“The quality of your relationships determines the quality of your life” – Esther Perel
This article has been co-written by Laura and Russell. We are a married couple with 16 years’ experience in how to make an unlikely success of an intimate, long-term relationship under very challenging conditions. Although Laura is a qualified individuals and couples therapist, this article is based far more on our personal journey together rather than counselling theory.
It is inevitable that as a result of the coronavirus quarantine, our intimate relationships are going to be tested. The quarantine will for some couples, force them to deal with problems or confront issues that have been previously ignored.
What we’ve written here is based on the assumption that you are already in a generally healthy, loving and supportive monogamous relationship. We thought it might be a good time to share with you 11 things we’ve learned over the last 16 years that might help your relationship thrive under the coronavirus lockdown.
1. Look after yourself first
This might sound a little selfish but it’s actually the kindest thing you can do for the health of your relationship. If you truly want your partnership to thrive during lockdown you are going to need to bring your best self to the table. If you spend the next three months staring at your phone until it’s time to start drinking yourself to sleep, you’re probably not going to be the most capable, enjoyable and supportive of partners.
Here’s a few examples of things you could do to look after you:
- Write a ‘Quarantine Routine’ to ensure there’s some predictable structure to your day. Be sure to include some time to yourself. We find this essential. If you find being alone uncomfortable, it could be something you need to address.
- Ask for what you need (see idea two) and don’t expect your partner to guess.
- Look after the basics – eat well, sleep well, look after your hygiene and appearance, exercise and spend time outdoors.
- Devote time to work on your personal and emotional development. Now might be the perfect opportunity to address any issues within yourself that you’ve previously avoided.
- Maintain friendships – video call or phone rather than texting.
- Resurrect old hobbies and interests or start new ones.
- Limit your time on screens and social media.
- Manage any addictive behaviours you may be prone to during stressful times.
2. Discuss your needs
Now that you’ve got some unexpected time with your partner and are unable to socialise elsewhere, you may find that having your emotional needs met at home is more important than before. Ask your partner what they need from you to feel loved and appreciated and let them know what you need yourself.
Depending on your personality type, what you need from a partner may be completely different to what your partner needs from you. Understanding your differences is crucial if you are to successfully meet each other’s needs.
According to Author Dr. Gary Chapman in his book ‘The 5 Love Languages’ we have just five basic emotional needs that must be met in order for us to feel loved and appreciated:
- Words of Affirmation – If your partner craves this kind of affection, compliment and encourage them specifically. Tell them exactly what you love and appreciate about them regularly.
- Acts of Service – This language is all about action. Do something for your partner whether it’s helping more in the kitchen or picking up the phone and paying a bill they haven’t had time to pay themselves.
- Receiving Gifts – This love language is not necessarily about the gift itself, but more that you thought about them enough to give them something to make them feel loved.
- Quality Time – This is about pure connection without distraction. Really be with your partner and make them the focus of your attention.
- Physical Touch – If your partners primary love language is physical touch, ask them what kinds of non-sexual touch they enjoy (we’ll discuss sex later). It could be as simple as holding hands, cuddling or running your hands through their hair.
Checking in with your partner and discussing what forms of affection you’re craving at the moment will strengthen your unity and help you weather this and any future storm.
3. Foster a culture of mutual generosity
Having now learned a bit more about what your partner needs from you during quarantine it’s time to act. Practise putting your own needs aside and instead focus on giving your partner what they need. Don’t hold back and don’t wait until your partner does something for you first. It’s not about point scoring or ‘giving to get’, it’s just giving for the sake of giving to the person you love most. If you both consciously practise this philosophy, you’ll find your household will quickly become a far more harmonious and enjoyable place to be.
4. Manage your expectations
OK, so it’s easy to talk about what your needs are but let’s face it, your partner just might not have that much head-space to be thinking about you as much as you’d like. If you’re both working from home whilst trying to home school 3 children, keep on top of the laundry and walk the dogs, it might be a challenge for them to perfectly meet your needs. Try to remember your partner is doing the best they can given the circumstances and try to cut them some slack. Again, just use this as an opportunity to practise giving rather than receiving.
5. Express gratitude
It could be easy and indeed understandable during a global crisis, to spend a great deal of time catastrophising about the worlds problems. When at home with your partner in close quarters for extended periods of time it might also be tempting to do the same with your relationship. Those little annoying habits that you could previously escape by spending a couple of hours with friends, or a whole day at work might now become even more apparent. Try to spend more time consciously noticing and verbally expressing gratitude for the positive traits your partner has. It will make you both feel appreciated and if you have children it’s so comforting for them to see their parents being loving towards each other.
6. Be present
One of the most important things we have learnt during our time together has been the importance of presence. It’s a daily struggle for us but we truly believe that presence is vital for healthy relationships, healthy friendships and good parenting. It’s unnerving and distressing to be with a partner when you know they are not really ‘there’ with you. Before you can truly be with others you need to learn to be present with yourself. This means observing your own thoughts, feelings, behaviours and beliefs. Is the content of your mind predominantly positive or negative? What affect does this have on your relationship with yourself, your relationships with others and also the world around you?
If you struggle to remain present with yourself or your partner as we have, you might find Eckhart Tolle’s book “The Power of Now” to be an excellent resource.
7. Be Authentic
It is impossible for real intimacy to exist within a relationship where one or both of you are unable, or feel unsafe to be your authentic selves. Being authentic means being truthful about who you are, being honest with others, having integrity and an ability to express emotions freely and clearly. It requires courage to be vulnerable enough to allow ourselves to be seen for who we are; the good, the bad and the ugly. No one wants to live with a curated or glamorised version of their partner. The more authentic you can be with each other the more likely you are to feel safe, secure and loved.
8. Avoid unnecessary drama
It’s no secret that being able to address and successfully move through real issues is crucial for a harmonious relationship. Avoiding problems ultimately doesn’t solve them and leads to more serious conflicts in the long-term. However, if you’re feeling stressed or you’ve had a bad day and you’re picking fights over trivial annoyances, you may just simply not be present. With practise and humility, you can quickly return to the present moment, apologise and uncover the underlying feelings that triggered your outburst. You might just need to talk or have some time alone to recharge your batteries and ground yourself.
9. Forgive quickly
It is inevitable, particularly during times of stress and uncertainty that you are going to rub each other up the wrong way from time to time. We all have separate points of view and we are all going to react to the stresses and strains of social isolation differently. No one is perfect and we are all going to make mistakes. Take a moment to yourself if you need to calm down after a dispute. Bring awareness to the situation. Be present. Forgiveness is a choice you can each make at any given moment. You need to be on the same team, perhaps now more than ever before.
10. Discuss sex (if at least one of you wants to)
Sex is a powerful force in a committed relationship if at least one of you wants it. It has the capacity to strengthen your intimate bond or drive a wedge between you depending on how the topic is handled. Stressful life circumstances can impact sexual desire so it’s important to communicate with kindness and empathy about what your needs are during lockdown. You may fall into one of the following three categories when it comes to sexual desire.
If neither partner wants it:
For low desire couples who are perfectly content not to engage with each other sexually, sex (or lack thereof) is unlikely to be an area of contention. However, if you used to experience desire but no longer do it could be a sign that something within your relationship or within yourself needs attention. There is plenty of help available if your lack of desire for sex is distressing but that’s beyond the scope of this article.
If you both want it:
If you both still want to have sex with each other regularly then congratulations! You’re probably going to enjoy spending a lot more time together. Just make sure you don’t let it slide down your list of priorities so neither of you end up feeling like frustrated roommates. Schedule time for sex if necessary so that you both know it’s going to happen regularly to keep the spark alive.
If one of you wants it but the other doesn’t (or at least not as much):
We’re talking about libido rather than attraction here. If you’re interested in sex but you’re not attracted to your partner that is a separate issue and one which should be addressed. Couples with equally matched, stable libidos are quite rare and we have both experienced either end of the desire scale within our 16 years together. The lower desire partner might not even think about sex for days or weeks on end and therefore might not view it as an essential need. It could be easy therefore, for the lower desire partner to be complacent about or even dismissive of the higher desire partners sexual needs. To the higher desire partner however, sex is an essential emotional need that cannot be met outside of your relationship. It is painful to be rejected too frequently and it can have serious effects on emotional well-being in the long-term. Our point here is that if sex is important to one of you, then it is important to the relationship. Why not use the extra time together as an opportunity to discuss your current individual sexual needs; and where there are discrepancies, work towards finding compromises you can both live with.
Esther Perel’s appropriately titled “Mating in Captivity” is a fantastic book about navigating differences in desire and keeping passion alive in long term relationships.
11. Make your relationship a priority
The level of satisfaction you feel within your committed relationship will be carried into all other areas of your life. If you feel loved, valued, respected and supported at home you will no doubt be a better parent, worker, friend and a generally more peaceful human being. Particularly if you have children, it’s important to remember that you are modelling for them how a relationship should function. Not only that, but research strongly suggests that children whose parents express love for each other are much happier and more secure than those raised in a hostile environment. A trusting intimate relationship has the capacity (like a mirror, if you are open to looking) to reveal truths about yourself that you might otherwise have overlooked. Your relationship can be your greatest source of pleasure or your deepest source of pain depending on how much care you give it. Make your intimate relationship a top priority, as if it were an entity in and of itself. Lavish it with attention, listen to what it’s telling you, nurture it and pay attention to its ever-changing needs. Everyone and everything else in your life will benefit.
We hope you found some of these ideas helpful – let us know in the comments if there’s anything you’re doing to keep your relationship healthy that we might have missed. If you’re struggling with emotional difficulties at the moment and feel like you might need some support you can contact Laura at email@example.com or find her on Facebook.