It's a universal truth that the ones who know us best can push our buttons the most. Throw in a global pandemic, and tensions can rise (which can mean more arguing, less snuggling). We spoke with certified sex therapist Heather Davidson of Better Being Mainline for advice for couples who are having a hard go of it right now.
There are different levels of things not going well. On one end of the spectrum we have couples who mostly get along with the occasional minor dispute. The most extreme end of the spectrum are those living with an abusive partner. Reports of domestic violence have increased since quarantine, and even last month the most common google search for Heather's practice’s website was about abusive relationships (something that has never happened in the 7+ years that she's been tracking this). While this is concerning, it can be managed and worked on.
If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, and you or your children or pets are in physical danger or are experiencing extreme emotional/psychological distress because of your partner’s behavior, you need to identify a safe place to live. Ideally a supportive friend or family member who has also been appropriately quarantining would be best. You can also always call or text The National Domestic Violence Hotline at: 1-800-799-7233. This hotline is available 24/7 and can help during a crisis.
For couples where there is more conflict (but not to the level of domestic violence) Heather recommends the following strategies:
1. Take space & time apart
"Let things cool off by taking the day away from each other. Generally I always recommend couples spend the work day in separate spaces (even for low conflict couples who are getting along great in quarantine). In addition to separate work spaces, going for a long walk/hike or going on a drive are effective and safe ways to take space & time apart from one another right now.
"Or even take a few days away. I recognize this is not available to every couple for various reasons. However, if you have a friend or family member who has been appropriately quarantining (& you have as well), it may be possible & beneficial to take a few days apart from each other."
2. Shelve issues that are not urgent
"If something is not urgent (as in a decision or action does not have to be made this week) try to shelve the issue. By shelving an issue I mean mutually agree to address it at another time. Acknowledge that neither of you are at your best & a conversation about whatever stressor you two are in conflict about is likely going to be more productive at a later time. For instance, if your wedding is next year & you two continue to fight about which extended family members should be included in the rehearsal dinner…then its probably okay to shelve that issue.
An example of an urgent issue that cannot be shelved could be deciding to how best to manage your finances when one or both partners has lost their jobs or has reduced hours. Even in this case, it may be okay to shelve this issue even for a few hours, or a day. This time may allow for enough de-escalation which will enable you to have a less tense conversation about this issue."
3. Two words: self care
"Make sure you are engaging in enough self-care. If you are not taking care of yourself you will not be able to be a healthy or effective partner. It is okay & healthy to ask your partner for time & space in order to engage in self-care."
4. Revisit old photos
"Sometimes it is helpful to remind each other of why you fell in love & decided to make a commitment to one another during times of high stress. Look at photos or videos of your favorite memories. Some couples like to make a memory album/book to use during these times."
5. Go on a date
"Yes, we are all trapped at home but it is helpful to still date. Dress up & cook dinner together. Set up a miniature golf course in your house and play! Plant some seeds together or do some gardening work. Get in the bath tub, light candles, & enjoy a nice bottle of wine together. Despite all of the stress it is healthy and bonding for couples to continue to build positive memories with each other."
(Side note: check out Weird Ways to Show Your Partner You Care for more ideas)
6. Work toward a mutual goal
"Whether training for a virtual 5k or half marathon, or deciding to repaint your living room, work collaboratively on a goal. Do NOT pick something that one of you hates (do not force your partner to learn how to make sushi with you if they hate cooking…). Find an agreed upon goal and go for it!"
As Forrest Gump said, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get—but you can control who you share that box with. And when the going gets tough, it's important to give yourself and your partner some grace, some space, and opportunities to experience joy and gratitude.
Want to learn more about Heather Davidson? Check out Better Being Mainline's website.