Being Stuck In Self-Quarantine Creates A Stage For A Relationship’s Cracks To Appear
Despite some anticipated logistical challenges (aka smooshing two people in front of a laptop or an iPhone), my couples therapy practice has remained busy through the transition to remote couples therapy sessions during the beginning of quarantine due to COVID-19. While my couples’ challenges span a variety of topics–sharing household/kid responsibilities, managing conflict and different relationships with money, to name a few, one thing has become clear: being stuck at home, routines being upended and worrying about health all create a heavy weight on relationships. And this weight can construct a stage on which to showcase all a relationship’s cracks and imperfections.
On some level, this is understandable and predictable. Being cooped-up in the house and losing the “off-ramps” that allow partners separation and distance can intensify already existing fractures or pain points in a relationship. For instance, if a couple has a hard time managing conflict, they may no longer have their go-to tools for diffusing an argument such as separation. With a ton more time spent together because of COVID-19, the temperature between them may ratchet up significantly, leading to vicious fighting.
Couples Need To Be Vigilant To Avoid Regressing Into Old Conflicts
Default ways of thinking, feeling and relating to one another can easily come out when both partners are in a cramped apartment or house together. In order to avoid regressing into old patterns, couples need to be vigilant. I’ve recently been using the analogy of a car’s tires being out of alignment. You’re still able to drive, but it requires that you not take your hands off the wheel or you’ll veer off the road.
In a similar way, the things a couple was doing to work on their relationship before COVID-19 are even more important to pay attention to now. Take my prior example of a couple that is fighting: it’s even more crucial that they deescalate conflict, find ways to avoid it and use other methods of addressing issues besides screaming. If they stop working on this, even for a moment (taking their hands off the wheel, so to speak), they will regress quicker into conflict because of the increased pressure of being quarantined together.
Living In Quarantine Means A Couple Has To Be A Team In Prioritizing Their Relationship
Being in quarantine really highlights the necessity of a couple being a team, even in times of conflict. Whether it’s framed as Fair Fighting Rules, Rules of Engagement or a Code of Conduct, both partners need to agree to not throw grenades like threatening to break up, bringing up super hot topics or pushing buttons that turn arguments nuclear during this time.
And if couples can’t agree to pause or end conflict when isolated? A couples therapist can help a couple have a calm and contained conversation about buttons and triggers together. Some couples have agreed to only discuss certain topics in session with me because they can’t get on the same page without help or a set schedule (and time limit) to address these topics. Knowing these topics bring up intense feelings, a couple can work as a team to be responsible with their relationship and not subject it to the damage of bad arguments. Ultimately, couples in quarantine have to agree to prioritize their relationship, even if they don’t align on every other issue.