“I’m going crazy working from home!” Tom said, sharing his frustration with the shelter in place mandate.
His wife Janet retorted, “Well you’re making me crazy!”
I interjected, “Hey, why don’t you use this time to spend more time together.”
Janet rolled her eyes in sarcasm, as if to say, “Right! Like that’s going to happen!”
Thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, some couples, like it or not, are stuck in close quarters with each other.
This confinement can be a blessing or a curse.
It’s a blessing if you feel close and connected.
It’s a curse if work is an “exit” from your relationship.
For Tom work had become an exit to avoid the pain of feeling disconnected.
And now the coronavirus was forcing him to be with Janet in a way that revealed the painful truth that their marriage was not what they wanted it to be.
Tom habitually stayed late at work. He honestly thought it was because of his workload. But as he and Janet talked, he became aware that his workload was not really the issue.
Work had become an exit from his marriage. It was a place where he felt more fully alive than he did at home.
When he got in touch with this, he became conscious of how feelings of depression would come over him as soon as he walked through the front door of their home. Because of the negative way he and his wife communicated, he simply would rather not be there. That’s why work became an exit.
Discovering this helped Tom change this reality.
Two problems occur when we take exits from our relationship.
- Exits rob time and energy that could be invested in the relationship.
- Exits cause us to put off dealing with issues hindering our relationship.
By taking this exit Tom was avoiding the issues standing between him and a happy relationship.
Tom and Janet had what I call “A Parallel Marriage”. A marriage that runs on separate tracks. A marriage where you are together, but not really, not close. More like roommates than lovers.
If you’re like Tom and Janet and this crisis is bringing up issues you need to deal with, don’t just drive each other crazy in your close confinement. Turn this crisis into an opportunity.
Here are 6 ways to strengthen your marriage while stuck at home together during the coronavirus crisis.
1. Hug each other
Science reveals that we are wired for connection with another human being. Therefore, touching your partner is not only nice, it’s necessary.
We actually live to touch. If we’re denied touch, we don’t do too well. Our health deteriorates emotionally and physically.
So while you are in self-quarantine and socially distant from others, I recommend you give each other a one-minute full body hug during these times: When you first get up in the morning, after each meal, and before you go to bed at night. Include your kids in this ritual if possible.
Human touch triggers the release of oxytocin into our bloodstream. This increases feelings of trust, generosity, and compassion.
And it also decreases feelings of fear and anxiety that block our communication.
2. Share appreciations with each other
Say to your partner at least three times every day, “One thing I appreciate about you is…” and share something about how your partner looks, something they did, or some trait you appreciate.
New positive brain pathways are created in both of you every time you share an appreciation with your partner.
And old negative brain pathways start to dissolve.
This practice will transform the emotional climate of your relationship and your home.
3. Plan time to listen to each other
Being stuck in the same place together can work to your advantage. Make an appointment to use the Couples Dialogue.
Use it to listen to your partner, and let them go deep into their feelings about whatever it is they want to talk about.
The Couples Dialogue will help you mirror (listen to every word), validate (affirm your partner’s perspective), and empathize (be fully present with your partner in their joy, sadness, anger, or fear).
When you listen it says “I love you” in a very tangible way.
What I like about using the Couples Dialogue is that it helps me to listen in a way I wouldn’t normally.
4. Talk about things you would not normally not talk about
Use the Couples Dialogue to share your feelings. This tool will help you become vulnerable and open up to your partner. It can help you share frustrations in a positive way.
Perhaps one reason you don’t feel connected in your relationship is that you’ve held back your feelings.
Remember, if you don’t talk it out, you’ll act it out in some unhealthy way, eventually doing damage to your relationship.
Share your frustrations. But also share your ideas and dreams with your partner.
Talk about things that you normally would not talk about. The Couples Dialogue will help you do this when you probably would not do it naturally.
5. Surprise each other
Find out what makes your partner feel loved and do it. Here’s a tool that will help you do that.
Find out what your partner thinks is fun and plan it. Go against any unconscious resistance and just do it!
I know a wife who loves to play board games. Her husband does not.
If you’re this husband, it will be a major turn-on for your wife if you pull out her favorite game, set it up, and invite her to play! Why not, what else are you going to do as you self-quarantine?!
It will increase the pleasure chemicals not only in her, but also in you. So do it!
6. Laugh together
Laughter releases endorphins which helps relieve you of the pain you feel in your relationship.
I tell funny stories because laughter is good medicine. Here’s one I’ll give you as a bonus. It has nothing to do with what I’m saying but it may make you laugh.
A police officer called the station on his radio. “I have an interesting case here. An old lady shot her husband for stepping on the floor she just mopped.” “Have you arrested the woman?” “Not yet, the floor’s still wet.”
Whatever it takes, laugh together. It will do wonders for your relationship.
So there you have it – six ways to strengthen our marriage during this pandemic.
Let’s let the coronavirus crisis draw us together as a couple rather than blow us apart.