Advice for Couples Stuck at Home
By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD
A popular question on social media goes something like this: “Will the Covid-19 pandemic result in a baby boom or an increase in the divorce rate?” Even with all our science and statistical models, it is difficult to accurately predict outcomes. However, we do have the ability to create positive outcomes.
Today our relationships are facing some of the most stressful circumstances imaginable. Even the happiest couples will step on each other’s toes at times, and confinement together over many weeks or months can result in relationship distress (remember the old axiom “familiarity breeds contempt”?). And relationships with a baseline or history of conflict may become even more troubled.
So what’s to be done?
Relationship Advice for Couples Stuck at Home
- Create a Daily Plan – Our routines have been upended, and an organized plan of action is called for. Sit down with your partner today and create a schedule of activities that include all the following items. Most people schedule their work assignments and meetings, meals, and activities for children. Doesn’t your relationship deserve the same level of care and attention?
- Feelings Talk – Twice daily, once in the morning, and once around dinner time. Check-in with each other about the 5 feelings: mad, sad, glad, ashamed, afraid. I recommend a brief comment such as “This morning I’m sad about __________” or “Today I was afraid of _____________.” Then the other partner simply responds with “What I heard you say is _____________ (repeat what your partner said). After each partner shares at least one feeling I suggest a second statement: “What I most need from you today is ____________.”
- Affection – Physical affection is the life blood of intimate relationships. Five hugs every day is recommended. I also suggest good-morning and bedtime kisses. Affection heals relationship wounds – a little goes a long way. Talking about problems isn’t effective for most people. Affection is a direct method of saying “I’m sorry” and “I love you.”
- Dates – You can plan a date even when you’re stuck at home. At least one planned date every week is recommended. Suggestions include a special candlelight dinner you prepare together; a picnic in your back yard, balcony, or a local park (some of the smaller local parks are still open); make popcorn and watch a movie together holding hands; play a board game or put together a jigsaw puzzle. Be creative!
- Meditation and Prayer – At least once a week sit down together either in silent meditation or in prayer. Meditation apps may be helpful, and there are numerous websites that offer prayers that can be read together.
- Couple Exercise – Walk or run together; go on a bike ride; do yoga or other exercise programs together. A highly recommended exercise for couples: Sit down on a carpet or yoga mat facing your partner with the bottoms of your feet touching the bottom of your partner’s feet. Clasp hands as one partner gently lies down flat on the floor (keep the back flat at all times). Enjoy the stretch. Then the other partner pulls the other partner gently into a sitting position while laying down on the floor. Repeat 10 times.
- We Also Need Space – Let your partner know when you need some space, and it is suggested that you create some alone time every day. Use some of this time to connect with yourself (get in touch with your feelings and practice self-acceptance – even self-love).
- Defuse and De-escalate – Accidents happen. We’re all human and we will react negatively when we feel hurt, attacked, abandoned, controlled, criticized, suffocated (and the list goes on). It’s okay – it’s just our survival instincts kicking in. Whatever you do, don’t react (or stop reacting as soon as you can). Focus on your breathing and ask for some space if you need it. Agree to come back later and reconnect in a positive manner (great time for a hug).
- Let It Go – Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Sometimes when I’m angry, I really may be sad, ashamed, or afraid, and I look for someone to blame. When I’m driving in heavy traffic and someone cuts me off, I tend to get angry. I remind myself of times I’ve done the very same thing and it helps me to let go of the anger. When I’m angry, I mostly hurt myself.
For more information about relationship distress and how to cope with it, there are several articles available on our website. This is also a great time to read our Connections Workbook for Couples.
This Workbook contains valuable information and many fun and helpful exercises for couples.
During the coronavirus pandemic our offices will remain open, and we also offer video and teletherapy options. Please contact us today.