Living in close quarters is bound to cause stress and strain in a relationship, writes therapist Lorraine Hackett. But it's also an opportunity to form a deeper bond and come out the other side of this stronger
It’s over two weeks since schools were ordered to close and businesses started operating remotely and for many this may be the closest you’ve ever been to those you live with.
Too close for comfort, many will be thinking.
Living on top of each other is bound to be causing stresses and strains within our relationships. Humans are used to our own specific routines and lives and the freak event of the Covid-19 pandemic is forcing us out of our comfort zones and into the too-close-for comfort zone.
Many will be realising how we take for granted the space and sense of individuality and purpose that going to our own job (or even school) gives us. When you find yourself wishing to be away from your partner and children and back in the office listening to Barbara from accounts complaining about the weather, that’s how you know isolation is starting to get to you.
Here are some tips on how to keep cabin fever and bickering at bay during quarantine.
Try to not perceive it as a punishment
Perspective is everything and we are very capable of shifting our own perspectives on things. Perhaps you may have been viewing your newfound closeness with your partner or family as a punishment or a burden that robbed you of your independence.
When you view one area of your life with a negative lens, it is very easy to cast that same light on the rest of your life. Try to actively think about isolation together as an opportunity to bond and get to know them better and to talk and work through any issues you may have as a couple or family.
You could come out the other side of this as a more tightly knit unit.
This is a time when the issues that you already have with the people that you live with can come to the fore. If you and your partner have any unresolved issues, it’s a good idea to begin to work on them sooner rather than later.
The danger is that the stress of the current situation could allow them to become much more significant. It is also worth noting that each person’s individual stress response will likely be triggered within the current environment.
Therefore, if you or your partner are someone who uses alcohol or drugs to regulate difficult feelings, then this behaviour may develop a compulsive element at this time. Equally, someone who is prone to anger when stressed can expect to feel more angry at this time.
Anger is a very difficult piece to tolerate within any relationship and it can represent danger for some people within the home environment. If you feel that your own or your partner’s anger puts you or anyone else in danger at any point, you need to seek help. Social isolation cannot and should not equate to a home environment of fear.
On a lesser level, however, most people will experience stress within their relationship at this time. Being obliged to spend time with someone is a very different piece to choosing to spend time with them.
If you can at all, have a conversation about your fears and concerns, both around the pandemic and also around your worries about spending time in isolation with the other person.
Having things out in the open is easier than passive-aggressively challenging your partner to not take out the bins, again, for the fourth day in a row, without actually mentioning the issue to them.
Equally, if talking is not the manner in which you generally deal with the bigger issues in your relationship, then it is unlikely to become the ideal form of communication for you now. Rather, deal with things as you do best but do it consciously and mindfully.
Have separate work spaces
This is essential if you are to get any work done at all and to avoid arguments started from disrupting someone’s meeting or just breaking their creative flow! Many people’s work is important to them and is more than just a way to make money but a part of their identity.
When you are working from home, unless you are separated, temptation to fall into old habits and to chat as normal will be there. Making your own separate comfortable spots to work from is crucial to traversing arguments caused by not respecting each other’s boundaries when working from home.
As much as possible, retain a working day. Have a start time, a finish time and scheduled break times. The issue to avoid is the feeling that work has taken over your whole life and that there is no escape from it.
If at all possible, avoid working outside of your work hours. This will require some discipline initially but will soon result in a space where your productivity increases during the hours that you are scheduled to work as you will begin to subconsciously know that you will not get everything done if you don’t get it done during your working day.
Allowing your psyche to enter a space where it feels that there is no differentiation between work and leisure time is something that was already creeping steadily into our consciousness before this pandemic. During this time, it is more important than ever to allow your brain time to switch to leisure mode. This skill will hopefully last long after the pandemic is over.
Help each other out where possible
We are all in this together and as we help the world around us by staying at home, similarly we must help our quarantine buddies in whatever way we can. Simple things like asking them how they are getting on working from home and just listening to them complain and offload are sometimes all people need.
They may be having a creative block and would appreciate your help brainstorming. They may just need a cup of tea and a kind word. It may be difficult at times to look out for others when you are struggling yourself but no man is an island. Having each other’s back is more important now than it has ever been, even in the smallest of ways.
Have non-work time, both together and separately
Leading on from this last point, ensure that you have activities scheduled for leisure time. This can be a virtual drink/hang out time with a friend, time alone or a particular show that you want to watch (even better if no one else that you live with wants to watch it).
Dedicated time with people that you want to see and spend time with will restore some of the equilibrium to the seeming endlessness of the work life balance that is happening right now.
Finally, it is very easy to spend time isolated with someone and yet not actually spend any real time with them. Make your partner a priority as much as you can.
Spend time together, drinking, eating, or just being. Schedule a date, where you both spend an amount of time apart before coming back together to talk about your lives outside each other.
This has the potential to be a time of great joy and restoration in relationships, as long as we take care to mind our own and each other’s mental health.
Lorraine Hackett is a therapist with MyMind. MyMind provides affordable counselling and psychotherapy online or face-to-face in their Dublin, Cork and Limerick centres in over 15 languages. Visit MyMind.org to book an appointment or call 076 680 1060.
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