My Relationship Is Perfect During Lockdown. It's What Comes Next That Scares Me
How can we maintain this level of intimacy once we return to our distracted day-to-day life?
Within the span of just a few days this past March, our entire worlds were shrunken down to the size of our houses, apartments, or whatever type of dwelling in which you happen to reside. Suddenly, I went from seeing my fiancé for a few hours a day in the evenings, to seeing him every. Waking. Second.
At first, I had no idea how this whole “being together all the time” thing would go. I set up a workspace for him in our guest bedroom so that I could work in the downstairs kitchen during the day. But more and more, I found that I loved making lunch with him in the middle of the day, going on spontaneous walks with our dog in the afternoon, and bopping upstairs to tell him about a new work development.
About a month into quarantine, I talked about my new routine with intimacy expert Dr. Alexandra Stockwell, who said something that really struck a chord with me: She said, in essence, if the distractions of the world — in other words, those activities you and your S.O. do independently of one another — were the only thing that allowed your relationship to function, then you would find quarantine very difficult. If the distractions of the world were causing strain on your relationship, however, then you’d have a great renewal during lockdown.
Amber J. Robinson, 32, a publicist from Gainesville, Flor., has also noticed positive habits develop during the quarantine with her husband, Derrick, also 32. They’ve seen their shared household duties come closer to a 50-50 balance, they’ve developed better joint spending habits, and they’re nurturing the relationship by spending quality time with one another: they cook together, work out together, and tackle household projects together. “He’s become my friend again,” she says.
Lockdown forced me to see my relationship with my fiancé in a new light, and recognize what exactly causes our problems. When it’s just us, it’s honestly great. He’s one of the few people I can spend endless time with, whether we’re talking about what’s happening around us or just sitting together in companionate silence. The sources of our arguments are external: Friends we don’t totally jibe with, and feel resentful for having to spend time with; bringing work problems home with us versus seeing them play out in real time while at home; day-to-day time management struggles where date nights take a backseat to working overtime or completing chores in our off-hours. For us, quarantine has washed these problems away.
Conversely, I’ve noticed among my friends who are struggling in their relationships that their marriages previously worked because they were able to occasionally escape the relationship — to find outlets outside the home.
My biggest fear for myself and my fiancé is finding out what happens after lockdown, when life starts getting in the way again. When we’re not consistently spending time together, and we’re letting petty disagreements get in the way of the happiness in our connection instead of resolving them on the spot and not allowing them to fester. We’ve had arguments, sure, but being present all the way through them has helped us see the other’s side. Robinson sums it up well: “I love our new normal and don’t really want things to change,” she says. “It’s been such a blessing to reconnect and truly enjoy this time with my little family; I fear that returning to whatever normal was will bring some of the same tensions we felt before.”
Obviously, I know that life doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and that our relationship needs to thrive outside of a lockdown. But I was hoping there might be a way to maintain the consistency of our quality time and newfound positive habits whenever we have eight fewer hours together each day.
I went back to Dr. Stockwell, who suggested a couple things. First, whenever your quarantine comes to a close, express to your partner what this time meant to you. “Look back on experience together and say out loud what you learned,” she says. “Allow it to feel complete; looking back really brings a satisfying closure to this time. If we don't do that and just move onto the next thing without honoring the transition, it can feel incomplete or a little too sudden. If you actually take the time to honor how it's been, it makes [the lockdown intimacy] easier to tap back into in the future.”
Lastly, and most importantly, don’t fret that you can’t have a high-quality relationship when the demands of life come back to the forefront. “I’m always surprised how little time is actually necessary to really, truly nurture a relationship,” says Stockwell. “Fifteen minutes a day can go a long way sustaining what felt so good with each other.”
Although a big vacation is nice, just a few moments a day can be good for long-term partners, says Stockwell, who explains her own routine. “At 9pm every night, my husband and I will find one another and just connect,” she says. “No phones. We aspire not to talk about work, children, pets or logistics, so that we are not having the conversations we would normally be having. It makes it more special.”
She encourages talking about feelings, inspirations, lessons from the day. “Use the time to go a few layers deeper and essentially tap into the kind of energy of feeling the two of you have had when you are just at home in a lovely way together [during lockdown],” she says. “This is how to tap back into it on a regular basis, everyday.”
We don’t share enough of our dreams when they are crowded out by the things we dread. We don’t share enough about what inspires us when grocery shopping, dropping the kids at school, or cleaning the bathrooms feels more pressing than what we want for our lives in a year or five. But looking back on my own relationship, and recognizing the substance of the conversations that made me fall in love with my fiancé, it was more about dreams and less about logistics. I can tackle logistics with anyone; it’s my fiancé who allows me to dream.
As we exit this fantastical time in our lives — one that will hopefully never be replicated — I am planning a night to reminisce over a cocktail while on the patio we renovated together during the past few months. My fiancé and I have shared so many amazing adventures together, and quarantine, for us, would certainly qualify. I plan to take this energy into the second half of 2020, stuck inside or not.