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For Better and For Worse, but Not For Lunch

A couple on a mountain smiling

A good portion of our nation is settling back into quarantine as a result of a surge in COVID-19 cases, and odds are good that you are audibly groaning, as we speak. You want your Saturday night social plans, office chats around the water cooler, and travel plans to Spain back! You’d love to go out in public again without first masking up and researching if your favorite restaurant is even open before leaving the house. You might even find yourself craving hugs from someone— anyone— other than the people under your same roof. These emotions are valid and are likely being experienced by a lot of people during this challenging time.

If you’re in a romantic relationship during this crisis, you might also be thinking: “You mean I have to continue to tolerate my significant other 24/7 again?!” Perhaps you are familiar with this concept in the form of the old adage: “For better and for worse, but not for lunch.” In other words: “I love you, honey, but I like my space.”

For all of the joys of being in a relationship, it can also have its difficulties. It takes hard work and dedication as you each figure out how to coexist and reconcile differences. And a global pandemic creates an added obstacle: If you live with your significant other around the clock, you are no longer afforded the luxury of healthy time away from each other to reset. This can lead to shorter “fuses” (getting upset easier, often about inconsequential things), more frequent arguments, and in extreme cases, co-dependency. This occurs when someone’s thoughts and feelings revolve entirely around another person and their needs, which can also result in low self-esteem and a constant need for control.

But lucky for you and your partner, the human brain is equipped to adjust to extreme circumstances and changes in environment; it just requires some extra work on your part.

Here are a few tips for how to healthily navigate the COVID-19 crisis with your spouse or significant other:

  • Be patient, both with yourself and your partner. Remind yourself that your environment is under quite a bit of duress, and you are both figuring it out as you go.

  • Assess whether an argument is occurring for a legitimate reason that needs addressed or if you’re just on each other’s nerves. Is what you are arguing about really a problem worth discussing or are you perhaps taking something personally? If it’s the latter, consider taking a step away (tip: the backyard is a great spot for a reprieve, and your brain will simultaneously welcome the Vitamin D), and cool down.

  • Complement one another five to ten times a day. Appreciation and valuing goes a long way in a relationship. Try not to just resort to the usual: “You look nice today.” For example, pay attention to what work from home outfit your partner picked out one day, or note their excitement after a successful team meeting on Zoom. Commend the outcome of a new recipe they tried or validate how much they checked off their to-do list when it would have been much easier to binge Netflix all day. Get creative, and really pay attention to the things you value about him or her!

  • Remember the Rule of Four. It tends to be the case that, for every bad event that happens, a person needs at least four good things to happen to fully overcome it. There is a lot of negativity in the news right now, but thankfully, the sheer number of small good things that occur in a healthy relationship tend to outweigh the bad. It doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture; instead, be diligent about making small good things normal in your love life.

  • Create separate spaces for yourselves. (Disclaimer: This does not mean you get to hog the TV in the living room every night!) Locate an agreed upon space in your home, reserved for each of you to have some alone time every now and again. It’s okay to need time to refuel on your own.

  • Keep your date nights on the calendar. One downfall of the pandemic is that the days can start to blur together and feel like more of the same. Even though you perhaps can’t grab a cocktail or meet up for double date game night with friends, make it a point to make your regularly programmed date nights an occasion! And if you don’t have any on the calendar, get your big red marker out, and circle some weekends! Have a Tuscany-themed dinner date by cooking your best spaghetti and meatballs and turning on Italian classical music or turn your backyard into a romantic oasis with bistro lights and a bonfire. The sky is the limit; get creative and have fun with it.

  • Nostalgia, nostalgia, nostalgia! Nostalgia has been historically, but mistakenly, considered a sign of unhappiness for quite some time. But a healthy approach to nostalgia— savoring and celebrating memories as opposed to pining for the past— results in happier and more intimate couples. Pull out those scrapbooks and high school yearbooks and spend some time down memory lane together!

All in all, try to think of this time as an opportunity to grow closer, rather than grow apart, and please feel free to reach out for additional support anytime.

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