As a marriage counsellor and a couple therapist I am naturally curious about relationships. During the time of COVID-19, I am especially curious about the impact of social distancing on couples and what people can do to maintain and improve their relationship under the circumstances.
There is no clinical literature on this topic because the world has never seen this level of pandemic. In the last week much has been written about engaged couples who had to cancel their wedding plans. Much is written about difficulties that separating couples face trying to arrange child custody during social distancing. The focus of this article is to share with you my observations based on consulting couples online. I will give you a suggestion on how to keep and strengthen your relationship during this crisis. We can approach this task by focusing on the most common mistake partners make during social distancing and isolation.
Let us focus on a married or a common-law couple with children who live under the same roof and have chosen to isolate themselves. Initially, you may find an improvement in the relationship. Partly because there is now a “common enemy” – the virus. It is human nature to get closer in times of fear. At the same time, you are probably spending more time with each other than you ever had in the past. This can go either way. You may be growing closer together and enjoying the time you never had as a couple. Unfortunately, you may also be bickering more because suddenly you are in each other’s hair.
Let me share with you the most common mistake that couples with children make during this time. As partners find themselves isolated from the rest of the world, they start spending a great deal of time as a family. That is great for you as a family unit! You play more with the kids. As a family, you learn and read together and watch TV. What people often forget is the Subunit of a Couple.
Please note that your subunit of a couple was there before your children were born. You were a boyfriend and girlfriend. Most probably your subunit of a couple was at its best during that time. You hung out together, just the two of you. Maybe you cuddled and made out. You probably experimented with each other sexually quite a lot during that time. What happened then? You started a family. The family became the main unit and, if you are like many other couples, your subunit of a couple either shrank significantly or almost disappeared.
During this time of a medical crisis, you as a couple have a chance to revive your couplehood. Unfortunately, most couples are making the mistake of putting all or most of their energy into the family unit. Don’t get me wrong, family is important. But so is the couple. If you spend an hour watching a show with the kids – that is a “plus one” to your family unit. It is a zero for your couple subunit. However, if you spend an hour watching the show as a couple in your bedroom, with a lock on your door or some sort of a “do not disturb” sign, then it is a plus one to your couple subunit and a zero for your unit as a family.
My number one recommendation to couples with children in social isolation is to have a healthy Couple-Family Balance. It is no different from work-life balance. If you focus too much on one and neglect the other there will be consequences in the neglected area.
- Remember what you enjoyed doing together before the kids. Did you read together? Maybe you watched movies? Did you spend an hour or two in a bubble bath with nice music, berries and chocolate? Maybe you gave each other a massage? You get my drift.
- Talk to your partner about what you remember about that time and what you miss. Obviously, you cannot go to the movies now or a sporting event or a restaurant. That is understandable. There are many things though that you can do at home.
- Actually do it…
If by any chance you find it difficult to follow the above steps that means that you are no longer familiar with each other as boyfriend and girlfriend. It also means that this kind of a conversation would be too difficult and awkward to have on your own. In that case, reach out for help. More and more marriage counsellors and couple therapists work online. Remember, talking to a couples therapist would be a plus one into your subunit as a couple.