Relationships, COVID-19 and Sheltering In Place

  1. No clear divide between home and work. Getting caught up with home chores or your partner hopes that you being home means more help during the day. Partners or kids interrupting you for questions or conversations because you’re easily accessible. Or even the partner that is normally away starts micromanaging the partner that is home more. There is more time for differences to come up and create conflict; parenting, chores, meals, etc. When you’re both working from home how do you know who does what? It can also be difficult to switch roles so quickly in the course of just minutes. How you navigate these transitions are important. I had a client share she noticed that when she talked to her partner during the day he would respond more as if she was his coworker or subordinate. Issues like this will continue to build tension in the relationship and if left undealt with will create breakdowns in communication and connection.
  2. Time blur between home and work. Not stopping your work day “on time”, not disconnecting from devices leading to ignoring your partner, family or home responsibilities. It’s easy to get caught up in “work zone” mode. If you are working on a project and you find yourself in the zone it’s hard to walk away if you are not thinking of commute time and picking up kids or dinner. This is not a new problem for some couples, many I work with bring up a partner being too plugged into work as a problem. Yet, with the new requirements to work from home this could increase those issues, creating more conflict.
  3. Feeling stuck. Isolation and uncertainty can lead to increased stress, agitation and restlessness. One client shared that he is seeing behaviors from his partner he had never seen before and he is struggling with ways to accept them when he is already so stressed. Other clients have shared that they don’t feel as worried about the situation but their partner is extremely worried. This may look like the more concerned partner being glued to social media and news sites getting as much information as they can and then crying or panicking about what they are learning. The less worried partner then feels concerned for their loved one and overwhelmed by not knowing how to help them. This leaves everyone feeling stressed, exhausted, and often disconnected.
  4. Extra Tasks. No child care, no school, both people working from home. Having to plan for 3 meals a day for you and your family. For some people who are used to working in large companies that provide food, coffee and refreshments this may feel like a big shift. Obviously, I think even they would agree that in the scheme of things this is not huge. Yet it’s amazing how these little daily shifts can cause extra internal stress. It can be like throwing a pebble in a small pond and watching the ripples grow. Beyond that if there are kids home, they have needs, needs that in a home where both adults work are usually handled by a childcare provider or school. Now all these extra tasks, meals, school work, changing diapers, potty breaks, etc. all fall to them. This creates extra tasks for both partners and can strain even the couples who do teamwork well.
  5. Sweatpants Effect. I didn’t create the phrase, I read it somewhere, but it’s the perfect description. If we’re not going into the office or seeing anyone most people will not get dressed or primped for work in the same way as when they have to leave the house. In all honesty I can admit that even when I see clients online there are times that I look “business ready” from the screen up but I have sweatpants and the unicorn slippers my kids gave me for Christmas on. What is important to look at is how this might affect not only how attractive your partner feels towards you but how you feel about yourself. If this goes on for weeks it can feed into your self-esteem and emotions.
  1. Boundaries. Setting boundaries can help in a number of ways.
  • Set aside a specific amount of time to travel into each other’s experience and thoughts. We will use 30 minutes in the example.
  • Take turns. 15 minutes each. Partner A starts and Partner B listens and recaps back what Partner A shares. Partner B doesn’t give their own opinion during this time. Partner B is traveling into Partner A’s world for a tour.
  • Switch. After Partner A shares for 15 minutes. Partner B goes and gives a tour of their world. This is not a point by point rebuttal to what Partner A shared. It’s what Partner B would have shared if they went first.
  • Remember the fact that you see things differently can help bring balance to your home; this is not about proving who is right. I had a client share that listening to his more anxious partner made him take action in ways he wouldn’t have on his own, which he is now grateful for. His partner shared that at times when she is “freaking out” about something, hearing him say “It’s ok” helps decrease her worry. It’s just like traveling to the beach then going to the mountains, each place is different and each place can be appreciated on its own.
  • It can be helpful to end your discussion by sharing 3 things you are each grateful for
  • Set aside time to connect. Even on the busiest days you can find 10–15 minutes at the end of the work day to do a check in. Ask each other what is working and what isn’t? Find ways to work together against the current situation.
  • Don’t just talk about COVID-19. Talk about some nice things around being at home together.
  • “We’re happy to not have to get up as early, which also means we can stay up a bit later after the baby is down and enjoy a glass of wine and show together.”
  • “We’ve had more time to be intimate”
  • Many said they were able to get some home projects done that they’ve been putting off.
  • Others report they have more time to spend alone which is helping them feel less tense with their partner.
  1. Decreased stress from not commuting and an increased time to focus on tasks and home life.
  2. Being able to take breaks and spend spontaneous time together. Lunch breaks, day sex, staying up later.
  3. Opportunity to get to know your partner in a different way by learning more about what they do during their day.
  4. Gain more insight into the patterns that exist in your relationship and find ways to depersonalize them. For example: Do you remember the story above about my client who learned how much her partner had to talk during the day for work? Well, in the past she would feel let down and hurt when he would come home and not want to talk. It’s easy in that moment for her to internalize that as meaning something about their relationship or his feelings for her. Yet, now that she has had this realization it will be easier to remember that when he ends his work day and doesn’t feel like talking that is about him feeling overwhelmed. She no longer has to make it about her and so they can talk about ways to work together and give him space to recharge and her space to connect.



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The Couples Institute Counseling Services

The Couples Institute Counseling Services

Specialized counseling services for couples and individuals throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.