Being in a relationship during a pandemic while sheltering in place is uncharted territory, to say the least. This situation is unprecedented and we’re all learning as we go how to adapt to what is the new normal, or at least, the new normal for now.
This quarantine is certainly a test for couples. New challenges in relationships have people wondering: how can I be a good partner during quarantine? We spoke to two relationship experts for their advice on how to navigate relationships during this strange time, whether you’re quarantined with or without your partner.
If You’re Apart From Your Partner
Stay in contact
Communication is crucial in relationships, and you want to make sure that the line of communication is open even when you can’t physically be with each other. Thanks to technology, you have plenty of ways to stay in touch with your partner (without touching them). Texting is the norm, of course, but to have more quality interaction, try to get some face-to-face time video chatting, which can make you feel a little less distant.
“In addition to daily texts, make sure to spend time talking face to face via Skype, FaceTime, Zoom, or anything else that lets you look into each other’s eyes and connect without other distractions,” says Dr. Jenn Mann PsyD, MFT, author of The Relationship Fix: Dr. Jenn’s 6-Step Guide to Improving Communication, Connection & Intimacy. “This allows you to form stronger attachments to one another.” Suggesting video chats will help your partner know that you’re serious about seeing them and keeping this relationship going strong.
Go on “dates”
Whether or not you and your partner went on cute dates before quarantine, this is the perfect time to plan some “dates.” Take the initiative of asking your partner if they want to have a date night with you, and have a proposition for what you can do together. It can range from having a Netflix Party (of two) to continue watching that series you used to love bingeing together, playing a virtual game like trivia or Pictionary through the House Party app, or having a romantic dinner via video chat.
Plan things to look forward to
Even though we don’t know exactly when we’ll be out of quarantine, it can be fun to plan something with your partner that you can be excited about. It can be something as simple as making a list of restaurants you can’t wait to go back to, or maybe even planning your next vacation together. “Plan a romantic getaway when this is all over. Have fun in the anticipation! It can really be wonderful foreplay,” says sex and relationship therapist Katie Schubert PhD, LMHC.
Keep things sexy
Sex is a big part of any relationship. Just because you can’t physically be together, doesn’t mean you can’t be sexual in other ways. Plus, you can always have sex with yourself! Masturbation is great for mental health. Schubert suggests keeping the flame going by talking dirty to each other, sharing your fantasies, and sending sexy photos.
Change your mindset
We can’t change our circumstances in life right now, but we can change how we react to them. Schubert recommends reframing the way you look at this time apart. “Use this time to get to know your partner in a different way. Have long talks, send each other pictures, teach your partner about what your own self-care looks like.” If you use the time wisely, you can really bond emotionally and get through this, emerging as an even stronger couple.
If You’re Quarantined With Your Partner
Don’t suffocate your partner
As you’ve probably already realized being quarantined 24/7 with your partner, things can feel a little suffocating. It’s crucial that you each get alone time every day for both of your sanity. “Sometimes it is as simple as taking the time to take a very long shower, allowing the other person the room to do a FaceTime with a good friend, or giving our partner space to read a book or do an art project,” Mann says. “Even if you are sharing a studio apartment, there is always the opportunity to give the other person space physically or metaphorically.”
Express your needs, and honor your partner’s needs
As we — and everyone else — have been saying, this is really an unprecedented time. It’s likely that your needs are different in quarantine than they were in your “normal” life. No matter how well your partner knows you, they can’t be a mind reader. Be sure to communicate your wants and needs before you get close to reaching your breaking point, or else you’re going to feel extremely trapped and possibly resenting your partner.
“Make sure to share your needs with your partner. This is a weird time, and your needs have probably shifted slightly,” Schubert says. “I always ask my couples to write their top need for the day on their bathroom mirror as a reminder for their partner.”
Learn how to co-work well
If you are both working from home, things can definitely get tricky. If you have the luxury, work in separate rooms. If you’re in a studio together and both working from home, see if you can coordinate your call schedules so you won’t both be trying to talk on the phone at the same time. If that’s not a possibility, take turns taking calls out in the hallway. “Share work schedules with one another so you know when not to interrupt,” Mann recommends. “Have a transition ritual to end your work day and start your couple’s time — deep breathing, a shower, or a song you play. Ask each other about your work day, follow up on important events and meetings, and show interest.”
Don’t forget sex
Were you always “too busy” to be intimate with your partner before? Well, look at that, you have plenty of time now! Speak openly about your desires, your turn ons, your turn offs, things you want to try, and so on. “While the tension and anxiety about the future can be arousing for some, many people’s libido has been squashed by depression and anxiety,” says Mann. “I encourage you to connect sexually with your partner either way. Taking the time to connect sexually can bring you closer and provide you with a release for the angst.”
Remember, sex releases plenty of feel good hormones and neurotransmiters (dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin) that we could all use some more of during this miserable time. Plus, sex lowers levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which can help you feel more relaxed, too.
“Socialize” with others
Don’t neglect your other relationships at this time. Interacting with other friends, family members, and couples can help you feel less bored and more connected to the outside world. Mann suggests having “double dates” or happy hours via FaceTime or Zoom with other couples. “Having contact with other adult humans takes the pressure off the partnership to provide everything,” she says.
Advice For All Types of Relationships
Whether you’re together or physically apart from your partner, both Mann and Schubert stress the importance of “fighting well.” It’s natural to get into arguments with your partner, and right now everything is so up in the air and emotions are heightened, so you’re probably even more likely to get into tiffs with your partner.
Here are some tips from the experts:
- Be open and understanding
“Even if your partner has been hurtful or used inflammatory language, it is beneficial if you can come from a place of openness and curiosity,” Mann says. “Seek to understand their intentions and reasoning, instead of assuming the worst.”
- Change how you start a discussion
Mann says that research has shown that how you start a discussion can have a big impact on predicting how the discussion will end up. She says, “If you can start from a loving stance, rather than an accusatory or attacking one, the odds are better that you will resolve the conflict in a positive way.”
- Know when to let it slide
Emotions are heightened and when we’re in that state, we’re more likely to snap with snarky remarks. “Respect each other and know this is a weird time. Give your partner some free passes for being rude or snippy,” says Schubert. However, any kind of abuse should never get a free pass!
Here are Schubert’s quick 10 tips for “fighting fair” with your partner during quarantine, or really, any other time:
- Discuss one issue at a time
- Stay in your own lane (use “I” statements)
- Don’t stonewall. If you need a break, suggest a time to come back to the conversation
- Validate your partner’s feelings (even if you don’t agree with them)
- Don’t use degrading language
- Be accountable
- Take turns talking
- Don’t use sarcasm
- Don’t generalize (“you always”, “you never”)
- Aim for understanding, not agreement
Remember, we’re all in this together. Talk to your other quarantined friends in relationships to vent, get advice, and give advice. Speaking about it can make you feel a lot less alone. If you feel like you need a little more help, now is a great time to try out couples therapy via a teletherapy platform like Talkspace.