There has already been much written about how to survive the current crisis. Advice is everywhere from how to exercise and eat properly to how to stave off boredom and deal with shortages. It seems that all this well meaning advice will be with us on our websites and newspapers for sometime to come. Reports will tell us that people are struggling with the fact that personal freedoms are being curbed. Some are flouting the rules and making life difficult for others but generally, I get the sense that people are doing what they have to to get through as best they can.
Last week in a podcast, I spoke of the need for routine and assigning blocks of time to ensure needs are covered in terms of work and self-care. Everyone will have their own way of dealing with the crisis and individuals will have to meet their own needs generally. I highlighted too, how difficult it might be to be a codependent in these trying times, where mental and physical energy might be spent helping others to the detriment of self. It brings me to the subject of relationships and how they can be maintained during these trying times.
In heady times, two weeks ago as the lockdown started here, I wrote that being forced to stay in a confined space together for an extended period of time could actually help some people grow closer. While I still believe that in principle, I am seeing evidence in my practice of couples struggling to cope with the new conditions and it is testing the relationship. These are cases where an active social and work life has suddenly stopped and work has to be done at home. This has caused tension because work has to be mixed with childcare and keeping the house orderly and organised. Tension is rising due to division of tasks and who does what. Keeping all this going is difficult and there is really no escape. People working from home are usually also expected to do as much as if sitting in the office. The social aspect of work is not available and video calls are not the same. This is a testing time for relationships and without a plan, some will suffer badly.
No-one can expect a relationship that was toxic before the crisis to improve. Those whose relationship was in distress before the crisis will be suffering but it might also bring a determination and will to change things when we get back to normal. Those just mentioned will need to find a way to get through it and keep themselves safe. According to authorities in the UK, the number of calls to domestic abuse hotlines has increased over the last few weeks. This is a disturbing trend and anyone who experiences this should do all they can in terms of taking practical and legal measures to extract themselves from the situation safely.
I can only recommend what has worked for us here and for other couples that I know. As a reminder, we are on total isolation here and trips outside are not allowed unless for very specific reasons. We realized quickly that we would be dealing with this differently as individuals and needed a plan. I work from home and work long hours so my life has not really changed that much. My wife is more used to going out and has found things more difficult. That said, she has coped brilliantly so far. We decided that we would work as a team to ensure that organisational matters were dealt with. We assigned certain tasks to us as individuals and it is our responsibility to take care of them. We decided to work together (as we generally do) on cleaning etc, and put time aside for that (in terms of an appointment). Additionally, outside of these issues, we do what ever it is we need to give to ourselves as individuals. We program in blocks of “us” time and blocks of “me” time, in addition to work and organisation, and we observe those. So far, it is working well.
The potential for conflict is higher than normal. I have seen this with couples I am working with. Frustration can lead to snappy comments which can escalate into major conflict. Once again, this has to be handled or it will engulf the relationship. This could be made worse where children are also added into the mix and the need to keep them occupied. It is important to be on the same page where parenting styles are concerned and this might take some discussion. Discussion is the key word here and feelings around the current situation should be expressed appropriately. Keeping a journal is a good method for this if reflection is what is needed. However, if conflict is an issue, it is important to create a framework that looks at solutions, including time-outs if agreement cannot be reached.
At the end of the day, we need our close relationships to survive this crisis and all should be done to ensure that happens. Some will fall by the wayside but they are the ones that perhaps would have and should have failed anyway. The good relationships will come out the other side stronger and more solid.