You may never have looked at it this way, but relationships have personalities, just like people do. Some are calm, durable, steady, and comfortable; others are fiery and full of ups and downs. Some marriages contain partners who are joined at the hip and who live most of their lives in each other’s company, perhaps even managing to work together as well as live together. Others function better with more time apart, where each person pursues individual interests while still being able to come together over shared enjoyments.
When you take the personality of the marriage and combine it with the personality of each person in it, you get a set of relationship rhythms. These are unique to every relationship, a fingerprint of sorts. Included in those rhythms are “rules” (I use this word very loosely as these aren’t necessarily conscious or spoken aloud, nor do they have to be rigidly followed) about how much time together and time apart the relationship needs in order to function best.
COVID-19 and the related quarantines and shelter-in-place orders that it has produced have the potential to put quite a strain on those “togetherness rhythms”. Especially for introverts—people who enjoy periods of solitude and contemplation and who find fulfillment in the world of internal thoughts and ideas—long periods of forced togetherness can pose a real challenge to their sense of balance and peace. Relationships that are already strained, tense, or on edge are also vulnerable.
Add to that the dynamics of having kids who now have to be home-schooled, children who are feeling pent up and deprived of time with friends, family pets who are highly excited by all the people suddenly at home with them, job layoffs, financial strain, and a lack of toilet paper and other necessities, and you have a perfect storm. So, in the interest of sanity and world peace, here are some survival tips:
- Breathe deeply. In. Out. Rinse and repeat. Pausing for a minute or so several times a day just to breathe has an oddly calming and re-centering effect.
- Remember that this is temporary. You can do temporary. Say it 3 times with me: “I can do temporary.”
- This is a time to live with extra grace for one another. Meet impatience with patience, meet anxiety with peace and comforting, meet agitation with calm. You have great power to affect the atmosphere of your house, for better or worse. Own the effect you have on others and use it for good.
- Be purposeful about your together time. Plan fun activities to share (board games, cards), new adventures to try (plant a garden, cook a new dish, google ways to say “you have pretty eyes” in 30 languages and then practice saying them together), or projects to do.
- Manage your stress by knowing your limits. When you find yourself going stir-crazy or needing alone time, raise a flag and enlist your partner’s help. Trade off teaching the kids or dealing with the house so that each person can get away for a bit. Go outside, take a walk, ride through the countryside. Remember #1.
- This is probably not the time to have heavy relationship talks or try to work out areas of high conflict. If you’ve got kids at home or others who are sheltering with you right now, there are too many people around to bring that kind of intensity to your home. There’s not enough space (physical or emotional) and the general stress level is likely too high for such conversations to be very productive.
- Don’t forget your support system. You may not be able to get together with friends as you normally would, but you can still phone, video chat, or connect through the myriad of social networking options that exist. Remember that MRC is still up and running, so if you find yourself needing extra support, feel free to reach out to us.
- Find exercise outlets to burn off some energy.
- Be aware of what your heart is feeling: Afraid? Anxious? Sad? Lonely? Overwhelmed? Bored? Acknowledging your feelings can make them more manageable.
- Don’t forget to breathe. This is temporary.
And if all else fails, my answer to many things: pet something furry. Life always seems better in the company of an animal.
As I mentioned above, Marriage Recovery Center is still up and running, so if you feel like you need extra support in this time, please reach out to us at (206) 219-0145 or contact our Client Care Team.