Everything has changed thanks to Covid-19 – and it’s bound to have an impact on your relationship with your partner, writes clinical psychologist and play therapist Dr Jo-Marie Bothma.
After many months of strict stay-at-home orders, pandemic life has slowly returned to some new form of normal that resembles a little of our old lives, but within a new reality.
With safe social distancing measures still in place, most people have been staying at home much more than usual. Couples have found themselves having to manage more time together, which can sometimes add to tension and lead to conflicts. Add in some extra financial and health stressors, an ongoing limitation on some recreational and social gatherings, and sprinkle some cabin fever on top of that, and you have an ideal recipe for “blowing off a lid” in even the most secure relationships between partners.
Nonetheless, living in a pandemic era could also be an excellent opportunity for us to nurture our relationship with our partners. This could, in fact, turn out to be a perfect time to reconnect and build our relationships so they are a pillar of support for us in managing the stress during this period.
Most couples feel like their relationships are now running on empty after all this time of uncertainty. Here are five ways to keep your relationship nurtured during the months ahead.
- Set time aside to be on your own
This advice might sound completely contradictory when one is working towards nurturing a relationship. But, listen to this: As much as human beings are social beings, we all have a very definite need for personal time and space.
It may be helpful to also understand your partner what their own need for personal time looks like. Some of us need more quiet time alone, while some may need less. Some prefer to have personal time at the start of the day, while some prefer quiet time alone at the end of the day.
Couples can even integrate alone time with time spent together. This can be done by staying in close proximity, while each being mentally occupied with their own activity. For example, you can be reading a book, while your partner is taking an afternoon nap in the same room.
Sometimes space can also mean encouraging your partner to pursue the hobbies and passions they had before the two of you met. Add a twist to this and write down a few of your partner’s passions on small individual cards, and allocate a time to it. For example: “Day out fishing” or “Afternoon massage” or “Morning alone in the workshop”. Throw in some extra cards offering a treat such as: “Ice tea break”, “Midnight chocolate break”. Let your partner draw a card every few days and then be prepared to offer or arrange the incentive displayed on the card.
- Take care of yourself
You can’t nurture your relationship with your partner unless you know how to nurture yourself and are regularly, actively practising it. It is simply too much to expect your partner to be your sole source of stress relief. You need to know yourself well enough to determine your own sources of self-care first.
Some people enjoy journaling; others see a therapist once in a while to clear their head of unhealthy thinking patterns. Exercise, meditation and even having enough time to practise your religion are all possible forms of self-care.
Make a point of identifying your self-care repertoire if you have not done so already, and work them into your weekly schedule.
We often forget how to take care of ourselves and maybe you can start the routine of self-care by simply organising your bedroom into a self-care boudoir one evening ,where both of you enjoy sipping on a romantic drink while soaking your feet in a foot spa and applying each other’s face masks. You can always end it off by spoiling each other with a massage, and who knows how wonderful the evening might turn out.
- Be present
“And so we have been spending more time together during the last months, but have actually not spoken a word to each other.” These were the arguments of a couple on my therapy couch the other day.
Since the digital world completely took over our lives at the start of lockdown in March, few have realised how electronically addicted they’ve become within just a few short weeks.
To really be able to listen to what others are saying and to try to understand it and focus on their needs is a skill, and apparently something that we can quickly unlearn if not practised daily.
To be present means to be able to pay undivided attention to your partner and to not be distracted by your phone or work or any other interests. There is also some responsibility on the one who’s doing the talking. If you want your partner to listen to you and understand what you are saying, you need to be able to honestly share your feelings and do so without blaming someone else for the way you feel.
We are quickly approaching the holidays and it is a great opportunity to pull out those old board games that encourage communication. Think of Pictionary and Charades! Add a fun element and invite some friends over. Enforce the rule of no cell phones by identifying a place where everyone should leave their phones upside down for a set time. If your family is not yet comfortable with social gatherings, the same benefit of enhanced communication can be achieved by playing these games either as a couple, or with your children. Be ready to be amazed at how much you will laugh during this time. You will all go to bed feeling exhilarated, alive and connected.
- Get outside and do it together
All this extra togetherness can get overwhelming at times, and leaves us irritated and impatient with each other. It is truly remarkable to experience a shift in that perspective once you are outside and you feel the sun on your skin. With the warmer months ahead of us, it becomes something to look forward to.
If you are into exercising outdoors that is great! If you are not that active at the moment, you can still benefit. A walk together outside, or some gardening or bird watching can still help you to reap you the benefits of feeling free, while still being together.
Plan a visit to your local nursery and pick a few extras for your garden and then tackle the project outside together over the coming holidays. Another possibility for the not so faint-hearted would be to plan that bridge-swinging or abseiling bucket-list item, or take the children for some paint-ball action and divide the family into teams with a prize for the winners!
- Let music be your love drug
Music plays a central role in human relationships. Many couples remember the first song they danced to and many hours are often spent planning the songs for a wedding. Music evokes strong feelings, influences interactions, and science shows that it stimulates emotions through specific brain circuits. In short, music brings people together and can create memories that can last a lifetime.
With sophisticated digital television channels and YouTube availability, you can plan a musical event in the comfort of your own living room and stare into each other’s eyes while singing or dancing along to your favourite songs. Deep connections can be stirred by listening to orchestral music together. You can either go big and plan an evening together, or just turn up the volume while cooking dinner and create a romantic atmosphere within minutes.
When couples are still apart due to the pandemic
In some cases couples are still apart, and have been since the beginning of the outbreak earlier this year, due to work schedules or geographical distance. This can be difficult.
Try to see a silver lining in this temporary separation: it forces a couple to make use of the opportunity to get to know one another through conversation, without physical contact. Learning more about your partner can help intimacy grow, and can create a strong foundation for when you do reunite.