Having and giving space are foundational pillars of intimate relationships. Alone time is essential; it not only allows us to focus on ourselves—our needs, wants, desires, and sources of individual happiness—but it prevents the relationship from becoming a dumping ground for issues and idiosyncrasies that each party are best served to resolve on their own. For most couples, being together and being apart are natural rhythms that coexist and complement one another, ebbing and flowing like the tidal currents.
Unfortunately we find ourselves in a unique and unprecedented situation where these daily patterns have been uprooted. Many of us are now largely confined to the home and, if we live with a partner, this means navigating a new sense of forced togetherness. This change came unexpectedly; we were given no time or resources and, as it currently stands, no end date. Combined with a background atmosphere of uncertainty about the future at large, financial concerns, and worries around job security, our romantic relationships come under enormous amounts of pressure. The UK Telegraph estimates that there will be a 20% rise in divorce rates following the coronavirus pandemic as cracks begin to emerge in marriages.
We asked a psychologist to share some advice on maintaining maximum love with our significant others while living, and working, under one roof.
Show respect and kindness
Each person deals with stress in different ways, so they way your partner responds to what is happening in the world right now will be vastly different to how you do. We inherently know this about ourselves and each other, but being cooped up can really highlight these differences in thinking and acting. “Please show your partner the respect and good manners that you show to other people; it is extraordinary that some people do not show that respect to their partner. When living together 24/7 it is essential,” psychologist Meredith Fuller tells Really Well. “Maintain your manners and thoughtfulness.”
Practice good communication
This doesn’t mean offloading your internal monologue onto your partner or verbalising every thought that comes into your mind. Good communication involves talking, but it also involves active listening. “Paraphrase what your partner has said so you can feed it back to them so you can correct misperceptions,” advises Fuller. “Respond to what your partner has expressed before saying your side.” She also suggests that during these challenging times it’s wise to check-in more regularly with your partner, asking them if you can do anything more, less, or differently/the same to make sure you’re not adding to any distress or frustration that they may be feeling independent to you or the relationship.
Create your own physical space
It can be hard enough sharing an apartment or house with a partner at the best of times, let alone when the places we might usually retreat to—yoga studios, swimming pools, cinemas, and cafes—are in lockdown. Even if you live in cramped quarters, Fuller suggests carving out a room, or area, of one’s own. Make this area just for you, filled with things that bring you joy. “This means that you can enjoy some private time and retire when necessary,” Fuller explains.
Let your bedroom be your sanctuary
Building on the above, Fuller suggests keeping your bedroom “special”. It’s the one place in the house where you literally dream, so keep it clean, tidy, and appealing. Avoid working from the bedroom at all costs, and instead keep it strictly as a zone for sleeping, having sex, and unwinding. “Do not use it as the overflow room for everything else.”
Make your own fun
It’s easy to feel a sense of cabin-fever and restlessness after being stuck indoors all day without access to the luxuries and comforts we have grown so accustomed to. But, as Fuller warns, do not expect your partner to entertain you. “Take responsibility for self-initiating,” she says, recommending activities like reading a book, cooking, or writing. Whatever you do, don’t complain to your partner about being bored. Not their problem.
Use this time to re-connect
It’s mostly doom and gloom, but it’s not all doom and gloom. “This is a magnificent opportunity to get to know each other better, appreciate each other, and find out how fascinating your partner really is. We are usually too busy to appreciate each other as we race between appointments, social activities, workplaces, and external commitments. This extended time together is a bonus, so treat this as a chance to find out more about your partner,” Fuller says. Come together over a meal in the evening as you usually would, and talk about a broad range of topics; not just whose turn it is to clean the bathroom. And, despite everything, practice gratitude. “Remember that you are very fortunate to have a special ‘other’ at this time.”
Photography and words by Really Well