By: Cristina Trette
This picture was taken on March 11, 2020. Jeff Everage and I were on day six of two back to back conferences. We had been consumed with long, intense, and full days. Covid-19 finally smacked me into paying attention on March 14, 2020. This was the day my kids school announced closure until mid-April. The news was accompanied by a whole range of emotions. Mostly, the emotion of "Oh S---". Things got real, real fast.
With the exception of daily outdoor exercise I have been at home 24/7. Surprisingly, it has gone fairly well. Last week I took some time off of work to focus on my kids. This week I resumed video sessions with clients. I have my moments of complete exhaustion yet we are finding our new rhythm.
And if I am being completely honest, my love life could use some attention. If you have worked with me privately, you know that I talk openly about my love relationship, something that most marriage counselors don't do. I thought I would write about how to keep love relationships and marriages strong in the midst of an intensely stressful time. This will serve as a great reminder for me and I hope some of it will help you too.
Find your groove
Do what works for you. Some couples are winging it day to day and cherishing the forced down-time. Others couples are working more hours than ever as they aim to keep businesses afloat, help kids with online schooling, and exist in a blur of meal, snacks, cleanup and laundry. There is no way I could maintain peaceful relationships right now without a daily routine that also flexes for extra lounge time, zone out time, and connection time. Figure out what works best for you and your spouse and how your kids fit into this.
I am just going to call it out. On the one hand I am saying do what is best for you. I mean this. On the other hand I am encouraging you to create structure. Because the truth is, most couples working-from-home-with-kids-doing-online-schooling need a bit of structure if they don't want to lose their minds. But like all of my suggestions, take what works for you and leave the rest.
If you want more structure, what will this look like for you? A great place to start is by establishing working hours, breaks, and non-working hours. If you and your spouse are both working from home, can you take shifts? Can one of you be with the kids while the other works? Such as, one parent may work from 8am - 2pm and the other parent could work from 2pm - 8pm. Even if only one parent works, establishing hours will create important boundaries. Ideally during non-working hours both parents will be equally responsible for taking care of the kids. And depending on the ages of the kids, the entire family can be responsible for taking care of the home. Talk and make some agreements for your specific family and work situation.
Find small ways to connect daily
Yes you and your partner have probably been together A LOT over the past few weeks! But being together non stop does not mean you are having engaged connection time. Under normal circumstances, I suggest that couples commit to weekly kid-free time. Right now, depending on the ages of your children, this may be impossible. So get creative. Small moments of physical affection go along way. Hugs, kisses on the cheek, and love pats on the bum are easy ways to connect. Find ways to focus on each other while hanging with the kids. Swap shoulder rubs while watching a family movie, sit on the patio while the kids play, sneak into the bedroom during your babies nap time. Remember that work and housework will always be there. But if you don't take care of your marriage, it won't be there. Make it happen.
And give each other space
Be explicit about your need for quiet or alone time. Get clear about what you want and articulate this to your partner. Help each other get much needed space. Long baths, walks in the neighborhood, video chats with friends, reading in the bedroom alone are some ideas for carving out time away from kids and your spouse.
Compliment and acknowledge
Express gratitude whenever you are moved to. Words of affirmation are like fuel for our tanks. They fill us up, keep us going, and feed our souls. It only takes seconds to genuinely share with your partner what you love or appreciate about them. Make this a regular occurrence.
Lean on healthy coping strategies
Exercise, journal, read inspiring books, video chat with uplifting friends, deep breath, do yoga, meditate, and practice mindfulness. These are all effective methods for reducing stress, tending to your self, and improving relationships.
All of us will feel all sorts of feelings. Feel them. This includes frustration, annoyance, anger, and fear. When we consistently create space for our feelings we will begin to notice over time that they will come go. When we get used to feeling our feelings, we no longer need to avoid, ignore, numb, suppress, distract, or run away from.
Let the small things go
Choose your battles. Seriously! It could be easy to get on top of your spouse for every small thing. Don't do this! We all have annoying traits and characteristics. Develop tolerance wherever you can.
Accept acceptable differences
Maybe you are an early riser but your spouse is most creative and energetic at night. Or you want lots of time to talk and your spouse prefers quiet. Perhaps being in the house all day makes you a bit nutty and your spouse finds it relaxing. Neither of these are good, bad, right, or wrong. Practice acceptance.
Develop healthy communication
I am going to be direct. If your communication was struggling prior to the pandemic, it is likely to get worse. Healthy communication patterns create the foundation for healthy and happy marriages. If most of your interactions are laden with blame, judgement, criticism, contempt, defensiveness, or shutting down consider couples therapy. Or, look for future posts that will focus specifically on helping couples communicate.
Have some fun
Clearly we will not be going on dates, hitting up adventures, or meeting with friends right now! Joy is so important for our wellbeing. Find ways to connect through humor, great sex, being goofy, flash mob home dance parties, board games, or declaring a very early happy hour. Find the humor in this outrageous situation and share it as much as you can.
What are you doing to keep your relationship strong during Shelter in Place? I would love to hear from you in the comments box below.
Cristina Trette, MA, LMFT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Certified Coach. She has a private practice offering counseling and coaching online and in Encinitas, CA. Her specialty is centered on helping couples and parents create thriving relationships, happy families, and vibrant wellbeing. To learn more visit www.cristinatrette.com.
Cristina Trette inspires others to cultivate great relationships, joyful families, and vibrant wellbeing.
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