Living through a global pandemic presents unprecedented situations that affect every aspect of daily life. For couples, spending nearly 24 hours a day together while trying to work from home, homeschool children, and keep up with basic needs is a challenge to maintaining our mental and emotional well-being, much less a healthy, thriving relationship.
At the core of marriage and family therapists’ philosophy is the principle that relationships matter. An MFT sees the intricate connectedness of the stresses from your environment to your relationships and can offer valuable insight on maintaining healthy relationships while under pressure.
Here are eleven tips for couples in quarantine from members of AAMFT’s Couples and Intimate Relationships Network. Many marriage and family therapists are offering telehealth and we encourage you to Find a Therapist if your relationship or family needs help.
In this time of sheltering in place with loved ones, it is important to give one another the benefit of the doubt that each of you is doing the best in the current situation. Other crucial actions are doing acts of kindness towards one another as well as communicating about your appreciations and needs. Planning your schedules each day to help one another balance self-care, work, couples time, family time, teaching, and parenting will help you plan tag-teaming and manage stress. Kathleen Shack, M.S., LMFT, Alpharetta, GA
I have enjoyed watching clients differentiate time together by asking each other “in” (instead of out). They create intentional time to do an activity that helps them join and bond. Sometimes this includes something lighthearted such as a game, or a movie. Other times it includes something a little more emotionally invested like a relationship check in. Taking the time to make the time together different than time in the same space seems to have helped! Leslee Bry, LCMFT, Frederick, MD
Whether it's your family or your marriage, while quarantined, think of yourselves in a bunker with a common enemy swirling around outside. You're not at home doing nothing. You are home protecting yourself and your loved ones and adapting as best you can to a crisis. This is the most important thing you can do right now. Dr. Marni Feuerman, LCSW, LMFT, Boca Raton, FL
Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries! Being together 24/7 isn't easy. Sit down with your family and discuss how you plan to separate work and life at home, the division of personal space, and lastly, time spent together versus alone. Lauren Grossbach, MA, LMFT
Couples can have awareness and acknowledgement around the fact that despite having a good/great relationship, the experience of being with each other all the time is a new one; that they are in close quarters and may have to discuss issues around the time and space they individually may need. This may be complicated by the fact that they now have to renegotiate childcare: who cares for the children and when.
Couples can negotiate on having "house zones". These zones can be established for work time, alone time, kid time, exercise time.
Couples can discuss what their new feelings are around the new paradigm at home; sharing what is being discovered, what is working and what is not working.
Couples can take this opportunity to get guidance from a mental health practitioner offering tele-behavioral health. This is a unique opportunity to allow a clinician to get a peak of how the couple is adjusting to life at home. Susan Pennington, LAMFT, Boise, Idaho
During this time of crisis couples can use techniques such as the Gottman "stress reducing conversation" method to help manage the stress related to COVID-19. The techniques such as the "stress reducing conversation" emphasize that couples express genuine interest in listening to their partner and communicate in a way that shows solidarity. This type of communication helps couples become allies by showing empathy, communicating understanding, affection, and comfort. These types of conversations can be a buffer to external stress that many are experiencing in our current climate. Timothy C. Donovan, LCSW-C, Timonium, MD
Make one goal a day for yourself. It could be to get showered and dressed. For kids it can be to read a few books to them today or to do something educational.
For couples, find ways to get your alone time and some couple time. Date ideas: 1) Taking a long drive without leaving your car. 2) Listening to old music and feeling nostalgic together.
For friends: Call each other. Don't simply text. Angela Skurtu, LMFT, St. Louis, MO
In moments of upheaval and crisis, it is urgently helpful to recognize the shared aspects of difficulties and hardships that we are all facing and to be responsive to those needs which come to your attention in your immediate arena. This can be with loved ones, immediate family, our neighbors or a stranger on the street. Acts of selfless generosity and kindness are contagious and contribute directly not only to those you provide direct service to but to the well-being of the entire community. These compassionate acts also aid you in feeling more deeply connected with life. In these times of mass crisis, we can truly realize that we are all mutually interconnected. Steven Patrick, Ph.D., Flagstaff, AZ
Working from home tip: Create a "work zone" where everyone will respect the space and not disrupt whoever is working - just like if you went to an office. Especially for couples and their harmony between one another, this is helpful so they can focus, not worry about get interrupted, & feel productive - the sooner projects get done, the sooner they can relieve the other parent or join in family fun. Faith Drew, Ph.D, LMFT, Charlotte, NC
When others step in to care for us when we are sick, we feel loved and cared for. I suggest picking one member of the family and "Care" for them as if they were sick. Do nice things for them all day long such as making their favorite breakfast, bringing them drinks or snacks. Ask the person "What can I/we do that makes you feel cared for?" Pick a new person each day of the week and put your heart into your caring. Check in as a family at the end of the week and share how this experience was for you as the "Cared for Person" and then share how it was for you as the "Caring Person." Repeat each week to keep the love going! Andi Houdek, Centennial, CO