How to Use Social Isolation to Make Your Relationship Stronger
In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.
DEAR DR. JENN,
I am watching many of my close friends have serious problems in their relationships since sheltering in place began. While working from home together, my partner and I have been fighting more than usual and I'm worried that things will only get worse. What can we do to grow closer during this time instead of wanting to bite each other's heads off? —Sheltering in Love
Unfortunately, the stress and uncertainty that comes along with a pandemic has been the tipping point for many relationships.
But on the flip side, there are those outliers whose relationships have become stronger and deeper. I have spoken to many couples for whom the global health crisis has made them realize what is truly important when it comes to their relationship. These couples are doubling down on their connection and commitment to one another. How do you become one of them?Here's what you need to do.
1. Spend time apart.
I know it may seem like a contradiction, but the way to get close is to also allow some distance. How do you allow distance when you're quarantined in a small space? Sometimes it's as simple as taking a very long shower, allowing the other person the room to do a FaceTime with a good friend, giving our partner space to read a book or do an art project. Even if you are sharing a studio apartment, there is always the opportunity to give the other person space physically or metaphorically.
2. Have a date night.
You can't go out to your favorite restaurant, but with a little creativity you can still have a special date night. Have a picnic on the living room floor, create a theme night based on the next trip you want to go on as a couple, or dress up in your finest. You can also have a cozy date night playing board games or doing puzzles – just turn off Netflix in the background so you can really connect.
3. Work on a project together.
Do something in your space that requires you to work together, whether it's hanging pictures, building that IKEA dresser you have been putting off, or cleaning out the garage.
4. Connect on a deep level.
According to landmark research by psychologist Arthur Aron, a key pattern associated with development of a close relationship is "sustained, escalating, reciprocal personal self-disclosure." In other words, to become and remain close, we must be open and forthcoming about our inner world. Put down your phone and talk. Ask each other questions. Not sure where to start? Pretend like you are on a first date and ask these questions. Or, try asking Aron's 36 questions from his study on closeness.
5. Make social plans.
Make FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype plans with other couples. Plan an online happy hour. Having contact with other adult humans takes the pressure off the partnership to provide everything. It also gives type an escape, support, and distraction from scary times.
6. Have sex.
While the relationship tension can be arousing for some (there's a reason why makeup sex after a fight is always so hot), many people's libido has been squashed by depression and anxiety. I encourage you to connect sexually with your partner either way. Not having sex is not good for a relationship. Take the time to connect sexually can bring you closer, and provide you with a release for the angst. Try doing my sexual inventory questionnaire together (link to my book) and learn things about your partner that will take your sex life to the next level.
7. Put down your phone.
Connection is oxygen for a relationship. Without it, a union cannot survive. Taking the time to sit, connect, and talk about your day is crucial — even if they just occurred one room apart. Put down your phones. Turn off your TV. Make some eye contact. Show your partner they are important by giving them your full attention.
8. Be collaborative.
Be respectful about communication and inclusive about decision making. That "we"re in it together" vibe helps to create cohesiveness and a feeling of mutual respect — and can go a long way during these stressful times.
The coronavirus pandemic is unfolding in real time, and guidelines change by the minute. We promise to give you the latest information at time of publishing, but please refer to the CDC and WHO for updates.