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[Coronavirus] 7 Secrets to a Happy Marriage in Close Quarters

With most states under “shelter in place” orders due to COVID-19, you’re probably spending more time at home with your partner than ever before. Tight quarters mixed with anxiety, fear, financial constraints, and uncertainty… well, that can create some difficult emotions.

Going through relationship issues is expected and absolutely okay! The good news is that this can be an opportunity for you to strengthen the parts of your relationship that need nourishing attention.

I’m sharing my insights gathered over years of counseling spouses and partners through a variety of relationship issues, as well as guiding couples through divorce. Here’s how to build a happy marriage in tight quarters.

1- Clear, respectful communication

Positive communication is essential throughout any great marriage, but even more important during the tough times. When things are chaotic, thoughtful and consistent communication with your partner can ease tensions and create a more harmonious living environment.

Create a list of personal boundaries you and your spouse might need. For example, when you first wake up in the morning, perhaps you need 10 minutes of alone time to check emails before any coffee or intimate interaction. Creating and honoring necessary boundaries will hopefully encourage more positive interactions and minimize negative ones.

When something does bother you, resist the temptation to “punish” your partner with the silent treatment or brooding until things boil over. Calmly and clearly discuss how to change or stop the behaviors that are causing you stress.

Try to focus on yourself and your own emotions rather than focusing on what your partner is doing or not doing. Homing in on what your partner “lacks” or is “doing wrong” will only exacerbate the situation.

If things become heated, take a bath or a walk to balance your emotions and brain. Continue a discussion only when you’re able to respond to your partner with control and intention, which will strengthen your bond.

Respectful communication habits like these will ensure that you’re treating your spouse as an ally, a loved one, and a source of support and comfort rather than as an enemy. Oftentimes, couples going through a divorce report that they and their former spouse stopped positively communicating long before deciding upon separation (and in fact, may be separating because of the lack of communication).

2- Dedicated date time

Carve out some time to reconnect with your partner every day, giving each other time and space to talk about your feelings, anxieties, and goals, and challenges. Do this whenever it works for your schedule, such as first thing in the morning or after the kids go to bed.

When you have a little more time to spend, don’t forget those weekly date nights! You may have to get a little more creative but that’s no reason to stop. Here are just a few ideas for indoor date nights:

  • Cooking a fancy meal together
  • Snuggling on the couch with a movie
  • Listening to an audiobook while sharing a bottle of your favorite wine
  • Playing a board game
  • Enjoying a collaborative video game, like Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Overcooked! 2, or Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes, a playful bomb defusal video game that requires clear communication and team strategizing to solve puzzles
  • Channeling your inner child and building a fort to cuddle in

Making dedicated date time a part of your routine reaffirms your commitment to building your marriage during difficult times–even if all you can spare is 10 minutes a day or a few hours per week.

3- Walking a mile in their shoes

Appreciate that your husband or wife is experiencing his/her own unique set of pressures and anxieties that may be completely different to yours.

For example, if your spouse was the main breadwinner and is now furloughed from their job, they may feel guilty about their current inability to provide. Or, if he/she is now trying to manage the kids’ e-learning, they may be floundering in their new role as teacher and stay-at-home parents.

Embrace compassion (for your spouse and yourself) and understand that we’re all doing our best. If they are frustrated in their new role and you’re frustrated at their negative feelings, take a moment to put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Practice compassion and empathy.

This will help you to understand the motivations behind their behaviors, so you have the emotional bandwidth to offer gentle support rather than harsh criticism. When you need support, ask your spouse to practice compassion in return. It’s more important than ever to face problems as a united front, which can help you build a stronger and happier marriage.

4- Keeping in touch

During lockdown, it may seem like members of the family are on top of each other–but you may actually be touching your partner less than normal as you grapple with anxieties about the current crisis.

Humans aren’t meant to be isolated; we’re stronger together. Reach out and touch your partner. Try a warm and reassuring hug, a gentle hand on the arm when the kids are pushing boundaries, a loving kiss, or more intimate touching if the mood is right.

Simple touches can go a long way. It naturally helps to build a happy marriage by communicating “I’m here with you” and releases the mood boosting hormone serotonin while lowering the stress hormone cortisol.

5- Self-care for you and your spouse

During this stressful period, you may find yourself neglecting the self-care you’d normally practice in favor of caring for others and taking on additional responsibilities.

If you don’t look after yourself during this difficult time, however, there will be nothing left to offer your partner or children. “Put your own oxygen mask on first” is a cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason: you must take care of yourself to be able to give to others.

There are many ways to practice self-care during lockdown and alleviate rising stress, anxiety, and negative emotions–check out my favorite self-care tips designed to beat loneliness and isolation.

If you can’t find the time for self-care around caring for kids and doing chores, make a plan with your partner. Switch off taking care of the kids to give your spouse the opportunity to unwind or choose a code word to indicate self-care emergencies.

Tip: When it’s your turn to care for the kids, use these strategies to be present and connect more fully with them.

6- Rearranging your living space

Do you and/or your spouse need to work from home during lockdown? This is an easy road to arguments over how space, work time, and childcare are divided.

To minimize the stress of co-working and cohabitating, designate areas of your home for work, relaxation, and playtime. Move furniture if necessary, declutter spaces, and commit to keeping them clean and tidy. Discuss open/closed door policies so you and your spouse can both enjoy your space.

If you don’t have the space to designate two office areas, devise a schedule so that one partner takes the space for several hours before switching. This is also helpful if you’re juggling work with childcare, as everyone knows where they should be and what they should be doing at any given time–avoiding arguments over who takes responsibility for what tasks.

7- Imagining the future

It’s easy to get so caught up with daily struggles that we forget to look to the future. Someday this crisis will be over and life will return to normal, perhaps even better than it was before. Brainstorm some things you’d like to do with your partner, friends, and family when this is all over:

  • Vacations
  • Big career goals
  • Significant personal events like renewing wedding vows, planning for a baby, or moving
  • Smaller everyday things like returning to your favorite restaurant or gym
  • Long-term life goals

Making plans creates excitement over the future, provides something to look forward to, and most importantly, gives you something to build your marriage toward. Enjoy dreaming about your big and small goals, and enjoy being with your spouse in mindful ways while at home together.

If you need some extra marriage or relationship guidance during these stressful times, I offer virtual telehealth sessions using Zoom and can work around your schedule. I am also offering a sliding scale for anyone who needs assistance.

Please schedule your virtual telehealth appointment with me now.

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