Written by: Caitlin Edwards.
One of my friends shared a tweet with me yesterday and, although I can’t remember the exact wording, I believe it went something like this: I long for the days when my work wife and my wife wife were different people. Humor aside, it feels important to name that we are experiencing our relationships in a new way as a result of either being in close quarters or worrying about our working partners in whole new ways.
Increased proximity and/or increased distance and uncertainty can strain relationships. The pandemic has added a level of stress to our relationships that they previously have not weathered. A part of this increased stress and strain, which the above tweet hits on perfectly, is that we used to have the opportunity to rely on not just our partners but also our friends, coworkers, and baristas to hear our woes. Now we are relying on the person closest to us without these additional resources. On top of that, we are balancing more than before: we have learned how to become chefs, teachers, and business managers all from our 1000 square foot apartments. While it may seem insensitive or selfish to acknowledge that your relationship is struggling, it’s necessary to do so.
I say it’s necessary because we can only take care of ourselves and our partners if we are honest about how we are struggling. We can’t just wait it out: we don’t know when we will return to ‘normal,’ and we don’t even know what ‘normal’ will look like going forward. Therefore, we can’t simply hope that our relationships will magically go back to normal as soon as some measures of social distancing lift. Moreover, stress and strain tend to exacerbate our automatic interaction patterns, perhaps increasing the already frustrating cycles we experience in our closest relationships.
So, what can we do?
A primary antidote to experiencing dramatic shifts in our lives that leave us feeling helpless, uncertain, and overwhelmed, is mindfulness. Mindfulness in the age of corona virus may look different for everyone, but research shows there are several things we can do to keep ourselves regulated and our relationships intact.
One: create a structure. Structure implies a necessary schedule for your family and boundaries for your relationship. Your typical nine to five job may now look like an eleven to four but attempt to create a consistent and reliable schedule that you can adhere to.
Two: Create time and space for just you. It’s necessary to nurture ourselves, whether that be a run, reading a book, journaling, or meditating. It’s okay to want alone time and need space away from your partner.
Three: Create time and space for you and your partner. One of my couple friends who is successfully navigating their relationship during this time has set aside time daily just to talk about their relationship. They are not just talking about the day to day stressors, but rather the deeper and more existential meanings of their life together. They are leaning into their relationship in a way I experience as nourishing and inspiring.
Four: Be intentional about your time together. Carve out separate spaces of you’re working from home. Text rather than talk during the day—you’ll be able to come together in a different way at the end of the day. Give each other grace.
Five: Create rituals. Rituals mark the passage of time. Rituals are ways we intentionally acknowledge our relationships, our feelings, and our experiences. Whether this is a date night or a dance contest with the kids on Saturday afternoons, rituals help us to grasp coherence in a world that feels uncertain and ambiguous.
Six: Practice gratitude and appreciation. One of my own favorite rituals is to name three things that I am grateful for every day. Sometimes it’s difficult to name them but it’s an exercise that keeps me grounded in my daily existence.
I’ll leave you with another funny tweet about quarantine: Quarantine day 14. Today I fiercely fought with my husband about what day of the week it was. We were both wrong. (Now might be the right moment for that graciousness!)
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