Julia Bueno M.A.

The Brink of Being

Keeping Cool With Your Partner in Lockdown

We may have to dig deeper with our loved ones right now.

Posted Apr 30, 2020

Nikola Mirkovic/Unsplash
Source: Nikola Mirkovic/Unsplash

For the time being, many of us are spending a lot more time with our partners than we may usually do, or even choose to do. Working parents combining child care and domestic duties with their virtual offices are also now stripped of any decent quality time with each other. I’ve been talking to people a lot about how best to handle this sudden re-calibration of life, and in particular, how best to communicate with their partners in these unprecedentedly stressful circumstances—whether it means talking about vulnerable feelings, the mundane of domestic life, or indeed, anything else.

It’s more necessary than ever for us to dig deeper than usual to both look after ourselves, but also our relationships. Some potentially useful tips include the following:

  • Create and respect boundaries. If you are lucky enough to be able to escape to a room and shut a door, then explicitly agree that when you do this, you signal a need for no interruptions. If you don’t have such a literal escape, then agree to make and respect invisible boundaries—e.g., wearing headphones, or reading a book/working on a laptop, should signal non-interruption too. Just because someone is visually available, this doesn’t mean that their heart and mind are. Remember to ask another if it’s a good time to be interrupted. If it isn’t, agree on a mutually suitable time to talk.
  • Linked with this idea of boundaries is the potential importance of negotiating time to be left completely alone. Couples can have different needs for solitude, though, so one may need more than another. So, for example, this may mean agreeing to take a walk or buy provisions alone, or to take a chunk of time out of sight from the other.
  • It’s entirely possible for an introvert to be with an extrovert too—so negotiations about online socializing will have to confront these differing needs for contact with friends and family. Socializing online is also more tiring (our brains have to work harder to attune to others through a screen), and this is especially true for an introvert.
  • Make time for each other. This may sound odd when you are stuck together, but domestic or other duties may make be so draining that the temptation is to sit next to each other at the end of the day absorbed by smartphones or Netflix. Try prioritizing switching devices off and taking it in turns to speak to another without interruption and with full attention—10 minutes each a day can be profound. We all have a lot on our mind, and a lot that is changing—our brains are wired to be making sense of the changing chaos outside, so they are bound to be extra busy. Offloading them to someone who is intentionally wanting to hear you out can be very helpful.
  • Choose your battles. Lockdown may not be the best time to tackle every issue in a relationship. As long as you have to live together, it may be wise to agree to delay the thorniest issues between you two—especially if there are children in the house. Agree to come back to them at a later date, when the resources of ‘normal’ life are returning.
  • Having said that, you may also need to arrange a closer time to tackle a brewing argument: if a niggle festers and grows, try your best to postpone it for a ‘better’ time. Maybe when the children are in bed, or certainly when blood temperatures are cooler. If it’s possible to get a night’s sleep in before broaching the matter, even better.
  • Be mindful of criticisms. If your partner’s cooking/cleaning habits annoyed you before lockdown, they are likely to be amplified now. But now’s the time for appreciation rather than undermining: thank him or her for the helpful or kind gestures. Try hard to make gratitude far outweigh the criticisms.