Healthy Relationships During COVID-19

Sarah Borish, PhD
April 24, 2020
3 Minutes

In addition to the challenges associated with avoiding contagion, managing illness if infected, and social isolation, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique issues for interpersonal relationships. Across the country and the world, people are finding themselves either isolated from their partners or spending more time together in confined spaces than ever before. Here are some basic strategies for helping keep relationships healthy during this crisis and beyond.

When Separated from Your Partner

For many, this time of quarantine and social distancing has created a tangible distance from their partners. Just like it is important to make time for loved ones and friends who are isolating separately, it is imperative to make time for our partners even when being together in person is not possible. Find ways to stay connected even when physically distant. This can take many forms. For example, schedule daily time to connect virtually. In addition, consider sending notes and packages (if this can be done safely) to let your partner know you are thinking about him or her. The key here is to find ways to let the other person know they are in your thoughts.

If you start to feel lonely or that your partner is not meeting your needs from afar, as always, open communication is essential. This is especially true right now when our world feels so unstable and disjointed — unsurprisingly, small challenges quickly feel much larger when our environment seems as unbalanced as things seem right now. Letting people know that what we need from them as quickly as possible can help things to feel more stable and prevent escalation.

When Quarantined with Your Partner

On the other hand, spending all of your time with your partner can be just as challenging as being separated! Keep in mind, attitude is everything, so consider this an opportunity for relationship growth. That being said, things may still be quite challenging. Consider a basic rule of social psychology: we need as many as five good things to compensate for one bad thing. There are a lot of really difficult things happening in the world around us, so positivity in relationships is that much more important. Remember: this is a challenging time for you and your partner, so have compassion for everyone.

With that in mind, focus on the good times with your partner. Maybe things feel really difficult right now, so consider spending time reminiscing about positive memories. Tackle a project together like cleaning out your closets or learning to cook new things. Show appreciation when your partner does something nice for you rather than criticizing something else.

You might think that you are too connected to your partner right now, but try to emphasize meaningful connection. For example, just sitting in the same space working is not the same thing as meaningfully connecting. Make time to put your computers and phones away and engage in substantive conversation — how are you feeling about the quarantine? What are you afraid of right now?

Finally, find ways to take alone time, as this is something we all need. This may require getting creative, given space limitations but take time for yourself and then come back into connectivity ready to meaningfully engage with your partner.

Staying Safe

Intimate Partner Violence (also known as domestic violence) rates have skyrocketed during quarantine. This happens anytime families spend more time together, but right now the ability to escape may feel restricted. If you are in a relationship that does not feel safe, then the above recommendations are not appropriate. Instead, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline ( https://www.thehotline.org/help/ or 1–800–799-SAFE (7233)). You can chat online or by phone, they can help you safely explore your options.

Sarah Borish, PhD

Sarah Borish, PhD, is a clinical psychologist at Carbon Health. She enjoys focusing on the brain’s relationship to behavior and its effects on mental health.

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