We’re all learning to manage life in extreme circumstances right now due to the spread of COVID-19. We’ve been at this long enough that the novelty of staying home has worn off, and we’re all just trying to stay afloat the best we can. If you’ve been feeling a lot of complicated emotions right now, you’re not alone. A lot of us are feeling heightened anxiety, confusion, grief, fear, frustration, and sadness, just to name a few.
You might be upset with yourself for feeling so frustrated – after all, you’re just spending time at home. How is that hard? The truth is that even though it sounds simple, social distancing is anything but easy. Some folks are now completely isolated, cut off from their support systems to keep themselves and others safe. Others find themselves stuck at home with their family, loved ones, or roommates. Many people are at the extremes – either experiencing a lot of loneliness or being constantly surrounded by people. While both extreme loneliness and extreme togetherness are both problematic, today we’ll be taking a look at ways to manage living with a partner during this quarantine.
A stretch of uninterrupted time with your partner sounds good in theory, but in practice, it might not actually be a smooth process. Many of us aren’t used to having other people around us every moment of every day, and it can be tricky to find time to be alone with yourself to reset. However, you also don’t want to spend your time in quarantine fighting with your partner. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your level of intimacy with your partner, even in quarantine. If you find yourself looking for ways to deepen the intimacy you feel with your partner, here are our best tips:
- Establish boundaries
- In our last blog we talked about boundaries on social media, but you can set boundaries online or offline. When you’re stuck at home with your partner, it’s a good idea to draw up some ground rules to keep the tension to a minimum. Try to include things like who will use what space and when, how meals and chores will be divided, and how to establish that you want some alone time. That way when issues come up, you can refer back to the boundaries you discussed at the beginning to work things out.
- Make touch a regular part of your routine
- Physical intimacy is also important during this time, not just emotional intimacy. There are different levels of touch ranging from social touching to more intimate or sexual touching. Try to make room for a variety of different touches in your day to day. Gently tap your partner on the shoulder to get their attention, give them regular hugs, hold hands, cuddle, play with their hair, or give each other massages for some ideas on where to start.
- Fight fairly
- Use “I” statements if you’re feeling frustrated with your partner. You, of course, have a right to say how you’re feeling, but try to frame it through your perspective instead of assigning blame to your partner. Instead of saying “You never take the garbage out,” say, “I feel disrespected when you don’t follow through on things you said you’d do, like taking out the garbage.” That way, you’re expressing the way their behavior makes you feel instead of immediately putting them on the defensive.
- Designate screen-free time
- We’re all doing our best to distract ourselves right now, but sometimes distractions leave us feeling further away from our partners. Make some time each week to set aside your screens and focus on each other. Play a game, solve a puzzle, listen to an audiobook, dance to music in your living room – do whatever feels good to you and your partner.
- Try not to take things personally
- This is a frustrating time, so try not to take it personally if your partner seems frustrated or upset. Of course, if your partner is taking our their feelings on you, you can have a discussion with them about it, but for the most part their feelings are their own business to work through. If they want to talk about things you can be there for them, but allow them to take the lead. If you need specific encouragement or reassurance from your partner, make sure to let them know so they can do the same for you.
- Try a yes/no/maybe list
- When was the last time you checked in with your partner on what you’re interested in sexually? If you’re looking for a new way to connect with your partner, try a yes/no/maybe list. This list is usually used in negotiating sexual boundaries (especially in the kink world) but any couple can benefit from communicating clearly what they are or aren’t into. You can go through a list of sexual activities you’re open to or would like to try, but you can also have it include things like body boundaries, words and terms to use inside and outside of the bedroom (for body parts, pet names, etc.), and any triggers to watch out for. You can find example lists online or make your own, and just go through each item and decide yes (into it, want to try), no (not into it, don’t want to try), or maybe (might be into exploring this more).
- Focus on the positive
- You don’t have to do this all the time, but try looking for some positivity. Can you go for a walk outside and admire how beautiful springtime is? Share funny videos and memes with each other. Watch comedy specials or find good news sources to get a daily dose of cheer in this trying time.
- Share what you’re grateful for
- Starting a gratitude practice is a great way to take note of the good things going on in your life. If you have a personal gratitude practice, consider sharing it with your partner. You can take some time regularly to both talk about what you’re thankful for in the moment and celebrate those small moments together.
- Make sure you both have another social outlet
- Even if you can’t leave the house, you don’t need to rely on your partner for 100% of your social life right now. Schedule some time separately from your partner to catch up with friends and family so that you can take a little break from each other.
If you’re living with your partner during quarantine and your frustration level is climbing, don’t worry. Take a deep breath and make a plan with your partner on how to actively try to turn things around. Remember, you’re a team. It’s you and your partner versus the problem, not you versus your partner. If you need more support in keeping the peace at home right now, our couples counselors can help.
-Brice N. Sanner, LMFT