Can your love survive the pandemonium?

Writer: Ida Hope
Contributor: Michaela Fitzpatrick, Aspire Counselling and Psychotherapy

Support each other, you’re both growing through this

“We are in this together”, this has become the mantra around the world for fighting the virus and never has it been more true than when you are quarantined with your partner.

Being in quarantine will undoubtedly conjure up a range of emotional responses ranging from confusion and anxiety to fear and sadness. Some of these emotions will come together and some alone.

Most of us have not experienced anything like this before in our lives. The nature of this pandemic means that there are a lot of unanswered questions at this time. The anxiety and uncertainty of simply not knowing the answers is causing stress levels to go through the roof. Nobody knows how long we will need to remain in this isolated existence, nobody knows who close to them they may lose to this pandemic. There are just so many questions and no clear certainty for the future.

We all know we should support and care for each other. Acknowledge and listen to your partner’s feelings. Don’t minimise their worries with sweeping statements like “It’s all going to work out”, instead say things like “I know things are uncertain at the moment”. By listening and responding with an empathetic ear you can make a big difference to what your partner is going through.

I chatted with Psychotherapist Michaela Fitzpatrick who warned “the level of rapid change and uncertainty we are encountering creates a loss of control, which results in increased stress. The chemicals and hormones released when we are stressed affects the Pre frontal cortex, that part of the brain which governs reason and logic and the Amygdala, the area of the brain which regulates emotional responses, such as fear and anger. Therefore; when we experience high levels of stress, we are less logical and more prone to agitation and irritability. Combine this with being confined in such close proximity to our partners, with no end in sight is a potential recipe for disaster.”

Extend your coping skills 

During a quarantine, you are denied some of your most tried and trusted coping mechanisms for the stresses that come your way. Whereas before you may been the type to hit the gym, going out for a coffee or tipple of choice with a few friends, your weekly yoga class, your running club or even simply a visit to your local bookstore, all or most of these options are now unavailable and you must now figure out how to expand your coping skills within the confines of your home.

Some obvious and easy to access choices that you may or may not already be familiar with could be YouTube meditation, reading those books you bought last year, breathing exercises, bodyweight workouts, it’s never too late to start drawing. Try to limit your googling of “coronavirus”, google “coronavirus coping skills” and instead work on building new coping skills, start small and these new skills will serve you a lifetime and help reduce you and your partner’s stress. Also remember what works for you may not work for your partner, so don’t try to force your newly found coping skill on them.

Have separate work spaces

If you are lucky enough to be able to work from home during this crisis it is important that you also retain some separation from your partner during work hours. You both need to be able to fully focus on your work, go on Video Skype calls with your work team and try to ensure that your respective companies are the best they can be during this crisis. Constant distractions from your partner will cause arguments and unnecessary stress. Separate work spaces will go a long way to remedy a distracting partner. Some other related things you can try here are agreeing on some basic work hour rules and also keep it interesting and fair. If one workspace has a nice view out the balcony, it may be fair to switch workspaces on a weekly basis.

“We have all heard the phrase familiarity breeds contempt!” notes Michaela, “In these times, some of us are literally living in each other’s pockets. This may frustrate our basic need for freedom/autonomy and result in feelings of suffocation, which consequently may cause conflict. To minimise chances of this make sure to make time for you. Even if you live in a small space, you can wear headphones for parts of the day, or go to another room, or go for a walk.” 

Manage expectations

Even with the best of intentions, none of us have been prepared for this. Being at home with your partner all day every day with no end in sight will not go smoothly all day every day. You will get on each other’s nerves from time to time, this is normal and you both need to accept it as such. You are not the only couple on the planet that is going through a rough time at the moment. Both of you will however get more used to and accept the new routine as time goes on.

Michaela stressed the importance of recognising that both you and your partner are most likely stressed. 

Consciously practice patience, kindness and compassion towards each other. This will be easier achieved if you are less stressed! Make a real effort to do relaxation exercises and take time outs. An effective one is to leave room and count to 10 while practicing deep breathing exercises. So; inhale through your nose for count of 4 and exhale through your mouth for a count of 6. Deep breathing is clinically proven as one of the most effective ways to promote calmness and relaxation.” 

As the old adage goes “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, it will take some effort to adjust to this new temporary norm, it will take perseverance and patience and most importantly time. If you can accept that you can go on this journey together and survive and come out the other end smiling it will make your relationship more resilient into the future and other things that once seemed important are no longer of interest. This is a chance to re-align your value systems together.

Other nuggets from michaela include:

Openly discuss what you both need from each other:

Discuss what you both to create a harmonious space. So’ for instance, if Mary has business calls to do each morning, John agrees to keep the kids entertained during this time. John usually meditates mid morning to recharge, so Mary will ensure a non interrupted space to facilitate this.”

Set out a structure to the day:

We are creatures of habit, so it’s important to create a new structure to our day. So; specific times for work, breaks, exercise, eating, fun activities, time together and time alone.”

Set some ground rules and routines for running house:

“Being predominately confined to our homes means chores will increase. There will be more cooking and cleaning. Agree who is responsible for what. And if kids are at home with you get them involved too.”

Think before you talk, use respectful communication:

“If you need to give feedback to your partner on something that’s affecting you negatively. Prepare beforehand. Ask yourself: How can I say this in a clear, open and respectful way. Or if you were receiving feedback how would you like it to be said.

Take time to release emotions so you don’t release on each other!: Know we are in very challenging times, so emotions will naturally be up and down. You may feel anxious, sad, suffocated angry or worried. You may feel like crying or screaming. It’s important to release these emotions so they don’t build up and affect, not only your relationships but your mental health. Go hit a pillow, scream into one if you need to! cry, journal, meditate, deep breath, exercise, physically literally shake it off! All of these strategies will help to release emotional responses that might otherwise be released on each other!”