Tips for couples to survive the Corona lock down
The Corona virus is not just a threat to our physical health – it’s also a challenge to our relationships.
Across the world, couples are rediscovering the joy – and the pain – of living together 24/7. Without warning, billions of previously interdependent spouses now share living AND work space with each other and with their kids under various lock down protocols.
For some, this is a welcome disruption to their routine but for others, it’s bringing into sharp focus the abrasive edges of their relationships.
How do we coral this wild pandemic situation and channel it’s energy for good in our families and in our marriage? Here are some tips we’ve heard from others who are smashing it in the lockdown show down.
Name and claim those emotions
It’s perfectly reasonable to be feeling anxious or fearful – there are lots of uncertainties and no one really knows how this beast will play out. Many have suffered the humiliation of job loss and the necessity of seeking financial concessions from family, friends and landlords.
Some of us are experiencing frustration and boredom as we try to be productive with limited resources and severely curtailed options. Others are under extreme stress and exhaustion as their workload expands under the new conditions or their business collapses with no certainty of when, or if, it will be able to restart.
For parents, the desire to protect our children from danger and anxiety has collided with the need to motivate them to conform to the hygiene and social distancing rules. And loneliness is a frequent companion, especially for the elderly and those who live alone.
Intense emotions are always around, but right now we’re all getting a heavy dose. Our usual strategies for managing our emotional life may need to be amped up or revised entirely.
It’s never healthy to just stuff our emotions down indefinitely. Psychologists call that repression, and it never works. The emotions accumulate and eventually erupt in unpredictable and harmful ways including explosive temper tantrums, contemptuous criticism, depression and hopelessness, addictions and unregulated escapism.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to regulate our emotions in a healthy manner is to ‘name them and claim them’. When we ‘name’ an emotion, we acknowledge its existence and impact on us. It helps to have a decent emotional vocabulary so that we can better identify the nuanced differences.
The next step is to ‘claim’ the emotion. This enables us to embrace the emotion as our own interior experience. Even when faced with the same circumstances, every person will respond differently due to the unique combination of personality, history and mental filters.
Blaming our emotions on someone or something else is not helpful. Our emotions are our own. Once claimed we can make an intentional choice on how we choose to act on them. Remember, open, honest sharing of our emotions with God is one of the highest forms of prayer.
Let’s be clear: we’re not advocating for unregulated expression of our emotions in the name of ‘processing’ them. Sometimes, we need to contain the expression of an intense emotion for a period of time in order for us to process it in a more appropriate context; self-mastery is a virtue we can all use in abundance.
For example, an angry spray expressing our frustration with a co-worker or our boss is never a helpful workplace strategy, especially if we want to keep our job. So why would we not display the same restraint at home?
Unregulated self-expression is one of the boundaries of which we need to be particularly vigilant at this time of close living. Our loved ones deserve to be protected from our worst selves, yet often they are the first to be subject to the brunt of our intense emotions.
If there is no one at home or among your network with whom you can safely process these emotions, tele-counselling services have been scaled-up right now – try it for the sake of those you love. You can also use the SmartLoving Online BreakThrough course which includes activities to help you process intense emotions.
Sadly, authorities are reporting an increase in domestic violence incidents. Clearly this is a boundary that must be fortified. We all need to feel safe in our home, and if you, or one of your household, is crossing this boundary, you need to get help – pronto. No excuses.
When we’re working from home, we also need boundaries between work and rest. For those of us for whom this is a new experience, it will take a conscious effort to establish a start and end time to the workday to avoid work absorbing too much of our time, or conversely, not getting the time we are being paid to provide.
Our families and our spouse need our attention too. An undisciplined routine not only robs ourselves of much needed recreation, it also robs them.
The abrupt change in our daily routine will necessitate some important discussions among the family. Previous behaviour and spaces need to be renegotiated. For example, if the family room has become someone’s workspace, clearly others are not free to have the TV playing there all day.
Similarly, it may have been perfectly tolerable to leave rooms messy when we spent most of the day at work or school. With everyone at home, there’s not the same capacity for individuals to leave their mess ‘for later’.
Routines of dress can also be important. Byron irons and wears a business shirt each morning. He’s on video calls all day long and when it ends, he gets changed, just like he used to do when he worked ‘from the office’.
Routines are also important for our mental health. They help us avoid our time being whittled away in preoccupations, such as mindless TV, gaming or social media, that leave us feeling empty.
It’s ok to binge on a TV series or game occasionally, especially so if we are sick, but to do this day after day leaves us feeling like we squandered our time. This eventually leads to self-loathing. And self-loathing will often manifest in angry outbursts.
One of the most vulnerable relationships to a lack of routine is our marriage. We tend to prioritise everyone else before our relationship.
In any single situation, our relationship usually can wait. The problem is that we do this all the time, and we rarely make it up later.
When we’re spending so much time together working, it can be tempting to make our recreation an individual pursuit. But just being around each other as we work, is not quality sustenance – we need to consciously plan and execute dedicated couple time.
With social isolation and the closure of restaurants and pubs, this will require some creativity. Try reading a book together (one can read out loud), having a candlelight supper in a quiet corner of the living room or after the kids are in bed, or have a moonlight picnic in the garden or on the balcony. Long walks are always a great option if permitted in your area. We’d love to hear your ideas – share them in the comments below.
Blame it on Jan
Some of us are old enough to remember the Yellow Pages ad, where secretary, Jan, forgets to renew the business’ placement in the print telephone directory. As Jan flees the office, her boss hollers after her – “Not. Happy. Jan!”
It’s an iconic line that has become part of the Australian lexicon. With no offense intended to the innocent Jans of the world, we’ve made Jan an imaginary co-worker who can take the heat for all the mishaps that happen in close living/working.
Dirty coffee cups left in the lounge room aka office? Noisy video conferences? We can get annoyed with the other, or we can blame it on Jan (“I’m really going to have to talk to Jan about this!”)
Just like the yellow pages, this too will pass (with no offense to the yellow pages – actually they make excellent toilet paper alternative – we could have really used them these past weeks).
And if all else fails, we could just eat chocolate as this clever remake of the original ad suggests.
It’s a difficult situation right now and some of us are facing truly miserable circumstances. Everyone is suffering in some way, but it’s not hard to think of reasons to be grateful.
- Grateful we have home in which to shelter.
- Grateful for sunny days and replenishing rain.
- Grateful we still have a job, or access to social benefits.
- Grateful for each other, even when we drive each other crazy.
- Grateful there appears to be no shortage of chocolate.
Gratitude helps us avoid being overwhelmed with despair and to rise above our difficulties and suffering. It fosters optimism and that helps our immunity and makes everything else in our life brighter.
Practice gratitude daily. Make it a habit. Diarise it if necessary. It’s free and will change your life.
One of the fruits of a grateful life is the realisation that we have an abundance to give. When our lives are full of the awareness of our blessings we readily and easily reach out to others.
Service to others gets us out of self-pity. Self-pity is a one-way street to misery. And paralysis. No matter how hard we have it, there’s always someone who is worse off.
We can reach out to others as a family and as a couple even when in isolation:
- Phone a distant family member, a neighbour, a friend who lives alone.
- Write a letter, send an email, text a message to a medical worker.
- Thank your parish priest for his faithfulness.
- Post something uplifting for your social media followers.
- Make a donation to a charity.
Let it go
Finally, practice forgiveness. There will be a myriad of annoyances in our life right now; kids underfoot, our spouse absorbed in work, a shortage of toilet paper (seriously, who has all that toilet paper?), careless comments and annoying habits in others.
Being together so much will also mean that old wounds will be triggered more readily by the other. In the scheme of things, this is small stuff and it’s really not worth losing our peace over.
This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday – a feast that reminds us of the crazy extravagance of God’s mercy. Christ paid the debt for our sins so that we could have the opportunity to have eternity with him.
Think about that for a moment. Think about it when you’re ruminating on some minor offense suffered from your spouse or one of the kids.
As we have been forgiven, let us forgive each other.