How to Communicate With Your Partner While Social Distancing at Home

Psychotherapist Esther Perel offers a glimpse into couples’ struggles and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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As  many of us face new challenges with social isolation and state-mandated lockdowns, being forced to stay within close quarters can add new challenges for even the most solid of relationships. Most couples are used to busy social lives and are now confined to their homes. In concert with the anxiety surrounding COVID-19, many couples are coming face to face with deeper relationship issues they may have been ignoring. 

“The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives,” says Esther Perel, a psychotherapist and New York Times best-selling author. After hearing stories from her friends and patients about how they are grappling with the relational aspects of lockdown, she recognized that couples need more resources to help though this challenging time. In response, Perel launched a bonus mini-series for her podcast, “Where Should We Begin?,” called “Couples Under Lockdown.” In it, Perel counsels couples who are quarantined together.

The first episode features a couple in Sicily who are several weeks into isolation. They already had underlying relationship issues, and are now in a much more stressful environment. One of the patients is a midwife navigating the stress of the coronavirus in her hospital, and her husband reports having struggled to relate to his wife for some time. 

“You can see the cracks everywhere. One of the big things about this COVID-19 and staying home and being in quarantine is the disruption of the routine,” Perel explains.  “When you have a disruption like this, often you will have one person who says — especially because things are up in the air — ‘We need more structure now,’ or, ‘We need to make sure to hold on to the structure,’ but you have another parent who says, ‘Because everything is up in the air, we need to cut some slack, we need to be more relaxed, we need to be less strict about the rules, because these are not normal times.’ One parent says, ‘Because these are not normal times, we have to continue our routine as much as we can.’ The other parent says, ‘Because these are not normal times, we have to relax on the rules and on our routine.’ Those differences are very common.”

Before COVID-19, this particular couple both worked outside the home, but the wife identifies as the primary parent. Now, those roles have reversed. The husband is home taking care of the kids and acting as the primary parent, while his wife  works double shifts. Like millions of parents going through this pandemic, knowing how to talk to your children, let alone each other, can be a source of high stress. 

As they navigate their new normal, Perel offers guidance to help the couple find the root of the problems to move forward. She advises spending time together as a couple, not just as parents. “If you’re going to be together for a few more weeks in the house as you are, patterns will become more rigid when there is disruption in the family life,” Perel counsels. 

Perel recommends a Microstep of checking in with your partner each evening in a more meaningful way. “Ask, ‘How are you? How was it today? What happened?’” she says.

Perel also encourages couples to be mindful in how they speak to each other, in order to curb unnecessarily stressful or challenging conversations. “When you get into a stupid argument, one of you needs to say, ‘Do we want to spend the rest of the evening like this?’ When you want to make a certain remark, you ask, ‘If I say this now, what will this do to us? What will it do to our relationship if I make one more comment?'” 

To hear the rest of Perel’s session, check out “Couples Under Lockdown” on Spotify and all other podcasting platforms. More episodes will follow each week.

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