The coronavirus has affected just about everything in our lives, and our relationships are no exception. In fact, there are tons of memes making jokes about the long-term effects of all this quarantining—many predict a surge in births in nine months, while others think it will be more like a surge in divorces. One study reported that up to 63 percent of couples “are experiencing a strain on their relationship” as a result of suddenly being together all day, every day, in these stressful times.
While some couples are doing just fine, there are plenty who are getting on each other’s nerves—often resulting in some fairly petty (but also often pretty funny, once the smoke clears) disagreements. We asked parents in our Facebook group about the arguments they’ve been getting into at home, and they were all too relatable. One woman said of her husband, “He ate the last ice cream sandwich. It was mine. I was saving it. I was legitimately mad.” Another shared, “My husband told me to be quiet on my zoom happy hour (which was getting rowdy) while he was on the phone but I didn’t know he was on the phone so I yelled at him.” From debates about homeschooling to disagreeing over whether or not to get dressed for the day, many partners are feeling more and more disconnected, even though they’re physically spending more time together.
Of course sometimes fights can get serious, too—and any arguments add to the stress we’re already under. But there’s hope for all of us! Even just a few simple changes in your daily routine can help bring you closer together. Here are a few ideas to help you stay connected with your other half during this time of coronavirus.
Blame everything on “Bob.” Several working parents have created imaginary co-workers who get blamed for everything. From leaving half-empty cups of coffee lying around to talking too loudly during Zoom calls, shifting your annoyance to “Bob” (or whatever you call yours) helps ease the tension and cues the giggles. After all, it’s much better to laugh about something than fight over it, and at least this way you’re bonding over the inside joke.
Rethink date night. Maybe you guys were never into date nights to begin with, but it’s important to make time to be together alone, without kids or work or housekeeping getting in the way. Even a simple walk or bike ride can do the trick. Plan to trade massages after the kids are in bed or your workday is done (which will help you connect and relax). Maybe you set up the kids in another room with another showing of Frozen and a casual meal made mostly of finger foods (less cleanup for you) while you and your partner in crime enjoy an adults-only dinner somewhere else in the house. The point is to be alone, enjoying each other’s company, without distractions.
That said, sometimes it’s best to give each other space. One Facebook mom shared with us that her husband’s job is now focused on keeping several companies afloat while minimizing the impact on employees, so there’s little time for connection beyond family dinners. Rather than get upset, she’s accepted this is only temporary and vows to take things day by day.
She’s onto something. One long-term study at the University of Michigan found that having enough space or privacy in a relationship was more important for a couple’s happiness than even having a good sex life.
Try to read each other’s cues, especially if someone seems to want some alone time. Volunteer to keep the kids busy while they read, go for a walk, or do whatever it is they feel like doing. You can’t help feeling connected to someone who gets you.
Check in with each other for a few minutes here and there. Sometimes it’s easier to carve out short blocks of time than to plan one long session of togetherness. One set of working parents told us they visit each other’s home workspace a couple of times per day just to talk one-on-one for 5 minutes. Another couple prays together every morning before starting their days. Even a 6-second hug or kiss is enough closeness to release the hormone oxytocin, which boosts feelings of closeness and reduces anxiety. Don’t overlook the seemingly small opportunities to connect with your other half. It all adds up!
Surprise each other. Perhaps there’s no stronger connection than when someone does something thoughtful and considerate just for you. If your partner is a runner, create a playlist you know they’ll love. Leave a note on the bathroom mirror thanking them for doing something you really appreciated, or hide a love note where you know they’ll find it later. One mom we know hosted a surprise home date for her husband. She fed the kids early then ordered a steakhouse dinner from his favorite restaurant for just the two of them to enjoy on their own. After weeks of eating in, it was a real treat—and a thoughtful gesture.
Keep in mind that disagreements are normal—and to be expected, especially now. These are uncertain times and so many of us are feeling pinched financially, emotionally, and mentally. Disagreements aren’t a sign that your relationship is doomed, but rather quite normal. It’s how we respond to those disagreements and what we do in between them that matters.