It’s safe to say that we’re not only living in unprecedented times, but we’re also dating and making marriages work in unprecedented times. Regardless of your relationship stage, whether you’ve been together a couple of months or a couple of decades, you likely never expected, or prepared, to be stuck inside with each other for an indeterminable amount of time without access to so many of the fun activities you both once enjoyed.
“In many cases, couples who live together are now both working from home either crammed into a corner of the bedroom or spread out on the kitchen table, which can quickly lead to frustration and resentment,” explains Amy McManus, LMFT, relationship therapist and owner of Thrive Therapy, Inc. in Los Angeles. What’s more: She points out that without the ability to see other people safely, coupes are more reliant on each other for mental and emotional support. “Ideally we all have a network of people to meet our various needs for support, but now it is often the case that we need to rely mostly on only one person, and that can be exhausting on both sides of the equation,” she says.
For couples trying to balance child care demands amidst the pandemic, things have been even more complicated. “Many couples are fighting over childcare and domestic responsibilities often, because in many couples their kids are in remote school, they both have to work and there's no longer a babysitter or other help,” says Paulette Kouffman, Psy.D., psychologist, author of The Book of Sacred Baths and the host of The Love Psychologist podcast. “And, due to stress and fear, their defensive styles are coming out, along with more anger and sadness, with divorces having gone up as a result.”
The good news: Coping with such a life-altering event like a pandemic hand-in-hand can make you come out even stronger, according to experts. Although it might not be easy each step of the way, here is some of the best relationship advice experts have to offer to help you make it through.
Give each other the space you need.
“When two people are forced into being together 24/7, it is only natural that they will struggle to adjust,” says Ili Rivera Walter, PhD, LMFT is a couple therapist, and the owner of CityCouples™ Online Therapy. “In 2021, it has been especially crucial to relationships that partners are sensitive to one another’s coping styles and need for space.” Her best relationship advice: Create a culture in your relationship that gives you both the freedom and opportunity to isolate when necessary by explaining your need for space and also giving a timeframe from your alone time.
Accept that you are not yourself right now.
It’s no surprise if you haven’t really been feeling like yourself for a few months now, or maybe even close to a year. “Throughout this pandemic, people have been thinking, feeling and behaving from their stress personality, which emerges to help them manage when their system is over-taxed,” explains Walter. “While useful, the stress personality leaves us feeling out of touch with our true selves.” To work towards getting back to feeling like your true self, Walter recommends trying to create small moments of time for you to reconnect with some of the activities and hobbies that were meaningful to you pre-pandemic. In the meantime, clue your partner in on how you’re feeling so they can try their best to support you.
Be flexible with your routines.
Because of the monotony of lockdown, Walter recommends examining the routines you’ve fallen into and refreshing certain aspects. “Experiment with shifting roles, such as who cooks meals on certain days, take a meeting from a new room or location in your home and go to bed early and talk instead of watching TV,” says Walter. “These small shifts will serve to keep you feeling engaged with your partner, and may even contribute to moments of joy.”
Stay in close contact with friends.
Even though you might not be able to hang out in-person like you once did, you can easily pick up the phone and connect with a close friend—and you should! “Talking to your friends either on video or in a socially-distanced get-together, will improve your mood as well as your relationship,” notes McManus. “We all need support and human connection, and it’s unreasonable to think that any one person can provide all that we need.”
There’s no denying that the pandemic has been challenging, to say the least, but it has also gifted most couples with more time spent together. “Time that was once dedicated to commuting and extracurricular activities that have not been possible this year,” says Walter. “Use this time to have fun with your partner—play board games, ask silly questions, tackle a creative project and take advantage of this time to unplug, connect, and make memories.”
“Getting through a busy day without noticing each other’s contributions to the relationship, or the household, can become the norm during this challenging time,” Walter points out. In order to avoid taking each other for granted, she urges couples to prioritize kindness, even when it feels difficult to put a smile on. “Say ‘thank you’ and ‘please,’ apologize, offer to help and notice your partner’s efforts, and affirm them,” she says. “During tough times, these small efforts matter, and they set a loving tone.”
Don’t be afraid to seek help.
Some of the best relationship advice right now: If you’re feeling frustrated, don’t hesitate to get some professional help. “If you are having the same old argument over and over and getting nowhere you are a great candidate for couples counseling,” says McManus. “If you feel invisible or trapped in your relationship, couples counseling can give you the tools to be able to calmly discuss those difficult topics about which you always disagree.”
Put major decisions on hold for now.
McManus recommends that couples try their best to postpone any major decisions about breaking up until things return to “normal.” “Many of the things you found intolerable about your partner may not seem nearly so important when you are not being forced to spend every minute together, especially if you were happy together in those days long ago, before COVID-19 changed everything about the way we live our lives,” she says. If you can manage to work things out for the time being and there aren’t any glaring red flags (i.e. cheating), doing so could save your relationship in the long run.