We have all been quickly thrust into a completely new living arrangement amidst current shelter in place orders. Whether you have been married for years, have children, are living with someone, or are dating someone, this new situation has changed many people’s relationship dynamics. For many of us in the United States, stay at home or shelter in place orders are still rather new and we are all still in a period of adjustment to this lifestyle. However, it is important to start thinking about the long haul and how we can manage our relationships under these circumstances. It goes without saying the world is in crisis right now and it is important to acknowledge that our feelings of stress and anxiety are normal. These heightened emotions can cause quick overreactions, breakdowns in communication, and general feelings of depression. We can take certain measures to help alleviate the added tension and help our relationships.
It may seem weird to mention boundaries when many of us are stuck in our homes together. However, enforcing and maintaining physical and emotional boundaries during this time is more essential than ever. It may vary in difficulty depending on your home, but try to create physical space however you can. Finding a quiet room to be alone or even going out for a walk (if it is safe to do so) can be ways to give yourself and your partner the physical space needed to recharge and recuperate. The influx of disturbing news stories can be overwhelming and it may serve your relationship to try to discuss other things than the current news. Try to create more conversations around positive things happening or small joys you can share.
It is important to remember that we all respond to stress in different ways and we need to manage our expectations of each other and ourselves. When stress and anxiety are high it is understandable that people may respond more emotionally in disagreements or find themselves snapping at loved ones. In these situations it is important to note the power of apology and when you have reacted poorly to someone. Whether it be your partner, friend, or child, it’s important to let them know you care how you made them feel.
Communication and Connection
It is likely with intense emotions and feelings of irritability breakdowns in communication will occur. Finding ways to calm yourself first can help you navigate difficult conversations in a healthier way. You can improve communication with loved ones by checking in with how they are feeling and being honest with them and yourself on where you are at emotionally. If a conversation is becoming heated, walk away or put the conversation on hold until another time when both people have calmed down. Contrary to the old advice, it is okay to go to bed angry sometimes. Most of the time you will be over the argument by the morning and will have avoided escalating a disagreement. Try to carve out time in your day to connect, whether it be meal time discussions, watching movies, going on walks, or playing games. Finding ways to enjoy time together will increase happiness and nurture your relationships.
If you don’t live with your partner the time apart during shelter-in-place may be really difficult without the physical connection. It may feel like a long-distance relationship. Try to connect over the phone or virtually; seeing and hearing provides clearer communication channels than texts. Video chatting during a dinner date, playing games, or watching movies together can all be ways to stay connected even if it’s online. What’s important is taking time to connect and nurture the relationship outside of current stressors at home.
Keep in mind that everyone responds differently in crisis and remind yourself that people are doing the best they can. When we make positive assumptions about others’ intentions it enables us to be more compassionate. Be aware of your own irritability and be kind to those around you. More kindness and compassion can go a long way in times of stress and will be appreciated by those in your circle. Discuss how everyone is feeling and how you can be more kind to each other.
Self-Compassion and Self-Care
Self-compassion is about being kind to ourselves. Remind yourself that this is a difficult time and it is okay to struggle. Quiet your inner-critic and be compassionate toward yourself. Accept that extra stress and anxiety are normal and shared experience at this time. If you can, try to decrease the other stressors in your life right now to take some of the pressure off. Remember to forgive yourself for being fragile, not being your usual self, or not being as productive. Provide yourself with the same kindness you would give a friend. Learn more about self-compassion here.
Self-care is a deliberate action taken to preserve or improve mental, physical, or emotional health. Good self-care is the key to a better relationship with yourself and other people. Be mindful when doing things to take care of yourself and how it makes you feel because it may take effort sometimes. Things like getting enough sleep, exercising, eating well, spending quality time with loved ones, finding ways to relax, and opportunities to laugh all contribute to overall health, self-care, quality of life and relationships. Read about ways to practice self-care.
In spite of lifestyles shifting and routines dramatically changing, we can still cultivate healthy relationships and improve current ones.