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Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Keeping Together During the Pandemic

Many relationships are strained after months of social isolation. Learning how to keep your union strong now will help it last a lifetime.

As the pandemic stretches on, and on, and on … marriages that were doing well before are getting tested in ways we never would have imagined. All this togetherness is driving you apart. Is this going to be what retirement looks like? Will it be possible not to drive each other crazy? Has your spouse always had that intensely annoying habit? And finally, who knew it was possible to eat the entire family-size bag of cheese and caramel popcorn from Costco in one sitting, by yourself? Grrrrr!!!

What Makes a Good Relationship?

A recent analysis of information gathered from 11,000 couples found that a sparkling personality didn’t determine a successful relationship. Rather, it was how each of the partners perceived their relationship. According to the study, the characteristics that best predict personal satisfaction are:

1. Perceived partner commitment
2. Appreciation
3. Sexual satisfaction
4. Perceived partner satisfaction
5. Conflict resolution

Taking Care of Yourself

There are remedies, say the experts, to help you through until you can get back to your normal routines. Self-care is an essential component, says Ph.D. Chris Kraft, a psychologist and relationship expert. Maintain regular hours and designate time for work, for answering emails, even for listening to a favorite news program. Set boundaries for work hours that are ideally spent apart from your spouse, and also plan time together, Kraft says. 

Psychologist and relationship expert Vanessa Marin recommends specific avenues to self-therapy. These are her tips for nurturing yourself:

  • Let yourself feel. It’s okay to go through a full range of emotions. That which gets validated and felt will dissipate faster.
  • Journal. Write for five to 10 minutes a day, whatever comes to mind.
  • Meditate. Quieting your mind is like a honey milk bath for your mental health.
  • Move. Get those endorphins released with a walk, some yoga, whatever exercise you can do safely. You can shed stress and come back in a better mood. 
  • Connect on your own. Reach out to friends and family without your partner glued to your side. 

Working on a Plan

You may both have a lot on your plate if you’re working from home. Sit down together each week to map out what responsibilities each of you needs to take on. Who’s doing the cooking? The shopping? Taking the dog to the groomer? Does one of you need to take on more household chores while the other works on a major project at work? Having a plan will help you feel a sense of control when there is so much you can’t do anything about in the world around you.

Check in with your partner on a daily basis. He or she is going through a broad range of emotions, just like you are. Talking about them is a lot healthier than keeping them buried. Ask open-ended questions such as:

  • How was your day?
  • What are feeling right now?
  • How can I be a better partner to you?

Time Apart and Time Together

It is normal to resent your partner when you are spending so much time together. Tension and frustration can begin to run high. Marin recommends being intentional about making some mental alone time, and getting the most out of time spent together.

Carve out separate workspaces in your home. Even if you’re in a small apartment, make sure you each have a designated work area. If there’s a door between those areas, so much the better.

Make an effort to give each other space during the day. Limiting verbal communication can help create an illusion of healthy apartness; try texting instead of talking.

Give each other some scheduled alone time, and commit to not violating it. Whether it’s a walk, reading, a hot bath, studying the stock market … it’s not the activity that matters, but each partner having a set block of time for him or herself. 

Don’t forget date nights. No matter if you’re continuing a long tradition or starting a new one, scheduling conscious time together can help you focus on long-term goals far past the pandemic. The anticipation can bring joy and novelty into your relationship, whether you tour the Louvre online while drinking a French wine, prepare a meal together based on a recipe from “The Great British Baking Show,” or drive through the line for peppermint coffee at your favorite local shop. Get creative and surprise your partner.

These are tough times for relationships, but recent studies have shown us the secret to happiness. “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships,” according to the Harvard Health Blog. Nobody can be a perfect partner, but finding attributes to be grateful for can strengthen your relationship. “The more gratitude you express,” says Marin, “the more often you’ll find yourself noticing little moments to appreciate.” It can be as simple as, “I see the work you did last night cleaning up the kitchen. Thanks!” You’ll be happier, your partner will feel appreciated, and the world will seem a bit brighter. 

Click below for the other articles in the January 2021 Senior Spirit

Don’t Make New Year’s Resolutions


Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors