All over the world, schools are closing, people are working from home and social gatherings are being limited (or banned) in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. And this means that many couples now find themselves spending an unusually large amount of time together, often in a confined space. Another stressor? This forced togetherness is open-ended, with no clear indication of when it will be over.
These strange times could spell bad news for relationships. According to a paper published in The Journal of Family Psychology that looked at couples in the aftermath of 1989’s Hurricane Hugo, more people in the afflicted counties in South Carolina divorced the following year compared with those who lived in other counties. But on the bright side, more people also got married and had babies post-hurricane—difficult life events can have a profound effect on relationships, whether positive or negative.
We reached out (remotely, of course) to relationship expert Susan Trombetti, matchmaker and CEO of Exclusive Matchmaking, for her take. “Social isolation is a little scary, but it can be good for a relationship,” she tells us. “It can deepen communication and bond you more as a couple...and you can have lots of sex!” When you’re stranded together physically, here are some tips for staying connected emotionally.
Spend quality time together. We know, spending time together is all that you’re doing these days. But there’s a difference between spending quality time together and just sitting side by side on the couch trying not to scream as your partner eats his lunch (has he always chewed this loudly?). And the key here is to give each other space. “Communicate your boundaries,” says Trombetti. “It can be as simple as telling your partner that you need alone time, or saying, ‘When I watch this show on TV, I’m checking out for a bit and you can watch the other TV.’” Even if your place is small, try to spend some time apart every day so you can enjoy time together later.
Host a happy hour. “It’s happy hour at my house right now, and it feels good to wind down without feeling guilty that I should be doing something else,” Trombetti tells us. The problem with working from home is that you’re always at the office, which can make it hard to switch off. A happy hour separates the day (even if you’re in the same place) and gives you something fun to look forward to with your S.O. Spend the afternoon working in separate spaces of your home and then meet up in the kitchen at 5 p.m. for drinks and a catch-up. (Whether you serve martinis or mocktails is up to you.)
Make dinner together. For many couples, a long evening commute typically means grabbing a quick bite on the way home or eating separate dinners. But now that you’re no longer commuting, you can actually make a meal together and enjoy it before 9 p.m. Cooking together not only encourages teamwork but is also fun (with the bonus of a delicious reward at the end). May we suggest one of these easy dinner recipes for two?
Talk it out. “Your S.O. is bound to have feelings about being isolated: the stock market, their job or whatever.” Do your best to be each other’s support system right now by really listening to each other and being present (that means turning off all news notifications while you’re talking through your emotions). And here’s another tip: According to The Couples Center, there are actually two ways of listening: problem-solving listening and empathic listening. “Problem-solving listening is aimed at figuring out what’s wrong and giving advice that will prompt the speaker toward action. Empathy is about listening to the emotions the other person is describing and striving to understand their perspective.” By understanding these two different types of listening, you can help avoid conflict and better understand each other.
See this as unique couple or family time that you may never have again. “Have fun with it and cherish this time,” says Trombetti. Yes, it’s stressful but it’s also an opportunity to be together without many of the usual distractions that life has to offer. Why not settle down for an evening of puzzles, finally organize your family photo album or take a virtual museum tour together? After all, there’s no time like the present.