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Partners in Pandemic

April 13, 2020

Uncouplings surged during the month of March in China as partners, coming out of their nation’s coronavirus lockdown, filed for divorce in record numbers. “If absence makes the heart grow fonder, the opposite might be true of too much time spent together in close quarters.”i

Few couples, apart from some joint retirees, are accustomed to the intense proximity to one another brought about by current shelter-in-place guidelines. Successful long-term relationships require a fragile balancing act: our partner’s annoying habits and blemishes balanced against the delights and satisfactions the partnership confers. But for many couples, sheltering-in-place has tipped that scale by magnifying our view of what’s least appealing in one another while denying us the tempering benefit of workplace, social life, and extra-curriculars to preserve a necessary balance.

Here are some tips that might help your relationship keep its balance:

  • Quarantine during the quarantine. To the extent that your space allows, agree to spend time apart. Take solo walks that you turn into visual and auditory adventures so that you have stories to share when you return.
  • Relive happy times by thumbing together — or scrolling — through photo collections. Reminisce about past adventures and cherished milestones.
  • Undertake joint projects: online language or cooking class, sharing podcasts or surfing the endless resource of YouTube. Laugh together at timeless TV sitcoms (e.g., I Love Lucy, The Carol Burnett Show, etc.)
  • Enlist a trusted friend — select a good listener — for occasional venting sessions (“He/she is driving me crazy!”) as a kind of boil lancing to discharge safely what needs to be let go.
  • If you share the requisite communication skills, chat about what’s hard in so much closeness. Let kindness and compassion — toward one another and toward self — guide your words.
  • Reduce your isolation: invite others to “share” happy hour or teatime using Zoom or other video platforms.
  • Share your grief: it will bring you closer. Take turns (as speaker, as listener) identifying your many losses: routines and structure, contacts with friends and family, financial setbacks, freedom of movement, life without fear of a microscopic enemy, the certainty that loved ones will be fine.
  • Get to know each other better: share untold stories from your pasts…secrets, fantasies and dreams you’ve kept private…the best and worst memories of childhood.
  • If you sense you’re teetering at the edge, consider couples counseling via teletherapy. It can restore some balance, especially if either of you harbored significant hurts and resentments going into the pandemic — a high-risk situation now.ii
  • And if all else fails, consider this recent tip from The New Yorker: “Take a break every afternoon to meet in the living room for a snack and some light screaming.”iii
References & Citations

i Prasso, Sheridan. “China’s divorce spike is a warning to rest of locked-down world.” Bloomberg Businessweek. March 31, 2020.
ii The pandemic hasn’t slowed the work of the couples counselors at The Family Institute, exclusively through teletherapy. Phone 847-733-4300 or request an appointment.
iii Gohmann, Johanna. “Eleven tips for working from home alongside your partner during the global pandemic.” The New Yorker. March 20, 2020.