times, then put all of your work computers and other materials away. Make the time to focus on yourself, your partner and your children/friends.
- Create some ground rules for behaviour and expectations in the home. If you don’t discuss your expectations ahead of time you are more likely to get into an argument before working out that you both have different expectations. For example, one person might expect to be able to talk to their partner throughout the day. However, their partner might expect that they are not interrupted when working.
- Create a peaceful environment. Light candles, put on soothing music. You may even want to put different pictures on the walls or move furniture around to make your environment feel new or interesting. All these things calm our limbic system and reduce stress – which will reduce stress on your relationship.
- Keep your home environment clean. Make sure everyone in the family is involved in this process – untidy spaces and areas not being clean really escalates anxiety in some people so unless you are both naturally untidy this is a worthwhile investment for your relationship.
The emotional stuff: –
- Remember to be empathic and understand that everyone reacts to situations in different ways – we all have different coping mechanisms. Discuss with your partner what you each need emotionally during this time to get through the coronavirus situation.
- Stay away from “hot topics” in your relationship at this time. Unless you are in couples counselling – in other words have a professional to help you through this – now is not the time to open those wounds.
- Be careful how you respond to your partner. If they are feeling particularly stressed or anxious, don’t add to this by being defensive or aggressive.
- If you are arguing about parenting, have turns at being the lead parent for the day. I call this “odd and even days” – one day you are in charge of what the kids are doing, when they eat and go to bed. The next day your partner is in charge.
- Remember to be affectionate and make time for sex. This is a great time for sex with your partner.
- Create some romantic dinner date nights with your partner. If you have children either wait until they are in bed or put a movie on for them in another room.
- Talk about goals for your future – remember that COVID-19 will go away one day. Setting goals will help you both stay positive about the relationship. And positive in general.
- Limit screen time you each have – the great danger in this coronavirus situation is that in a bid to stay connected with the outside world, we are all permanently attached to screens whether this is for work or friends. Again, you and your partner may want to set some ground rules on this.
- Remember to be grateful – spend some time together reminding each other what you are grateful for – there are always people who are worse off. If you are well, be grateful for this. If you are still working, be grateful for this. Being and feeling grateful will reduce stress and reduced stress is good for your relationships.
- Accept the situation, and the fact you are all in it together. If there are any underlying problems in your relationship these will be able to be addressed as soon as the coronavirus situation settles.
- If you and your partner are really struggling and need professional help – contact a Couples Counsellor – there are plenty in Sydney right now who are offering sessions both face to face and online through video conferencing. This might just save you from becoming a relationship COVID-19 divorce statistic.
This Coronavirus situation is hard – there is no denying this – but it does give us time to spend with our partners and children. Make sure you play those board games with the kids. Make sure you set up nice times with your partner. Stay connected with friends and extended family through online platforms but not at the expense of your partner and kids.
Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families. She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas. In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.
Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families. She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.
Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.
Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter. Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.
Qualifications and Professional Membership
Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.
Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute. She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.
Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.
“Thank you for seeing me today. Your help with all our family issues and all your advice has been invaluable.
I don’t know how other families do it, without a Jacqueline in their lives.” – Anna (43) step-mum and mum to four children.