Rob Pascale and Lou Primavera Ph.D.

So Happy Together

Marriage in Lockdown

Tips on surviving—and prospering—in close quarters.

Posted May 11, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has forced couples into an intrusive co-existence. We are now spending much more time with our spouse, for better or worse, than we’re used to. And it’s not like we’ve had time to adjust mentally to this new living arrangement. Shelter in place rules were thrust upon us with little or no warning. We’re working from home or we’ve been furloughed from our jobs, schools are closed, and the kids need to be educated and entertained. Our partners are our only social contacts because we can’t see our friends or relatives. Even the best relationships can buckle under such strains.

There are couples out there who are coping well. But others might feel put upon and have their patience stretched to the limit. Here are some thoughts to consider if and when things get out of hand:

  • Give each other some space. Designate separate areas in your home for each of you and use that space as your center of operations, from where you work and run personal aspects of your life. That allows for physical distance and time alone and reduces the opportunity for bumping into each other.
  • But make time to connect. Maintaining an emotionally close relationship with our partner is especially important when dealing with difficult times. Block out some time to chat each night, or consider setting up a date night, in which together you watch a movie, cook an elaborate meal, or plan future trips on-line. Who knows, this might be a tradition you will carry forward into better days, and can be a source of future enjoyment in your relationship.
  • Be supportive. With prolonged stress, emotional swings are common. Pay attention to your partner’s behavior and mood, and step in when you feel they need some help. The secret to any healthy relationship is communication, and doing so effectively is particularly important in the current circumstances. If you’re concerned you’ve somehow triggered their mood, ask if that’s the case and what you can do to improve the situation. Keep in mind that even the simplest gestures of support can make a difference.
  • Have a news-free period. Avoid news reports about an hour or so before bed. Most of the news right now can be stressful and stress can disturb your sleep patterns. Instead, talk about topics other than coronavirus, watch TV programming that’s light, or listen to soothing music. You’ll go to bed feeling more relaxed.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. If your partner is starting to drive you crazy, take a breath and a step back. Easing up on your expectations during these weeks can help. Don’t look to attack or criticize, but instead put your anger and disappointments aside. Offer and accept apologies easily and focus on things you can appreciate about your partner. It's easy to become overwhelmed with the issues of the day, put in your best efforts to control your emotions and your reactions.
  • Don’t forget your sex life. Sex can be relaxing and help to reduce stress, and lets you feel more connected to each other. Now, that said, we should point out that a large percentage of people have a hard time feeling sexual in stressful times, while others need sex to release their stress. It’s important for partners to take into account each other’s feelings and perspectives, and if one just can’t find their way to intimacy, putting pressure on them only makes the situation worse, not better.
  • Maintain structure. Following a regular schedule of daily activities will provide a sense of normalcy, and keep you focused on what to do rather than what’s happened to you. It’s useful to approach these tasks and responsibilities as a team, setting up a calendar that lays out each of your responsibilities—working closely with each other on scheduling means fewer surprises and less stress. And don’t forget to work together on how you will handle the essentials, such as homeschooling for children, at-home work schedules, and runs to the supermarket or pharmacy. By getting control of the day-to-day stuff, you feel less stressed by events, and at the same time build a sense of teamwork and togetherness with your partner. 
  • Take care of yourself. A regular schedule of exercise can help to keep stress levels under control, improve your mood, and even strengthen your immune system. Or take a break from the world by meditating—there are lots of websites that lay out the basics on how to do it. And keep yourself connected with friends and relatives through phone and emails. They will make you feel like you’re not going through this alone and that you are connected to the outside world, and that’s comforting.
  • Share the load. The lockdown should make everyone realize that managing a household is a lot of work and that equal contributions are needed from both partners. In marriages where one partner has not chipped in equally in the past may now come to understand that more effort is needed on their part. And if one partner is not pulling their weight, then it’s up to the other to make that point clear. In one sense, the lockdown offers a blessing in disguise: the perfect opportunity to balance the workload, and hopefully, that shift will turn into a habit.

As a final point, we should mention that each of these elements is usually found in successful marriages in the best of times. If your relationship has been lacking any of them, putting them in place now should make you and your enjoy each other more when the world returns to normal.