How extreme are these times? We are urged to physically distance ourselves in public and yet many of us find ourselves at home in close proximity to our partners and children. We are disconnected from our local community and extended family, but technology provides an extended sense of community outside of our walls. Life and routine is interrupted.
Within our home, the stress and closeness can literally bring us together or exacerbate any underlying issues that our relationships might have been hiding. Globally, divorce rates and domestic abuse have spiked worldwide since Coronavirus appeared. On the flip side, experts predict an increase child births in the next 7-9 months.
“This pandemic is not treating everyone equally,” says Atlanta-based family and marriage therapist Sadé Ferrier. “Some couples are feeling the walls close in as pre-existing friction intensifies while others are relieved to slow down, talk more, and gaze into one another’s eyes.”
Ferrier says the one thing we have is common is that we are now faced with the current core temperature of our relationship.
“Most distractions have been stripped away, making the status of your relationship more evident,” says the intimacy expert. “It’s a good thing. Whether you realize you need to address years of hidden wounds, or you realize that you truly do enjoy one another and need to make more space for reconnection.”
Psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author Esther Perel suggests that we use this time “cocooning” to hone in on the people who really matter to you. Instead of bracing for the worst, we can embrace this opportunity in close quarters to build connection. Here are some ways to get started:
Set a relationship meeting
The idea of a meeting may sound tedious, but setting aside time for it is important. Often our mundane business of marriage, family or relationship infiltrates our day-to-day living. And now with this pandemic, it’s even more important to have a check in.
You and your partner should schedule an agreed time once a week to discuss schedules, finances, home maintenance, planning, etc. Keep to an agenda for the meeting and keep it to a set time. This opens up your other time together for just fun and more effective ways of getting closer and building rapport. We actually have two meetings in our family — our marriage meeting and our weekly family meeting. The latter always ends in us playing some game or activity together.
Make it last
Collectively, our kisses and hugs are just too fleeting to have an impact on our brain and hormonal system. Science suggests a 6-second kiss, lips to lips. And for hugs, a full-on 20-second hug with each person supporting their own weight. The benefits are numerous from heart health and stronger immune system to the release of positive feel good hormones throughout the body.
Renown family therapist Virginia Satir once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” In our marriage, we take this literally. My husband and I run a business together and on especially stressful days, we make it a game to stop and get a hug and reach our twelve.
Give each other space
All this togetherness, can be too much togetherness! Take time out for yourself and use it to set your own personal goals and daydream about your aspirations. Maybe even try journaling. The key is that you know yourself intimately. Ask yourself questions about who you want to be? And what do you want to do with your life that is fulfilling? Find a way to connect and express yourself.
I highly recommend listening to Perel’s new four part workshop to help you learn how to navigate this time for yourself and your relationship with others.
About a year ago, our trusted marriage adviser Dr. Mike issued us an intimacy challenge.
The goal: aim for 30 minutes a day cuddling, two times a week make out sessions that never ended in intercourse. In fact, we had to wait after 24 hours after a make out session to have sex! My husband and I had to set clear, ahem, rules of engagement. I definitely thought to myself that we would nail this challenge but we have found it challenging. And to this date, we have fun trying, and sometimes failing, to hit our goals.
Seek out the different, fun and funny
Even though we find ourselves limited in resources right now, try to be creative. Set up a picnic, dress up more than usual, arrange a dance party, or dinner by candlelight.
Ferrier tells her clients to be sure to “add the element of playfulness. Touch should be fun – whether that be the fun of passion and intensity, or the fun of giggling and tickle fights.”
Lastly, don’t be afraid to laugh. Watch a funny movie, play a family game, but just find a way to laugh with each other.
Seek outside help
Not everyone is experiencing harmony at home, and some of these tactics may be met with resistance or unable to get started. Or it is possible that a partner is too triggered with anxiety to reciprocate. It might be time to reach out virtually to a marriage counselor who can help you come to an understanding.
Ferrier recommends that couples should ask therapists what percentage of their clients are couples and what their specialities are. “Online counseling has unique differences, and you’ll have more success navigating this as a couple if your counselor is already skilled in couples counseling,” she adds.