By Samantha Selinger-Morris – https://www.smh.com.au
It’s the joke that COVID-19 built. “What does your husband get if he doesn’t stop singing ‘M-m-m-m-myyyy Corona’?” wrote one Twitter user. “Bigger problems on his hands than a worldwide pandemic.”
It echoes the fear embedded in countless new memes: that our romantic relationships might crumble under unusually close quarters.
Husband and wife Ilana and Grant McCorquodale are both working from home.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer
And yet, for Ilana McCorquodale, near total confinement at home has elicited a new appreciation for her husband of 17 years, Grant.
“Grant is very plugged into external media, he feels that’s his job … he needs to see what’s coming [with the virus],” Ilana says. “So I’ve sort of had to say… ‘I can’t have that assault of information as soon as I wake up, I’ve got to be emotionally ready for this’. And he’s been incredibly respectful. He’s actually said to me, ‘Are you ready to hear the numbers?’”
For Grant, too, the experience has been relationship-enhancing. He has loved seeing how his wife comforts their teenage daughters, Lara and Romy, through the pandemic.
Amy Nelmes Bissett has just moved to back to Australia and survived 14 days of quarantine with her family.
“When I watched Ilana give birth, it was an amazing experience, but we both rolled our sleeves and really took it on together,” he says. “I’ve seen the power of the lady, but it’s not often you get to your 50s and you get these occasions where you’re really digging deep.”
“We’ve been tested as a couple, and I’m already seeing us being closer for it.”
For those of us in isolation with our partners who have become bug-eyed and snarky, it may seem like we’re being punked.
But adversity frequently leads couples to experience a boosted bond, says Dr Rowan Burckhardt, a clinical psychologist and founder of The Sydney Couples Counselling Centre.
“When people go through a challenge, it creates a sense of closeness,” says Burckhardt. “If we can find a better way to work through the difficult aspects of our relationship, that’s where the real connection and the real thriving [comes from].”
A key tactic for couples now, says Burckhardt, is for them to view the enforced time together as a rare opportunity for quality time.
“So many couples, especially in the city, are very time-poor. They’re both working full-time jobs, [there’s] the kids, and they sneak in a half-hour on the couch at the end of the day when they’re exhausted. That’s not good for a relationship,” he says.
“This is actually [providing] free uninterrupted bonding time. It’s a bit like a stay vacation in that way.”
For the McCorquodales, working from home has meant swimming together daily at 7am, a one-time “bucket list” activity that never happened before.
But how can the rest of us – who, as a result of having younger children or other responsibilities, are struggling to get out together – also thrive?
Tips for how couples can thrive during the coronavirus
- Work out what is likely to cause stress, and decide how you will manage it
- Write down new household rules: who uses which workspace, who manages the children and a domestic duties schedule
- View down time together as rare quality time
- Learn to cook together
- Go for a walk as a couple
- Look through old photo albums, and be reminded of when you were first getting to know each other
- Make the most of mealtimes by playing board games and listening to music
Source: Emma Cholakians, Dr Rowan Burckhardt, Elisabeth Shaw
We should preempt any potential struggles and tackle them ahead of time, says Relationships Australia NSW CEO Elisabeth Shaw.
“It’s about people owning their own personalities and natures,” says Shaw, noting that her organisation is anticipating a spike in couples reaching out for help.
“If one person’s an extrovert, they [can say] ‘I’m going to struggle with a lack of contact, so I’ll be turning to you’. So they can talk about that… rather than wait for the cracks to appear.”
We should also write down whatever new boundaries we devise, says Emma Cholakians, co-director of Couples Therapy Melbourne.
“If a couple has kids, who is going to attend that meeting, or put more hours into work on a day? What are the rules now?”
Follow this advice and there’s a chance, say the experts, we could end up like Ilana McCorquodale, who says of her husband: “I’ve always said I wouldn’t want to be married to anyone but him, now I’m like, ‘I wouldn’t want to be in lockdown with anybody but you’.”