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Living Together In The Year Of The Virus

Couple cavortingIt is gradually sinking in for all of us that this is going to be a far longer disruption of normal life than originally thought. We have lived through the first wave of changes: hand-washing, shopping lines, shortages, masks, avoiding crowds, no touching even friends.

We’ve been checking with our circles to see how they are coping. It has had different effects on people. Some people are struggling. They were engaged in their job, but now they are idle and out of contact with colleagues and friends. They are like the Energizer Bunny in a shopping bag; they do not know what to do with themselves. One person stopped speaking to her husband. Another threw her partner out of the house.

Other people have welcomed this pause. As one friend said: “Wow, I’ve never been so relaxed for this long in my whole life.”

As we are realizing how much longer this situation will continue, the need to cope well becomes more important. Some people get their sense of self from being, and others more from doing. For those who get their social energy as well as their self-image from working and coming in contact with other people, the situation has become quite challenging.

The key to success during this period is how comfortable you are just being, rather than doing. If you have a history of meditation and yoga, this state will be familiar to you, but for many people, this will be a challenge.

We asked some couples to share their experiences of living together in these times. They had some good insights into how they were handling the situation.

Staying at home is hard for extroverts. One perceptive friend wrote:

“What…only you and me?
Being an extrovert, I was stunned in disbelief when I realized that social interactions were not going to happen in person for a long while and that my partner was going to be “it”… how could I survive with only ONE person?
After some grumbling and growling, I decided that bad moods were not going to do any good and I thought to myself, how can I make this better?
Talking to my single friends who are totally isolated with no human to hug, I have been so grateful to HAVE a partner. My partner and I have always had a positive and appreciative relationship, but as an extrovert I get nourished by many different people interactions and activities, not just one.
I decided that instead of moping, I needed to bring the same excitement and fun attitude I bring and receive from groups to my existing life in quarantine with just ONE person.
When he comes back in the afternoon I put in an extra effort to be positive and appreciative and attentive. It is so easy to presume that you know who your partner is and how he will react that you will miss who he actually is in that moment. This has put an extra zest and interest in our relationship.”

People have shared that they are becoming depressed not working, or not getting to go out to their classes and activities, be with others, touch or hug or shake hands with others. Often when one partner is feeling this way, they turn on their partner (the one they feel the safest with) and vent with anger, impatience or irritation.

“It’s very hard for me to have my son down the block and not be able to hug him and have him for dinner. Same with dear friends. It’s hard not to go shopping, to know that to go to the store is risky for oneself and others, to have to take precautions to leave the house.”

“My neighbor and I meet in the front yard sitting 10 feet apart for wine when we can. It’s very hard for me, a social person, not to be seeing friends, going out for lunch, interacting in my classes which kept me grounded, going to art, music and theater events.”

The same goes for needing personal space. If you have not perfected the art of creating space around each of you (even when there is no physical space), things can get difficult. Tempers can flare and being cooped up together becomes very challenging.

“It gets crowded sometimes but we all are feeling that way; being aware and respecting the other is the key to harmonious togetherness”

“Sheltering at home and sequestering take on new meanings when it is not possible to adhere to long-time routines. We live together as retired folks but in ‘ordinary’ times can break up a day with solitary activities and routines outside the house. Not to have those available has changed and challenged the way we relate to each other.”

“We dance around each other more because we don’t have the outlets we used to. I’m more reactive then I would like to be and have to catch myself more often when I’m tempted to lash out for no good or minor reasons. I find myself getting annoyed about petty things more often, just as I find myself contemplating larger issues like illness, death and vulnerability.”

This is a time when becoming aware of our communication, our tone of voice, as well as how we speak becomes really important. We need to be kind to ourselves and each other. This can become a time of great intimacy and closeness if we use these challenges as opportunities. We can all be more aware than we were before of our selves. We can practice listening and speaking from the “I” rather than expressing ourselves in an accusatory, blaming manner.

“Awareness is my mantra. Depersonalizing a frustration, turning to curiosity, asking questions before reacting when I hear a comment about ME helps to de-escalate the tension.”

“Like most couples, we all have our little irritations that come out when we’re frustrated or anxious. The virus and the stay-at-home protocols along with the political upheavals have set our nerves on edge. With me, some perceived slight or harsh tone will elicit a quick reply in kind. However, things are now amplified. I finally realized that if I wait a moment, I can stop myself and adopt a softer reply. It changes the whole equation. It’s a work in progress. We are getting through these intense times by trying to listen to each other and working together harmoniously with kindness.”

Many are finding new ways to have fun and share, to play with each other. Games and dancing together have become much more common. Laughter is a wonderful anecdote to the pressures lockdown brings with it. We are finding new ways to be together through video chats, phone calls, and texts.

“I’m not saying that this ‘stay at home business’ has been easy, but it has its good sides too!”

“Neither one of us likes cooking, but doing it together has us eating healthier meals. Instead of internally grumbling in the past about yet another task in a busy work day, now prepping meals seems like another relaxed activity to do together. We are bonding over doing a task together neither one of us loves because we do it like we have all the time in the world to do it in. We still don’t like cooking, but we have become better friends with each other and with a variety of vegetables.”

“We cook more and for each other, look for new recipes to surprise him/her with a new flavor, arrange the table as if we are in a fine restaurant on Saturdays, with candlelight and flowers even. Friday used to be our dance night at Main St., Ventura. Well, the DJ moved to our living room, making fire and dance away our fave bands; we miss the live show however.”

“Cooking together has always been something we did, but it takes on more meaning now, the proverbial ‘what’s for dinner?’ is a bit more challenging not being able to pop out to the market. So being more creative with things on hand and stretching meals into 2 days.”

“Aside from watching the news and horror every day, we don’t watch much TV. We have become avid readers again in all this leisure time and we are tackling procrastination projects with a relaxed and fun attitude without pressure.
We share funny stories we read about and are more playful with each other in our conversations and tasks. With all this extra attention we give each other, life seems better. We started to play board games and cards.
All in all, with this slow pace of life, we laugh a lot more, are more playful with each other and have more fun on a daily basis.”

One thing is becoming clear. Things are altering so much that we will probably come out of this with a new style of being with each other. This can be a wonderful opportunity to learn about ourselves and to learn different, more conscious ways of being together.

“Let go, let go, let go….
I have had to let go A LOT about my idea of how things should be done and in what time frame. I have to remind myself that with all this time and closeness there is no rush to finish things on a schedule or to push for a certain outcome. It has not been that easy but practice makes perfect! So all in all, this “staying at home” business has been good for our relationship. It feels a lot like the extra layer of carefree happiness we always get from being on vacation.”

“The constraints on travel and being in the field of ‘not knowing’ and uncertainty about when that might be possible again is difficult for me. And this time has truly brought home to me (so to speak) that the only certainty in life is ‘not knowing.’ There is nothing we can be sure of.”

Photo credit: Kai Duex

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Successful Relationship Reading Corner

BookshelfIn this week's blog, we looked at the stresses of living together during this time, and talked to a number of people about this. These articles cover various ways to deal with the situation.

Can Your Relationship Survive the Togetherness of a Pandemic? Here Are 11 Things Couples' Therapists Recommend "Have you recently noticed how loud your partner chews? That her placement of items in the fridge is illogical? That his consumption of toilet paper/soap/the good snacks is remarkably high? That parenting is not one of his or her core strengths? If so, you might be married during a pandemic."

The coronavirus lockdown could test your relationship. Here’s how to keep it intact (and even improve it) "If you’re both working from home, and with nowhere to go out to in the evenings, there’s a chance you might start to get on each other’s nerves. Perhaps it’s happening already. This is normal, particularly given the increased stress we’re all feeling right now. But since we could be in this predicament for a while yet, it’s worth taking steps to ensure we get through this period with our relationships intact. We might even be able to come out stronger."

How the Coronavirus Can Damage Relationships "Death and financial upheaval are of course the primary concerns in the COVID-19 pandemic. But people aren’t the only targets of the virus—relationships can die too.... The first question is, what is happening? Is it that couples who would otherwise have remained happily married are torn apart by the extensive and enforced time together? Or is it that couples who would otherwise have eventually gotten divorced anyway are simply getting divorced sooner?"


Spreading peace one relationship at a time
Phil and Maude
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