Just Because A Couple Is Together All Day Every Day In Quarantine Doesn’t Mean The Relationship Is Getting What It Needs
One of the particular challenges about relationships in the time of the coronavirus that I’ve been talking about with patients in my teletherapy and online couples therapy sessions is how to manage the competing needs we all have for alone time and connectedness with significant others. If both partners are working at home, especially in an environment like a New York City apartment with limited space, the lines can feel blurred. If we’re sitting near each other on the couch, both with our headphones in, is that together time or alone time?
A third messy category can be created under these circumstances: not alone, but not together. Just because you are spending 24 hours a day technically in each other’s company, that doesn’t mean your relationship is getting what it needs. There are no shortcuts in maintaining a partnership, and more–not less–work is required during these times of stress.
Couples Should Draw Lines As Clearly As Possible Between Alone Time And Together Time
A lot of the ways we get alone time (e.g. commuting to work or having different schedules) and together time (e.g. going on trips or going out to dinner) have been taken from us because of COVID-19. This means couples need to get inventive to make sure everyone is getting what they need. For couples, it can be helpful to draw lines that are as clear as possible between alone time and together time. For example, working side-by-side doesn’t count as quality time together as a couple. When partners are focusing on each other, work needs to be put aside.
Everyone also needs to have some balance of alone time and together time, even during self-isolation. In online couples therapy, I encourage couples to have explicit conversations about this. Couples may need to get creative to figure out how everyone can have some alone time, even if that just means a long shower with the door closed or someone watching a show alone in the bedroom with their headphones on.
Couples Need To Talk About How To Maintain Closeness During Quarantine
Similarly, couples should be talking about how they maintain closeness with each other during self-isolation. This may look like making dinner together, watching a show both partners enjoy, or everyone putting down their phones and turning off the TV just to chat.
Above all, during quarantine, everything should be talked about, including ways to maintain connectedness. I’m encouraging my couples in remote couples therapy to do a ton of checking-in with their partner (“Are you okay?”, “How are you feeling?”, “How are WE doing?”, etc.). Not every check-in needs to be an hour-long deep dive into everyone’s feelings (and actually more frequent, shorter check-ins may be best for a lot of couples). However, the key in finding ways to be together (with some alone time) is to remember that relationships take work under the best circumstances and under less than ideal circumstances like at the moment, they require that much more attention.