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.
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.
- 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”.
- Recognise new challenges and tensions that may come up and do your best to communicate openly about them.
- Make sure it’s not a one–time 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”.
Going the distance while suddenly long distance
Going from spending lots of time with your partner to suddenly needing to physically distance and no longer getting to spend in person time with them sucks, there’s no two ways about it. It’s a huge transition for relationships to go through, and the intimacy and comfort you can get from sex, or even just a hug, can be harder to find. There are things you and your partner can do to maintain the intimacy in your relationship.
Tim has a tight network of friends and partners, and it’s really important to him to stay connected with them. They have started a COVID-19 support network and use this to share contact details and vulnerabilities, and he says they also have other chats that are more light-hearted. “I’m trying to do lots of things with them like video calling, Netflix watch parties, playing games. It’s about doing things together, even though we are also separate.” says Tim.
You could also try:
- Doing a virtual museum or art gallery tour.
- Cooking the same meal and having a ‘zoom’ date.
- Swapping jumpers, t-shirts or pillows so that you have something that reminds you of each other.
- Exploring sex together, over the phone or using webcams, or even investing in sex toys that can be operated over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi by your partner.
Keeping it fresh when it’s quality time 100% of the time
If you live with your partner/s, it’s likely you are suddenly seeing a whole lot more of each other! When you live with together and you’re not heading out on date nights anymore, it’s easy to slip into a routine, and you might feel like you’re losing the ‘spark’ together, especially if social isolation equals a whole lot more pyjama time on the couch. If this sounds like you, it might be time to shake things up a little:
- Get dressed up for an at home date night.
- Learn a new skill together.
- Use this time to try that sex thing you guys have talked about but never got around to executing.
- Cook a fancy meal together.
Sam and his partner have started riding their bikes after dinner, saying “we head to the water not far from our house. It’s such a beautiful view, and the fresh air is really good for us”.
At the same time as it’s important to find new ways to be together and new things to do, we also need to give one another space. For many of us, those built in breaks from seeing each other, like work and drinks with friends have suddenly disappeared. Consider:
- Creating separate spaces in the home
- Talking to friends separately
- Scheduling ‘me’ time
This is something Charlotte has been thinking about recently, “we wrote a big list filled with things we want to do together, but now that we’re actually both home so much more it’s like “oh yeah, I probably need to leave them alone a bit too!””
This is a time of change for all of us, and we are all working out the strategies that work best for us and our relationships. Different things will work for each of us, and it might be trial and error to figure out what works for you.
Our communities and our relationships are resilient, and we will find and build new ways to connect with one another.
Check out the Make Your Relationships Healthier page for more actions you can take to improve and strengthen your relationships.