Ways to Improve Your Relationship While Sheltering at Home

Just as it has with pretty much everything else in our lives, Covid-19 has had a significant impact on our relationships. Pair the novelty of the situation with the increased uncertainty and stress of coping with a global pandemic, and what we’ll find is that most couples are facing new strains on their relationship that are making life at home all the more difficult.

The first thing to do if you find yourself in this situation is to take a deep breath and realize you are not alone. In a survey conducted in April only 18% of couples reported satisfaction in communication with their partner. Yet, with the rise in new challenges comes an opportunity to learn long-term strategies to overcome obstacles and deepen your connection. By adopting certain principles, couples can use this time to not just survive but to actually thrive.

1. Support your spouse in doing the things that keep them emotionally healthy.

During this time, you are likely missing an unimaginable number of things that weren’t just a part of your life but made you who you are. Even as you’re thrown into an entirely new reality, it’s important to connect to the things that enable you to feel yourself. You can do this by using whatever free time you have to prioritize the specific activities that reconnect or center you within yourself. This can be anything from calling a certain friend, doing yoga or exercising, reading, writing, cooking, or engaging in something creative.

You and your partner can be generous with each other by, not just allowing, but encouraging each other to carve out time for these activities. Realistically, giving your partner this time may mean watching the kids for an extra hour or cooking a meal on your own, and it can be a challenge when all you feel like doing after a long day is zoning out or resting. Yet, offering your partner the space and permission to reconnect with themselves is a gift you give them as well as yourself, because their energy and spirit is often restored, and they’re likely to be more lively and present with you as a result.

It’s also extremely valuable to carve out some time for you to do things together. Many people have new responsibilities and new obstacles they’re wrestling with right now. Any time you can take to set those aside and just be together doing something that lights you both up really matters and shouldn’t be dropped to the bottom of your priorities list.

2. Give them space to be in a bad mood or make a mistake.

We are all going through a hard time and you and your partner are certain to have moments when you’re not at your best. With this in mind, it’s helpful to keep your compassion close at hand. If your partner is having an off day and forgets to do something or isn’t as available, your instincts may be to call them out and react. This is especially true when you yourself are anxious or overwhelmed. Yet, being hyper-reactive and picking a fight in moments of stress rarely results in either of you getting what you need or want from each other.

Instead, when your partner is feeling down or burnt out, you can either give them space or offer emotional support rather than choose this moment for confrontation. It may be a time to give extra affection or take something off their plate. This can help them reset and can create a balance where they do the same for you when you’re going through a similar state. If there is an ongoing issue that’s bothering you, pick a time to sit and talk when you’re both calm and have the ability to actually focus and hear each other out.

3. Stop building a case.

Oh, how easy it is to evaluate another person when you’re living in close quarters with them 24/7. You are probably working extra hard to make everything work in an incredibly tough and draining time, making it all the more likely for you to notice all the ways your partner is getting on your nerves or doing things differently than how you’d like. Be careful, because this critical and picky voice in your head is actually an enemy to your relationship. Chances are, you are both working extra hard and are under a lot of stress, and now, in particular, is not the time to engage in a tit-for-tat mentality.

Of course, your partner isn’t perfect, and you are bound to notice real shortcomings in them. However, searching for evidence of their flaws and cataloguing each of their mistakes only hurts both of you. Try to to treat your thoughts and feelings as clouds that pass by throughout the day, rather than a giant storm that overthrows you. Be curious about them, but don’t get swept up. When you allow yourself to get hooked on a laundry list of complaints, you’re much more likely to feel bad within yourself and act out toward your partner.

None of this is to say that you should turn a blind eye to any hurtful or insensitive behavior. Rather, I’m suggesting you simply take pause before reacting in ways you regret or turning your frustrations inward and ruining your mood. Instead, give yourself time before you respond. Try to notice if you’re falling into a trap of unhealthy rumination toward your partner that blinds you to your other observations, feelings, goals, and intentions toward them. Think about how quickly your mood can change the minute your partner does something kind for you.

The effort to live with this kind of softness invites your partner to do the same. It offers you a sense of peace and an opportunity to be more thoughtful about your emotions rather than acting as a slave to them. This mindful approach also opens up the channels of communication, so you can express your feelings honestly, directly, and with a much higher chance of your partner hearing what you have to say.

4. Practice simple acts of kindness, generosity and gratitude.

Instead of building a case against your partner, each day, try to write down or reflect on three things you are grateful for in them. This exercise helps reconnect you to your loving feelings and invites more kindness into your interactions. The simplest and most effective action anyone can take to improve their relationship is to be kind. Set aside the critical comments, eye rolls, exasperated sighs, and jokes at their expense. Instead, fill that time with saying thank you, showing interest when they speak, making eye contact, engaging in small acts of affection, and laughing together. Little acts of generosity and acknowledgment can go a long way. Anything from an unexpected kiss to a cup of tea can generate warmth between you. Not to mention, your own mood can be tremendously improved with expressions of generosity.

I often tell people who come to me complaining about their relationship or their partner that the only person they can change is themselves. The good news is you have 100 percent control over 50 percent of the dynamic. You’d be amazed at how much can shift when you focus inward on the actions you can take to feel closer to your partner. All of the actions I’ve mentioned here are in your power, and they can lead to a different standard of living in your relationship.

About the Author

Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. Dr. Lisa Firestone is the Director of Research and Education at The Glendon Association. An accomplished and much requested lecturer, Dr. Firestone speaks at national and international conferences in the areas of couple relations, parenting, and suicide and violence prevention. Dr. Firestone has published numerous professional articles, and most recently was the co-author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships (APA Books, 2006), Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice (New Harbinger, 2002), Creating a Life of Meaning and Compassion: The Wisdom of Psychotherapy (APA Books, 2003) and The Self Under Siege (Routledge, 2012). Follow Dr. Firestone on Twitter or Google.

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How about ways to improve your relationship if the pandemic has displaced you from yoir.home and away from your partner?

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