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Partners & Pandemics: How to Stay Stuck Inside Together

Several weeks into self-isolation because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and things may be starting to get a little strained between you and your partner.

Here we cover a few of the potential challenges of being in lockdown with a partner and provide you with some helpful tips for keeping things harmonious.

Feelings of claustrophobia

Sharing constant physical space with your partner can increase feelings of frustration. However, large that space may usually feel, it will suddenly begin to seem much smaller when you have no option but to remain within it.

Minor irritations that you might otherwise be able to ignore or distance yourself from can start to bother you more, and small disagreements can quickly escalate into full-blown arguments.

One essential way of overcoming and maybe even preventing such arguments is to ensure that you have time and space away from one another. Research demonstrates the importance of alone time for both relaxation and stress reduction.

However, suddenly shutting yourself away from your partner may increase feelings of hurt and resentment. So the second vital part of this strategy is to ensure effective communication of your needs so your partner can understand why you are doing this and can be allowed to do the same.

Each of you must be clear on the boundaries of your alone time, but don’t forget to also plan activities that you can do together. Your partner needs to understand that you appreciate them and value having them around.

Dealing with anxiety

Rising stress levels can be a further problem you both are contending with. Not only are you confined to the same space for much longer than you would usually be, but you’re also dealing with an uncertain situation as well as possible issues with work, with your children, etc.

It’s not uncommon that this stress might spill over into your dealings with your partner. According to clinical social worker Judy Ford, stress “shows up in our actions, our behavior, and in both verbal and non-verbal communications” and “stressed-out couples quarrel and fight more often, withdraw from each other, feel disconnected, sad, frustrated, angry.”

The essential thing here is to try to recognize when your words and behaviors may be stress motivated. In these ambiguous times, it’s okay for you to be anxious, but you need to try to manage any conflict that this anxiety could potentially feed into.

Aim to spend time talking with your partner about these stresses while distancing them from any relationship issues you may also be dealing with. Dr. Gottman evidenced the importance of such stress-reducing conversations through his research. He also emphasized the necessity of each partner having a turn at speaking and listening and suggested that both parties suspend judgment and focus on empathizing with the other rather than trying to fix their problems.

Succumbing to the negativity effect

The negativity effect refers to the brain’s tendency to respond more strongly to negative over positive events. In fact, research demonstrates that an adverse event such as an argument has at least three times the impact that a comparable positive event such as a pleasant evening spent together does.

While quarantine offers the perfect time for you and your partner to reconnect by rehashing past times, its easy to fall prey to this effect, recalling past transgressions rather than positive times.

Social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister highlights the importance of the ‘Rule of Four.’ He stresses that four good things are necessary to overcome one bad one. So for every single bad thing, you recall about your partner or your life together, try to think of four positive ones, and take time to share them with one another. This will draw you both back together.

References

  • Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Finkenauer, C., & Vohs, K. D. (2001). Bad is stronger than good. Review of general psychology, 5(4), 323-370.
  • Ford, J. (2010). Every day love: the delicate art of caring for each other. New York, NY: MJF Books.
  • Gottman, J. M., & Levenson, R. W. (2002). A Two-Factor Model for Predicting When a Couple Will Divorce: Exploratory Analyses Using 14-Year Longitudinal Data*. Family Process, 41(1), 83–96.
  • Nguyen, T.-V. T., Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2017). Solitude as an Approach to Affective Self-Regulation. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 44(1), 92–106.
  • Tierney, J., & Baumeister, R. F. (2019). The power of bad: how the negativity effect rules us and how we can rule it. New York: Penguin Press.