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COVID Chronicles: Coupling In Quarantine

How does confinement change relationship dynamics? What’s the best mindset to adopt in present circumstances? And in what ways can our partnerships strengthen—even under pressure?

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For years and years, it was just you. Yes, there were boyfriends, girlfriends, not-quite-sure friends…but now, there’s an “us.” Prepare for change, because change is coming. New article series, Marry This, is about the serious relationships in our lives and how to be the best “you” in them.

Everyone is invited to Marry This. If you’re not an “us” yet, our Editor is here to prepare you. If you’ve been married for 30 years, she’s here to spice things up!

First article in the column, From Me to Us: Coupling In Quarantine, is focused on supporting our coupled readers through the COVID-19 crisis.

How does confinement change relationship dynamics? What’s the best mindset to adopt in present circumstances? And in what ways can our partnerships strengthen—even under pressure?


Love is a fairy tale, right?

A special bond in which you disclose your deepest, darkest secrets. A private space, a closed room, a place to lose yourself in the arms of someone else. Maybe, but not quite…because forever requires significant and ongoing personal work, and just as much TLC.

Especially during a viral pandemic.

And while we absolutely want supportive, empathetic partners, it’s important to remember that our partners are not our priests, not our therapists, and certainly not our parents. These are uncertain times, emotional times, scary times, but just like your sanity, your relationship is to be guarded like the precious gift that it is.

Right now, many of us are experiencing emotional swings as we process the ever-evolving symptoms of social distancing—the new norm that is quarantine. I’ve received reports from readers describing periods of hyper-productivity followed by periods of hyper-lull. Perhaps you’re struggling to find balance in this new set of circumstances. That’s more than OK, you’re most certainly not alone.

What’s not OK: Offloading all of that uncertainty, internal strife and stress on your partner. When you’re feeling overwhelmed: Draw a nice bath, pick up a book, tackle a project, or simply lie down and try to think through it before involving your loved one. Now, more than ever, self-reflection and the ability to self-soothe are imperative to maintain peace in our close relationships.

Because there is no escape.

At least, no escape in the physical sense. This notion may feel dark at first look, but there are many opportunities to consider…such as: for the first time, in a long time, you have practically no external obligations or distractions. There is time to explore and fortify your bond.

What can you learn from (and about) your partner while in quarantine?

What stories can you tell each other? What games can you play? Perhaps it’s been a while since you checked-in on their inner-workings, desires, hopes and dreams.

A somewhat basic, but critically acclaimed place to start digging-in: The concept of “love languages.” Every matchmaker I’ve talked to about this concurs, there is indeed substance to the love language model. Start by thinking about and discussing what those dynamics are within your relationship. Are you craving more quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, physical touch, and/or gift-giving?

But one love language is universal: we feel loved when we feel understood.

This is what lends power to the love languages model. Start by discovering what makes your partner tick—observe, experiment, have fun in the exploration. Novelty in our relationships (especially regarding long-term partnerships) is a beautiful rarity. What mysteries does your partner have for you?

“Marriage” can begin to feel like a book you’ve already read. You may think you have all the answers, but wouldn’t it be much more fun to be wrong about that? Who knows what you’ll find, or just how special your loved one will feel to be the object of your inquiry.

Your curiosity is a gift. Give it to the people you love.

COVID-19 has taught us one thing for certain: we’re not always in total control. Apply this learning to your relationship. In what ways can you let go of the reigns? Defer to asking more questions, making space for change, and for your partner to feel unbound despite the isolation. I strongly believe that we miss out on unexpected satisfaction when we’re always in-control. If you’re typically in the driver’s seat, let your partner take the lead and vice versa.

The healthiest relationships in my life, and of those I’ve observed through my work, are grounded in empowerment. It’s a balance of giving love in the way your partner prefers, while receiving and accepting it in your desired form. To break down these barriers, spend time analyzing and finding compatibilities. And never lose sight of:

You are strong as an individual within your partnership.

A strong relationship takes two strong people. And while unquestionably being in love brings countless blessings, there is also something poignant and essential about knowing (and celebrating) your worth outside of the relationship.

Strength within coupling means you’re capable without them, but better with them.

The ability to be your own unique person with your own equally unique passions, struggles, and characteristics illustrates that you are self-motivated, that your relationship complements and enhances who you are—not defines who you areNext and more relevant than ever:

Take the ‘good’ with the ‘bad’

You can’t have good days without knowing what the bad ones feel like. It would be unrealistic to think that every moment of your relationship is (and will be) sunshine and rainbows. How do you get past the rainy quarantine days? Simple answer: you just do. In other words, don’t give up when the going gets tough.

And know, without any doubt, that no matter who you’re with, it will get tough.

As long as respect, love and trust is still there, it’s worth fighting for. There are times in most relationships where giving up can seem like the better option. But ironically, one of the best ways to rebuild is to bite the bullet and talk through that big scary argument or rough patch anyway. Try it. While constant arguments certainly aren’t recommended, occasional fighting can actually aid your relationship

There are no winners or losers.

In times of trouble, embrace the above concept like it’s water on a hot dry day. Using constructive criticism and adopting the mindset of: It’s you two against the problem as opposed to you vs. your partner will drastically improve how you tackle conflict as a couple. This also requires a willingness to want to improve. Every relationship on the planet, that’s lasted more than 48 hours, has endured conflict. Both partners’ desire to connect, despite hard times and despite uncertainty, is what keeps people together. And when there is uncertainty:

Work together to plan ahead.

When it’s time to make big, difficult decisions, come together to discuss the circumstances—like finances, children, illness, a global pandemic, you name it. You’ve likely heard that money issues are among the biggest causers of divorce (and it’s true). People who consider their partners financially irresponsible are 10x more likely to break up.

This feels more pertinent than ever, as the rhythms of life and economy verge off-track.

Opening up to discuss the bigger picture, such as financial goals as a couple, and/or how you’ll work together to get through current difficulties, will only strengthen your bond, and better prepare you for whatever comes next. Have you drafted a 2-week plan, 1-month plan, 2-month plan?

Have you considered job alternatives, relocation, life insurance policies, etc…what about the details of the latter? Through a spot of research I discovered that individual policies can be more cost-effective. As long as you name each other as the primary beneficiary, the death benefit funds associated with separate coverage acts as a safety net for your spouse. Dig in together and talk through how you two would like to handle it.

Having these more serious conversations, (in addition to the fun ones!) won’t take away from your individual goals, but instead, demonstrates your ability to work together while navigating uncomfortable topics and fears. In such uncertain times, where anxiety is high, it also provides peace of mind to have a clear plan of action. Most importantly, this builds a partnership that values self-sufficiency.

Love is an action as much as it’s a feeling. Show it, chase after it, find new ways to express it. Uncover places where it’s been hiding.

Because it will hide. And when it does, while your first response may be to withdraw or rage, think of what you can do to remind your partner, and yourself, of the powerful feelings truly holding you together.

Often, it takes just a kind word, a hearty laugh, a good kiss…

And kiss like you mean it.

I advise our couples to regard their partners from a mindset of exploration. Truly, there is such excitement, joy and pleasure to seek out. When you first started dating, you felt that. You felt it all the time, in every small smile, in every untold story. It’s all still there. And there’s much more to uncover. Here are some fun ideas (all quarantine savvy) to get you started:

  • Draw a bath for your partner just because

  • Play a 2-person game (Amazon to the rescue!)

  • Brew tea or hot chocolate, choose a record to play while you sip

Bring out family/couple photo albums to leaf through if the mood is right.

  • Cook a nice dinner and surprise your partner with a beautiful setting

  • Sketch your partner while lounging and then show it to them with a big smile:

This isn’t about being a fine artist, it’s about expressing to your partner that you’re thinking of them, that you think they’re special.

  • After a long work-from-home day, have cocktails and hors d’oeuvres ready, with a mini menu of movies queued-up for your partner to choose from.

  • Work out: Yoga classes on YouTube are free and fantastic for stress release and bonding.

  • Or simply ask them, What would you like to do tonight?

This question, asked with genuine excitement, is oh so sweet!

Whatever you do, do it with love,

Valerie Presley Editor, Heartalytics

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