Love in Lockdown
The seclusion we feel during lockdown can be punishing. We may feel isolated and split off from our social safety nets, even the loss of customary conversations with neighbours, friends and family can make us feel like fish out of water. Without our usual network of support we can feel restless while being homebound. The only person we may have opportunity to physically approach is our partner, who’s also stuck at home and who may at times annoy the hell out of us.
A month ago we could escape the bickering or the blow-ups by seeking solace at our favourite café, beach spot or friend’s couch. During lockdown, we can feel stuck in a four-walled pressure cooker. We’re spending more time than possibly ever with the same person in a confined environment. We’re also likely facing an increase in stress caused by the lockdown itself, possibly additional financial stress, job worries or homeschooling the kids. So we’ve got more on our plate and our normal escape valves are unavailable; as a result, the relationship we have with our partners may suffer.
So, how can we release the lid and turn off the heat before our relationships have all but melted down? Luckily, we have some tips for you to use with your partners during this challenging time.
The first: fighting fair and fighting well
Conflict is a normal, healthy and often unavoidable part of all relationships. We find during lockdown in particular, that irritation with our partner increases, which can easily flow on to an increase in conflict. Communicating irritations well is important, so remember the following:
Steer clear of the four horsemen: Use of the four horsemen in any relationship has been found to cause rupture to the connections and security we have with our partners. See our previous blog post to learn more about the four horsemen and to spot if you, or your partner fall victim to their use in every day conversation or in conflict.
*A note on Criticism (one of the four horsemen) vs. complaints:
It is normal for there to be things our partners do that irritate us – these will likely become magnified when living in a confined space together 24/7. It’s OK for us to express this to our partners; a complaint addresses a specific issue and uses an “I” position of what bothers the person complaining – it does not blame the partner. When we complain we express feelings and communicate our needs clearly, which leads to understanding from our partners and paints the road toward resolution.
Criticism on the other hand, attacks the character of a person, it also generalises the issues we might have by using language like “you ALWAYS “ and “you NEVER”. This leads to defensiveness in our partners and resentment. For example:
When a conflict discussion or complaint does need to occur, it can be a good idea to schedule it in; that is, making sure we we have enough time to actually have the discussion (i.e. ideally not at 11pm when one of you is about to fall asleep) and the space and surroundings are appropriate (quiet and private is best).
Taking breaks. Getting heated in an argument or conflict discussion is very normal. However it can result in less effective communication, that is, we say things we don’t mean, or may become flooded or overwhelmed. This can result in difficulties hearing and responding to our partners. Taking a break when things get away from us in arguments is very healthy. Whatever is being discussed can be revisited later!
Second, develop a “Team” mentality and ignite your connection
Lockdown can definitely feel lonely and isolating, even for those of us living with partners, kids, relatives or friends. Instead of turning away from our partners during this challenging time (and in turn, isolating ourselves and our partners further), make deliberate efforts to turn towards. Lean on each other for support, and employ a “team” mentality to help combat the stressors outside the relationship that lockdowns can cause.
Igniting your connection by developing new routines with your partner
Often when we’re around our partners all the time, we neglect designating quality time that we usually might schedule into our busy routines. We also loose touch with the small daily rituals that are actually very important to maintaining that connection; a parting kiss on the way out to work, or a daily debrief about the day’s stress over dinner. Scheduling routine quality time together, whatever its form, is important, and should take up around 6 hours each week. Consider the following:
Parting rituals and reunions – during lockdown, this includes even when the departing partner is just out for a walk!
Appreciation and admiration
Affection - this can include cuddling on the couch, holding hands, and does not have to mean affection in the bedroom
Date night (or day)
Stress-reducing conversation – discussing a stressor outside the relationship with your partner, the listener’s job is to listen and empathise or validate the speaker, then take turns
State of the union – the time we take with our partners to discuss the relationship, explore any conflict, or plan as a team how to tackle the next week
Finally (and best of all) developing your OWN routine (that is, time away from your partner)
Time away from our partners is healthy, and very important (particularly when we’re forced to be around them 24/7!) Give each other time to work in separate spaces, master your own hobbies, and take turns to look after the kids or do the housework.
For yourself, practice healthier habits that may in fact boost your body’s happy chemicals, therefore making you more resilient to stress and more responsive to your partner. Eating and sleeping well, exercising, practicing mindfulness or learning a new skill are all things we’ve heard a thousand times – because they work!! Give it a go on your own, or with your partner. Trying new things together helps bond us and builds intimacy.
Give these tips a go this time around in lockdown, but remember, if you and your partner are really struggling, seek advise from a couples specialist, even if for the moment it’s via Telehealth.
Love really can flourish in lockdown!