Coronavirus: how to self-isolate with a romantic partner

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Is your partner getting on your nerves? Read this advice from therapist Navit Schechter.

By Navit Schechter – PGDip, BABCP (Accred), BSc (Hons)

There has possibly never been a time in recent history where our collective experience has been so altered in such a short space of time. We are having to deal with the unusual and extremely challenging consequences of the country moving into lockdown in an attempt to slow down the spread of coronavirus.

Following the most recent government guidelines on social distancing and self-isolation, we are being encouraged to stay at home and only leave to exercise, shop for necessities and essential work and travel.

As a result, many will find themselves in the novel position of the constant company of their partner, potentially for the first time ever. Others who are following the restrictions separately may experience the opposite and not see their loved ones for a long period of time. This will undoubtedly bring a new dynamic and new challenges to many relationships and is likely to leave many wondering how your relationship will fare through the next few weeks and months. Here are some tips to help you get through lockdown whilst looking after your mental health and relationship as best you can.

  1. Structure your time

Most of us are not used to spending 24/7 at home with our loved ones. However with the latest changes, we are making in line with government advice, this has likely changed. For any of us to keep our mood up and spirits lifted on a daily basis we need to have a balanced lifestyle that includes enough time spent doing activities that give us a sense of achievement and pleasure.

This is now harder to achieve for most of us whilst in lockdown and for those that have a history of mental health problems this can be even harder to manage. With the effort needed to manage our mood whilst in lockdown, as well as less time and space to ourselves it can make it harder than usual to tolerate our partner’s quirks and bad habits.

It can be harder than usual to tolerate our partner’s quirks and bad habits

It can help to plan your time as much as possible, especially if you start to notice a lack of motivation to do anything or get things done. Whilst it might be tempting to stay in your pyjamas and watch TV all day this could become problematic after a while if it starts to affect your mood. Creating schedules at the beginning of each day can ensure that you prioritise doing the things that you need to do to feel good each day and can make it easier to follow through with your plans by scheduling what you will be doing and when. It will also let both parties know when you need to spend time together and when you need time apart so that you can give each other what you need. With so much uncertainty in the world at the moment, the structure and routine can also help to create a sense of certainty within your home.

If your normal life included work, hobbies and seeing friends and family make sure to include these in the schedule each day. Sharing time with children and scheduling in time for exercise, relaxation and something nice to look forward to can be particularly important at the moment. Obviously you might need to adapt or be creative about how you can go about these whilst in lockdown, but making sure that you keep doing the things that give you joy and a sense of achievement will help not only you but also your relationship.

Doing the things that give you joy and a sense of achievement will help not only you but also your relationship

In addition to your normal activities, make sure to schedule in fun activities with your partner, which is necessary now more than ever. If you used to go out for drinks on a Friday evening, have a meal with friends or see the family at the weekend, make sure you still do these things together at home. Doing joint activities at home e.g. playing board games, doing a crossword, starting a joint exercise schedule or long-overdue DIY project can all help pass the time and strengthen your bond.

Most of us need time, and space, on our own too so make sure you schedule in time for yourself as well. For those living in small spaces, time apart can seem impossible. Allocating separate time without interruption can go some way to giving you the space to yourself that you need.

  1. Check-in with how you are feeling

This is a tough time emotionally for many people. The outbreak and consequences of the restrictions have already had a devastating impact on the lives of many and there is a lot of uncertainty about the course the outbreak will take. The potential impact it will have on each of us, our loved ones and our livelihoods has led many people to feel anxious.

If you are not doing enough things in the day that give you a sense of achievement or pleasure you may find yourself feeling bored and miserable. If you tend to focus on the negative aspects of the outbreak and worst potential outcomes you may find yourself feeling overwhelmingly upset. If we ignore our feelings, they have a tendency to build up and we may end up taking these out on our loved ones.

Taking time each day to check-in with how you are feeling will allow you to be more aware of your emotions

Taking time each day to check-in with how you are feeling – for example, by journaling, meditating or talking to a friend – will allow you to be more aware of your emotions, help you to take responsibility for them and respond appropriately.

One of my clients said that she had been feeling frequently annoyed at her partner for talking to her too much since being at home due to the restrictions. The way we feel about a situation is determined by the thoughts we have about it. My client was able to see that she was having negative thoughts about her own worth as a result of not being able to work. These negative thoughts were leading her to feel upset and resentful of her husband who was still working. Reflecting on her thoughts, my client was able to understand and modify the negative thoughts she was having about herself and feel more in control of her emotions and reactions to her husband as a result.

  1. Manage your expectations

With so many changes and challenges to deal with, managing expectations of ourselves and each other and making allowances due to the situation can help navigate the next few months as smoothly as possible. When what is actually happening does not match our expectations, it can lead us to feel down, angry, anxious or a host of other negative emotions. Adjusting our expectations can therefore help us to cope with the current situation and can help us to be more compassionate to ourselves and partners. For example, if you had expected that time together in lockdown would strengthen your relationship with your partner but instead he is struggling with his own mood and your time together is affected then accepting the situation for what it is right now, rather than what you were expecting or hoping, can help take the pressure off.

When what is actually happening does not match our expectations, it can lead us to feel down, angry or anxious.

Normalising the difficulties that you may experience whilst spending so much time with your partner, such as getting on each other’s nerves or running out of things to talk about, can also help manage expectations.

This is a temporary situation and will pass with time. Treating your partner as well as possible, being kind, recognising the relationship issues that you need to solve and letting go of the little things that don’t matter can all help as we navigate these next few weeks.

This does not mean that you can’t still try to improve your situation if you need to or should accept abusive or aggressive behaviour. If your partner is violent or abusive, details of who to contact for support can be found below.

  1. Communicate before resentments build up

Most people will be experiencing a change of routine at home, for many this will not be positive and could lead to resentments if you don’t deal with it head on. For example, one of my clients was feeling annoyed that he was still doing the bulk of the housework and cooking now that his partner was at home full-time. Another client was feeling annoyed that now her partner was home for dinner he was leaving the kitchen in a mess when she wanted to use it. Resentments like these are common and can easily build up and get worse over time if they’re not dealt with.

Resentments can easily build up and get worse over time if they’re not dealt with

Assertively communicating to your partner how you are feeling, and what you want and need, can help resolve problems when they arise. Try expressing yourself in terms of what you want and need, rather than what your partner is not doing and rather than laying blame. For example, instead of “you’re annoying me as you haven’t been pulling your weight”, try taking responsibility for your own emotions: “I feel frustrated doing all of the cooking”. Being as specific and clear as possible when you are communicating will help you get across what it is you really want to say. If it helps, plan what you want to say beforehand. Doing this as soon as problems crop up rather than letting resentments build can help sustain a happier home. If you can, having a conversation about any change in responsibilities that are needed and how you can both make it work from the outset before any problems crop up can also help create a smoother ride over the next few months.

  1. Focus on the positives

Having less face-to-face contact with friends, family and work colleagues during lockdown may leave you feeling unsupported and alone. Your mental health may also have been affected as a result of how the outbreak if affecting you and you may find that you need to rely on your partner more than usual for support as well as be more supportive in return. This may strengthen your relationship and bring you closer together or if you find connecting hard, it may highlight existing issues in your relationship. Despite the challenges we are facing, focusing on the benefits of your situation will make these next few months easier to bear e.g. if you are not working now having more time for yourself or with your partner or having dinner with your children every night now they’re not at school. When we focus on the positives and what we are grateful for, research has shown us that we not only feel closer to our loved ones, but we also feel happier too.

For additional relationship help and support, the following resources might help:

  • Relate – Relationship counselling support for couples and families.
  • Samaritans – Free, 24/7 emotional support to anyone in distress.
  • National DA Helpline – domestic violence support for women.
  • Men’s Advice Line – domestic violence support for men.
  • Marriage Care – Marriage guidance and support.
  • Spark – Free, confidential relationship help.

Net Doctor

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