Maintaining Relationships during Lockdown
How can you best maintain your relationships and the health and well-being of your family during lockdown? Here are some tips based on psychological research to help you cope and make the best of the lockdown.
Acknowledge Conflict and Face Challenges
Social media is filled with jokes about the spikes in divorce following quarantine. Being stuck at home creates opportunities for people to get on each other’s nerves, especially since we often take out our frustrations on the ones we love. Additional challenges, such as loss of income or trying to manage additional childcare, amplify the stress of the situation. Stress often creates conflict and depletes our ability to manage conflict effectively. Try to follow these three Cs to manage conflict.
Communicate. Resolving conflict requires understanding each other’s perspective, which can’t happen when you stifle your dissatisfaction with your partner or withdraw from each other. Try to express what is upsetting you so your partner understands how to improve the situation, and in turn, be prepared to address your partner’s concerns by being motivated to solve any problems that arise.
Cool off. Being overwhelmed with anxiety or anger interferes with our ability to listen to our partner and express negativity in a constructive way. If negative emotions run high, allow each other to cool off (go to separate rooms or take a walk if you can), and make sure you agree to regroup to discuss the issue more calmly when you are ready
Commit to being a team. Working through negativity and conflict provides the opportunity to improve relationships. Committing to getting through the lockdown as a team puts any frustrations in context; this is a hurdle you can overcome together and strengthen your relationship.
Reach Out and Support One Another
This is a time in which we need to lean on each other. Support is the single most important thing we can provide our loved ones and is essential to stay healthy and happy. Yet, support is not easy. Providing too much support can make people feel like you don’t think they can cope. Providing too little support leaves people feeling unloved and uncared for. To get the right balance, try to follow these three support rules.
Responsiveness. Providing good support means being responsive to what your partner needs, not what you would find supportive. Do they want or like emotional comfort, or do they like practical advice to deal with the situation? Do they just want a hug, or do they want to stay up reading the latest news together? Listen and try to match what your partner needs, which might mean just being there without giving comfort or advice.
Reciprocity. People cope best when they are able to give as much support as they receive. Be open and express your concerns to provide the opportunity for your partner to provide support in return. This can mean sharing the household load, having turns taking a break or talking about your concerns, and balancing the stress of the situation with quality time together.
Reach widely. Remember that you need to keep physical, not emotional, distance from other people. Now more than ever it is important to connect with your wider social network. Reaching out to your family, friends and colleagues can help remind you how many people you have in your corner, and this will reduce the pressure on your relationship.
Parent Together as a Team
Managing conflict, supporting each other, and spending quality time together is all harder if you are also looking after children at home. This change in family routine may pose unique challenges. One parent might interfere with the typical parenting routine of the other, or parents might communicate conflicting information about what children should be doing. To parent well together, try to follow these three tips.
Share expectations. Effective co-parenting involves working together to establish shared parenting rules and expectations. Get on the same page of how you want the family to operate during this time (e.g., a regular school-like schedule balanced with TV and outdoor activities, or a holiday schedule of family time), and then try to share the responsibility of keeping this routine.
Support each other. Try to be realistic about each other’s parenting—you aren’t going to be “perfect” parents during these uncertain times. Be supportive and appreciative of each other’s parenting efforts and be understanding when it doesn’t go as you hoped. Feeling like you are a capable parent is needed to remain responsive to your children during these times.
Show a united front. Work together so that routines and expectations are consistently communicated to your children. Showing children that you are a united front helps children feel secure and enhances the wellbeing of the whole family.
Also, see here for ideas about how to survive the lockdown with young children.
Spend Quality Time and Grow Together
The lockdown can provide a unique opportunity to have fun and relax together. You might finally get to binge-watch that movie or series that you both have been meaning to watch. Watching movies and TV shows together can even strengthen your relationship. A recent study found that couples asked to reflect on the relationships portrayed in movies were less likely to divorce. See this list of movies to watch and questions to discuss with your partner.
Another great way to boost mood, be connected, and lower stress is having sex. The jokes on social media predicting “quarantine babies” arriving in 9 months do capture a truth: slowing down our busy lives creates more opportunities for intimacy. But, remember that it is normal for anxiety to reduce sexual desire. Just being emotionally and physically affectionate (e.g., cuddling, joking around) can help lift mood and combat stress.
Taking the opportunity to reminisce about good times in the past, play games and have fun, try new activities together, or dream about what you would like to do in the future, are great ways to feel closer and more connected. For some fun couple activities to increase intimacy, see 36 questions you can ask your partner, 8 “dates” to have with your partner at home, or learn together by taking a free online course on the science of happiness, or on how to cook.
Single Parenting or On Your Own?
The tips above apply to all kinds of social relationships. No matter who you are living with, managing conflict, irritation, and sustaining positive social connections is important. Reaching out for support and providing support to others is the best way to maintain health and wellbeing. And the tips for parenting also apply to people caring for children on their own. Be kind and patient with yourself when things don’t go as planned, and try to be consistent in establishing routines and communicating your expectations so that you and your children feel like you are in this together.
Our lab lead, Dr Jessica Maxwell, chats to the BBC about how one episode of Sex and the City sparked an interest in researching how our beliefs can influence our intimate relationships.
Read this article from Stuff, where Dr Jessica Maxwell discusses whether the premise of Netflix show Love is Blind could work in real life!
Read this article from the Royal Society Te Apārangi to learn about our research conducted during the April 2020 COVID-19 lockdown in New Zealand.