How Cooped-Up Couples Can Reconnect (and Stay Sane)
It’s safe to say that you’re currently spending a lot of time with your spouse in very tight quarters—more time than you’ve spent together in years or ever. You’re both trying to work from home, manage the household, and care for your—getting quite stir-crazy—kids. You’re also likely stressed out for a variety of other valid reasons.
And it’s your spouse who bears the brunt of your anxiety, anger, and grief.
But being cooped-up with your partner also has important upsides. More time together means more time to focus on your relationship, reconnect, and increase your intimacy, said Jennine Estes, LMFT, a certified emotionally focused psychotherapist who works primarily with couples at her group practice in San Diego.
So how do you use that time well?
These six connection-boosting tips can give you some ideas:
Take care of yourself. To reduce your chances of lashing out at your spouse, it’s important you tend to your needs. Of course, engaging in self-care practices can be tricky if you’ve got toddlers running around (and you’re trying to keep up with work). But try to incorporate small, even tiny habits. Meditate in the mornings for 5 minutes. Do a 10-minute stretching video before bed. Take 2 minutes to check-in with your feelings.
Create separate workspaces. It’s easy to get on each other’s nerves when you’re doing everything together, including working. If possible, work in different rooms or use different surfaces. Use noise-canceling headphones to play relaxing music and effectively focus on your tasks, said Clinton Power, a clinical relationship counsellor and founder of Clinton Power + Associates in Sydney, Australia. If you have kids, create shifts: You work from 7 a.m. to noon while your spouse cares for your children, and you take over from noon to 5 p.m.
Voice your needs. And voice them clearly and kindly. As Estes emphasized, “the more you soften your stance, the better chance you have to stay connected.” Pause throughout the day to reflect on how you’re feeling and what you need. Encourage your partner to do the same, and be open to fulfilling their requests.
Estes shared these examples of requests you might make:
- “I was reading an article about the recent events around Coronavirus, and I am getting really scared. Can you come hold me?”
- “I grew up with a chaotic family where things were unpredictable. When I can’t predict what is going on at our home, I get scared. Can you let me know your plans for the day so it doesn’t throw me off guard?”
- “I have been working really hard at keeping the house clean and tidy. When there are plates left in the sink, it gives me a message that my work isn’t appreciated and I get my feelings hurt. Can you give please make an extra effort to put dishes in the dishwasher to help me know you care?”
Take on a project. According to Estes, “The more accomplished you feel as a team around the home, the more connected you will be.” What household tasks have been on your list for months or maybe even years? Today might be a good time to make progress on those projects. This could be anything from repainting a piece of furniture to decluttering the closet to changing light bulbs to redoing the deck.
Carve out 30 minutes each day. Take this time to focus on your relationship—not on talking about the pandemic or tomorrow’s plans. According to Power, discussing “what ifs” can boost “fears and anxiety, which can lead to more conflict.” Instead, you might “talk about your dreams and aspirations for the future, so it’s not all doom and gloom.”
Estes emphasized using your 30 minutes to really unwind as a couple. You might simply cuddle on the couch, watch the sunrise, or savor a quiet dinner after the kids have gone to bed.
Rekindle your romance. Estes suggested recreating date night at home with candles and soft music; enjoying a picnic on your porch (or balcony); or picking flowers from your yard. Power recommended writing love letters to each other.
Recreate small, sweet gestures you regularly performed when you first started dating—or think about ways you can brighten your partner’s day. Have a cup of coffee ready for them or tidy up the kitchen. Give them a back massage. Catch them off guard with a kiss. Dance around your house to your wedding song.
Of course, being told to stay home is very different from actually wanting to or choosing to. However, we can try to make the best of it—and use this time as an opportunity to bolster our bond with one of the most important people in our lives.
Tartakovsky, M. (2020). How Cooped-Up Couples Can Reconnect (and Stay Sane). Psych Central. Retrieved on August 6, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-cooped-up-couples-can-reconnect-and-stay-sane/