Tight quarters. Anxious sleep. Stress. Childcare. Diminishing toilet paper supply. Even without the threat of illness, it’s a recipe for relationship disaster. So, how do you protect your marriage when you’re under quarantine (or stay-at-home orders) with no end in sight? We asked relationship expert (and co-founder of City Wellness Collective) Michelle Keinan to weigh in.
1. Redefine ‘Normal’ Together
In times of crisis, we tend to cling to our routines, doing whatever we can do to go along like it’s business as usual. But when the world has changed so fundamentally, and business is definitely not usual, you need to sit down with your spouse and come up with new rules and expectations for your day-to-day life, Keinan explains. Maybe that means creating a new calendar or organizational system. (You input the kids’ homework assignments on the shared Google cal, he maps out all the meals for the week on a notepad on the fridge.) Maybe that means setting up a schedule for who has the kids and when. (You watch them in the morning, he has them in the afternoon.) Or maybe it just means redefining what your needs are right now. (That could be as simple as saying you need 15 minutes alone in the bathroom every morning, or a daily check-in about your mental health before bed.) All of this will help you find a better way to connect, but also removes the pressure and aggravation of forcing things to be the way they were in pre-quarantine times.
2. Make Sure You Each Get Alone Time
Sure, it feels extra hard right now, with everyone stuck under the same roof. But even if you live in a studio apartment, you can—and need to—create space to feel like you’re alone, says Keinan. It might be about blocking off different areas of your home or creating times of quiet to be inside your own head. (Noise cancelling headphones are magic, FYI.) You can also factor alone time into your schedule, whether that means going for a solo run in the morning or 30 minutes spent reading a book after you’re done with your work day.
3. But Also Prioritize Quality Time Together
No kids. No computers. Just you and your spouse, relaxing as a couple. It might feel impossible to hit pause with everything you’ve got on your plate, but even it's just a minute to hold hands, or a Netflix show watched while agreeing to let the dishes in the sink wait, it’s worth it. In other words, you don’t want every “together” moment to be the two of you sitting side by side on your phones.
4. Get a Grip on Your Emotional Triggers
This isn’t to say that you should ignore your feelings. You might have moments where you need to scream, cry, or say a whole stream of four letter words. But Keinan maintains that couples should try to let these emotions out in an intentional way. For you, that might mean exercise. For your spouse, it might be blasting a song in the living room and dancing around. What should you not do? Explode over the fact that someone failed to rinse toothpaste from the sink again. Or turn stress into passive aggressive comments or the silent treatment.
5. Find Moments of Pleasure and Joy
“This is especially important when you’re shacked up with your partner—and even with kids,” Keinan says. “You have to do your part to create the atmosphere and energy you want to live in.” What does this look like? Make a point each day to write down the simple things that brighten your outlook: delicious meals, toddler hugs, putting fresh sheets on your bed, waking up next to the person you love. That surge of positivity will transfer from you to the people around you…your spouse included.