Keeping our relationships healthy during COVID-19 part 1

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact Australia and overseas, we have all experienced impacts on our daily lives. It’s a time of significant change, hardship, uncertainty and anxiety.  

Messaging about social distancing and staying home where we can, makes it clear that we all have a role to play in stopping the spread of COVID-19. While we can see the importance of these actions, we also recognise that many of us are having to make tough choices about how we live our lives. Many people in our communities don’t live with the people that they are closest to. Some of us have partners that we don’t live with, and/or do not live with those that we consider our family, be they biological or chosen. This is not an easy time, and it is ok to be struggling.  

Despite the impact of COVID-19 on our relationships, there are things we can all do to protect and nurture our loved ones and our relationships. This article focuses on how to manage stress and changes in relationships. We’ve also shared part 2 of this series,  with specific ideas for people who are isolating together, and people who are having to self-isolate away from their partners. In these articles we will hear from three community members, Tim, Charlotte and Sam, about how they are going in their relationships.  

This series of articles is about some ways that we can manage the impacts of COVID-19 on our relationships. This series is for people in healthy relationships. If you or someone you know is in an unhealthy or unsafe relationship, there is support for you. The NSW Government is supporting domestic violence services with additional measures in response to COVID-19. If you are concerned about the relationship of a neighbour, friend or community member, check out our Bystander Toolkit  for ideas about how you can act to provide support- many of these ideas can be adapted to providing virtual support. 

 Keeping our loved ones out of the firing line 

When we feel anxious, stressed, or depressed, we can end up ‘bringing that home’ (especially if we are now suddenly always at home!). We may even blame our partners for ‘making’ us feel this way. With the added stress of what is going on around us, it’s important to focus on managing our own emotions so that we don’t take stress out on the ones that we love. No matter how stressed you are, there is no excuse for taking it out on those around you.  

You can: 

  • Name and share your feelings to help keep things out in the open and help your partner to understand why you might be acting differently. 
  • Let your partner know that you aren’t feeling good in your body and emotions, even if you can’t name exactly what you’re feeling. 
  • Share what you need, whether that’s some time alone, or words of comfort. 
  • Own your actions, if you find that you’re snapping at your partner or getting annoyed easily, apologise and acknowledge that it’s not fair. 
  • Focus on managing your own emotions and mental health, thinking about strategies that have worked for you in the past like exercising regularly or doing some meditation or grounding exercises each day.  
  • Talk to your partner if you feel like they are treating you differently or that their mental health is impacting the way they are acting. This isn’t about blaming or judging, it’s about working together.  

How Does this Look in practice? 

Charlotte has been feeling really anxious lately, and says she can tell it impacts her partner too, so I’ve made a list of everything I need to do to manage my anxiety, and I’ve asked for partner’s help doing them– like leaving my phone outside of the bedroom at night so I can’t check the news and Facebook as much. 

One of Tim’s partners has also set up boundaries around social media by creating two different group chats with the same people one regular one, and one that they use just to share info about COVID-19. Tim says, that stops ALL the messages being about COVID-19, and everyone can choose what messages to engage in depending on how they feel”. 

We do also need to cut our partners (and ourselves) some slack. The impacts of COVID-19 are real, they cannot be ‘talked away’ and it’s understandable that they affect our wellbeing. Try to be understanding, give your partner space and be ready to forgive and let go of grudges.  

Sam is conscious his partner is feeling the strain, this crisis is on top of a few other challenges they were already facing. So for Sam, There are gentle and kind things we can do for our partners that can take the hard edge off”. 

Working through COVID-19 changes and challenges  

Our lives have all changed due to COVID-19. Some of us are suddenly unable to physically be with our partners, those of us who live with our partners are suddenly spending a LOT more time with them, those of us who are immunocompromised might need to rely on our partners to do daily tasks like shopping where that hasn’t been the case before, many of our jobs have been impacted, and we’ve had our financial situations change overnight. All these things can change the dynamic of our relationships- and that’s ok! The important thing is that we talk through and acknowledge those changes.  

When Sam first started to work from home it was tough for his partner, “I think it was a bit of a kick in the ribs, my partner said “I can never work from home, ever”. Sam’s partner works in a hospital and is working long hours there. Sam says I spoke to them about how important their role is in this whole thing, and we talked it out. 

Charlotte says that because of COVID-19 her partner has gone from working really long hours to having some days with no work at all, while she’s working full time. “to be honest I’m a bit jealous” she says, “but I know that’s not really helpful when they’re struggling with not working”  

You can: 

  • Recognise new challenges and tensions that may come up and do your best to communicate openly about them.  
  • Make sure it’s not a onetime conversation, revisit the big stuff and see how you’re going. 
  • Follow through with action where needed. We may need to re-negotiate our shared budgets and spending habits, change how we live in our spaces, and show extra care to our partners.  

Tim has had to work really long hours in response to COVID-19, and says my partner has been keeping me alive! They’ve been my chef, my support person, my coordinator, and they’ve helped rally support around me. 

We have also shared some specific tips that look at things we can do in our relationships to maintain intimacy and connection, whether we are isolating with our partners or away from them in part 2 of this series.  

If you need more information about COVID-19, you can check out ACON’s Coronavirus Information for LGBTQ Communities and People living with HIV. For the most up to date information, the Government has set up a central website that provides up to date information about COVID-19 including about health & prevention, and financial support.