As human beings we have evolved, in the main, to want to share life with a partner.  We haven’t however, evolved to spend all day, every day, together.  Usually, and this is borne out in our social history, we part for some time each day to go about our separate roles, responsibilities and interests.

At the moment, due to COVID-19, we are instructed to leave the house for essentials only and to return home as soon as this is done.  This does not create much opportunity for us to have space individually.  We also may be working from home, furloughed, be unemployed, be home schooling, have young children and /or teenagers in the house, be worried about finances, feeling stressed, concerned about loved ones, concerned about the future, we may be grieving, we may be shielding, we may feel fatigued.

All of this (and more) means we are potentially thrown into an intense ‘hot pot’ with ingredients including; flitting between different roles (partner, parent, teacher, worker etc.) feeling pressured by perceived expectations (school, work, society, family), limited space or ability to have time alone and beginning to feel irritated with the less attractive habits and qualities of the people around us.

Our partner relationships take time and effort in order to work as well as possible, and in the current climate it is easy to fall into breakdowns in communication, allowing agitation to build and arguments to ensue.

Here are 10 ideas to help in your relationship, in these unusual times:

Share responsibilities
There is an increase of everything in your home – food consumption, use of crockery, pots in and out of the dishwasher (a constant discussion in my house!), washing, use of bathrooms, general untidiness in the house – all being joint responsibilities to manage (and if there are older children in the house too, they can help!) – agree who does what and when. If people in your home are reluctant to take part in this, use positive psychology (not bribery!) – reward those who do take part and contribute and ignore the other behaviour, you will need to be consistent with this approach to see results.

Manage space
If you are working from home and you have the space, work in different rooms. If you have to share space, be mindful of the other person whilst you are working and take breaks together – you could even have a coffee together! If you are working from home and managing home schooling too, think about sharing the responsibilities and working in shifts – 3 hours of being able to focus and concentrate is better than 7 hours of being distracted and feeling frustrated.

Consider what do you, and the people in your house, need?
We each react differently to any given situation and this can change as we go through something like lockdown. There may be a need for more reassurance, psychological intimacy, attentiveness, hugs and cuddles, listening, space, laughter. Recognise what you each need from one another – don’t be afraid to ask for what you need too, you are the expert when it comes to you.

Financial fears may be prevalent
We can often avoid this conversation but be honest about how you feel and examine your actual situation so you can think about the reality now and in the future. You may need to create a plan. To manage your finances, you may need to ask for help, you may need to ask for payment holidays – you are not on your own with these worries – being realistic about your finances can help to think about how you can manage this together.

The saying ‘my other half’ suggests that the relationship is always 50:50, however this isn’t the case.
There are two ‘whole’ people in your relationship and the share of this and our individual capacity changes each day (and sometimes, when under stress, each minute!) and so, there are times when we need to step forward and support the other person more, and vice versa.

Recognise fatigue
If you are working from home, and using video conferencing (Zoom, Go To Meeting, Teams), fatigue is actually a ‘thing’! It is an intense way of meeting people as you are basically visible to everyone on the call at all times, meaning that you are having to perform, which can cause some people anxiety. We have all had to learn the etiquette that goes with these meetings too, which for some is all new! Our need to focus in on non-verbal communication and tone of voice, whilst also negotiating frozen screens and Wi-Fi disruption, adds another layer of potential stress… we could call this ‘Zoom rage’! If you also add in the backdrop of COVID-19 (and using these tools, constantly reminds us that we are being put in a position we would not choose to be in) along with potentially managing children too, it is evident why we may feel fatigued at times. Track how you are doing, rest, take breaks and look after yourself.

If you have someone in the house who is shielding due to underlying health difficulties, remember that the illness is only part of them, not all of them, and some find it hard to be seen as vulnerable and it can be something that usually, day to day, on a normal basis is not visible. Their illness may be something the person feels angry and bored with, as they have more than likely, lived with it for a long time. Support them in managing if they need you to, but don’t lose sight of the person and who they are.

Actively listen to one another
Really listening takes effort and means creating time to have a conversation. Be curious about the other’s perspective, try not to make assumptions and really hear what is actually being said. Resist the urge to ‘fix’, advise and lose patience. We can argue when we are not interested in the other person’s perspective, and only interested in talking about our own. Also, allow silences, they can be powerful in enabling thought, reflection and emotions.

‘Shutdown’ memories.
Create good memories and also help your memory! What day of the week is it again? Having ‘treat night’, ‘pizza night’, ‘movie night’ or whatever works for you and your loved ones, can give everyone something to look forward to on set days of the week. They don’t have to be complicated or expensive and you can each take it in turns to arrange what is happening. If someone doesn’t want to take part, that’s OK – pick your battles!

Create time apart to have the opportunity to find new topics to talk about and get head space – it also means you might actually miss each other whilst living in the same space! Planning date nights creates something to look forward to and means you are creating space for your relationship away from all the other responsibilities you may have.

This will pass and life will resume to some kind of normality – remember this is temporary!

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