Maintaining Healthy Relationships during Covid-19
It had been early February when I had taken my last leisure trip to a quaint Canadian resort called Chateau Montebello. My friends and I were gathering to celebrate the half century milestone of our lifelong friend, something which had been being planned for more than six months. We went swimming, cross country skiing, played Yahtzee, and shared drinks as we reminisced about the days of yesteryears. Every one of us left the week feeling lighter, refreshed, and revived with new connections and memories to treasure. Who knew that just weeks later we would be sheltering in place across the country and the resort would be a ghost town.
The experience of social distancing has disrupted so much of our normal day-to-day flow. Moments of interaction with friends and co-workers have gone online, while interactions with immediate family have intensified.
This realization as well as my own need for social contact has motivated me to reach out to friends, family members, and clients more frequently. Over the course of the last week, I asked them how they are coping and what they are doing to maintain healthy relationships during this trying time.
You will find inspiration, hope, and care in the stories people have graciously shared below. [For our clients’ privacy, I have changed our clients’ names below.]
“The key to healthy relationships is communication and lots of small kindnesses.”
Human beings are not accustomed to isolation. We are social creatures and long for human interaction. It is essential for your mental health and overall sanity to continue to nurture connections by making one or two calls minimum per day in addition to other methods of telecommunication.
University of Chicago Behavioral Science Professor, Nicholas Epley, says, “Modern technology gives us lots and lots of different options for how we have a conversation with someone. What we found in our research is that the cue that seems most important for creating a sense of connection to somebody else is actually the presence of voice.”
Marilyn shared the following strategy that has helped her cope with the Covid-19 shelter-in-place orders. “It’s difficult not to lose my mind in the monotony of these seemingly endless days. My best friend and I both share the same mental health diagnosis (bipolar disorder) so we do mental health check-ins a few times a day EVERY day and that has probably been the most helpful thing just having somebody to level with in that way.”
The most important thing you can do for yourself is acknowledge your feelings and combat them with strategies that are tried and true for you.
Establish a daily routine.
Certified relationship coach Rachel Wright suggests couples sit down together and come up with a rough schedule to add some structure and make things feel a little more normal. This is helpful for couples not used to working at home together.
My friend Diane shared her morning routine that I thought was extremely clever. “I live close enough to work that I bike to work like I normally would. Then I bike home where I will host Zoom meetings all day”. The bike ride is her way of exercising as well as drawing a connection to the many seasonal changes of Illinois. By maintaining this daily ritual, she maintains a sense of normalcy.
Jerome and I also have a daily routine. It breaks down to early coffee and writing followed by a simple oatmeal breakfast. Jerome journals in the morning, while I do yoga, write, and drink a generous amount of my french pressed coffee. Both of us retreat to separate workspaces by 8:30 am. Some days we are so engrossed in work and Zoom calls that we don’t realize the other leaves the house to go for a walk or a trip to the grocery store with personal protective equipment. Most importantly, in the evening we spend time together. We exercise with our friends via zoom training session; we talk about our day during dinner; and we relax by watching a couple episodes of something on tv.
Make time and space for one another apart.
Too much togetherness can spoil a relationship, while downtime preserves well being as well as provides mental clarity. “It's important to have some time apart,” recommends Erin Sahlstein Parcell, a family and marital communication expert at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “Or at least time in parallel – spending time in each other's presence but attending to individual needs or interests.”
My client Geoffry also shared his belief that time apart is as important as time together. “With stay-at-home orders and working from home arrangements, we are spending much more time together than we did before. We each take a walk or schedule exercise alone each day, usually at the start of the day. Our relationship is better when we have some alone time, and these days we have to be disciplined to ensure we each have that time.”
Let your partner know you appreciate them.
Intentionally saying thank you to your partner more often is the simplest, most obvious way to show your gratitude. It doesn’t take much effort, but those two simple words go a long way.
My client Annabella said, “We tell each other thank you for doing different household tasks. Sure, I could have made breakfast today, but the fact Steve took charge meant I didn’t have to. I appreciate that as well as the sort of dance we do exchanging responsibility and doing what must be done for the general order of the household.” Taking care of meals, cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming… each of these tasks helps maintain a sense of order and contributes to the overall life satisfaction of the family. “The key to healthy relationships is communication and lots of small kindnesses.”
Whether you empty the dishwasher, take out the garbage, or cut your partner’s hair, these are small acts of kindness that add up to a solid relationship. Conversations matter as well.
Even though Jerome used the wrong clipper on my hair, and now we look like twins, I expressed that I appreciated his effort even though it may take two months for my hair to return.
Rituals and communication keep us healthy, connected, and help maintain happiness and well-being. What strategies are you using? Please feel free to share below.
Stay Healthy and Strong, and feel free to Zoom me. I’m always up for a coffee chat.