Couples confined to their homes may find themselves sharing the same space more than they want to. How can couples survive the “new normal” without getting on each other’s nerves too much? Rather than annoying each other, how might couples thrive during this difficult time?
If you’re in a partnership that is not doing so well, it may be especially difficult to have so much time together right now. But even couples who love each other and are doing well may find it challenging to suddenly have so much time living in the same space, especially if it is a small house or apartment.
Here are some tips for staying connected to yourself and each other during this unusual time.
Acknowledge Your Need for Alone Time
If you find yourself needing alone time, you’re not alone. It’s very natural to want time and space to just feel your own energy, as well as to nurture yourself in creative ways. We may be afflicted with the romantic myth that if we love each other, we should be happy together all the time and never chose to be apart from each other. Love doesn’t mean being enmeshed.
Trees don’t grow as well when they’re too close together; they don’t thrive in each other’s shade. For our relationships to flourish, we need to find the right balance between being together and being apart. One person cannot meet all of our needs.
Couples who find it difficult to speak openly and authentically may not acknowledge their need for time apart. Sadly, both individuals may experience the same need, but keep it hidden because they don’t want to offend or hurt each other. Though well-meaning, their effort to protect each other may backfire when resentment builds as a result of not revealing their true needs and wants.
We might find our way toward taking care of ourselves and caring for each other by having a conversation that begins with some gently stated version of “I love you and love being together and I need to balance that with some alone time, how does that sit with you?” Expressing what would be ideal for us while also hearing what our partner needs may help us find a path forward that meets both of our needs.
Granted, it may not be easy to find time apart if you live a one bedroom apartment. But even then, you might agree to just be in your own space while sharing the same room. It requires a felt sense of safety and intimacy with each other to be comfortable being in the same room without feeling obligated to interact.
If you can find some part of your home or apartment where you can have alone time to think, to be, to write, to read, to call a friend, to do something creative that nurtures you, this might help you feel nourished and restored. Then, when you return to being with your partner, you can be together in a way that feel more fresh and alive.
With many parks and beaches now closed, it is challenging to find places in nature where you can maintain a proper distance from people. Although there are limited places to go due to social distancing guidelines, many people find renewal by simply walking in ways that are socially responsible. When I work in my garden, I frequently see people strolling down the street with their dog, and I see couples walking together happily, offering me a smile or hearty “hello” from a distance.
Finding Creative Ways to Be Together
Consider initiating new ways of being together if you’re in a partnership. “Would you like a shoulder massage?” (or foot massage) might be a creative and nurturing way to connect with each other. Some people enjoy board games or cards, including with their children. Going through old photographs together might remind you of good times and help you learn more about each other. Cooking or gardening together can be a creative activity, as long as you can do so without getting on each other’s nerves too much. Meditating together can be a way to connect in silence, if that is something that appeals to you.
Sitting with your partner stretched out on a couch watching a movie (assuming your partner is not infected, of course), rather than over-exposing yourself to unpleasant news (especially just before going to bed), can be a way to chill out and stay connected. And if it feels right, consider adding some lightheartedness to your lives by watching comedy shows you both enjoy. You might consider me weird, but I enjoy watching old episodes of the Andy Griffith Show. Barney Fife has a way of putting a smile on my face.
Finding a balance between being together and being apart is often a challenge for couples, especially these days. Being mindful of what you need and conversing in a way where you are mutually attentive, authentic, kind, and creative can help you stay sane — and even thrive — during this challenging time.
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