Illustration by Susannah Felstead
January is usually known as the high season for marital lawyers, as partners decide they’ve had enough and want to start the year on a new page. With partners being quarantined for several weeks on end now, it looks like January might have some competition. When lockdown restrictions in China were eased earlier this month, the divorce rates suddenly spiked in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi Province. After being stuck together within the same walls for over a month, it seems as if couples either found out they weren’t compatible after all, or perhaps arguments weren’t as easy to avoid as it was physically impossible to do so, leading to minor scraps being blown out of proportion. Some couples might have already faced issues even before the lockdown and are now forced to grit their teeth through what might feel like a forced extension of their relationship.
I asked people online whether the crisis has caused tension between them and their partner. The majority of them confirmed that it made their relationship more stressful than before, however some pointed out that newly found time together gave them a chance to reconnect. Shared social isolation has created a safe haven for some at least and given them a source of security in times of anxiety and uncertainty.
One person shared that “as much as I hate to admit it, I have been heavily reliant on my boyfriend as a source of security, comfort and normality. I’ve struggled to separate from him and being at home is chaotic, so it has 100% helped me stay stable and content in a time where it feels like your whole life got cancelled.” While others are still making their own time, revealing “my boyfriend and I are using this time to sit together and game separately and it’s lovely.”
Although there is solace in having a partner close by individuals need their own space, the removal of which can cause tension in a relationship. “It’s been challenging to create two completely different lives in the same space. No one can be there for each other all the time. We need some time just to ourselves too.” These feelings seem to be unanimous, with another couple revealing “this situation has made me more grateful for when we can actually have more intense periods of seeing each other physically. But it’s also easy to fall back into your own world and forget about each other, which can create distance. The urge that you ‘have to’ talk to each other all the time can be quite challenging to me. We need some time just to ourselves too.”
To make sure that there won’t be a January-esque doomsday for couples when this crisis is over, relationship charity Relate has published some advice on how to maintain your relationship during the lockdown. One of them includes staying open to the way your partner reacts to this current situation and not forcing them to handle things your way. In such unprecedented times, there can be no right or wrongs in the way people deal with this crisis. Some might want to refresh their news feed every minute to stay on top of government and health advice, whereas others might seek refuge from this global panic by distracting themselves with Netflix, reading or whatever lets them escape for a minute. How your partner deals with it might not correlate with your own coping mechanisms but it is important to respect that. Asking whether you can help them in any way might also open another opportunity to get to know each other more deeply, and show that you’re supportive of them no matter how this crisis affects them personally.
As couples are stuck under the same roof for most of the next few weeks, little annoyances are likely to become more pronounced. One piece of advice that stuck out when talking to others was that they wouldn’t advise dwelling on issues for too long. Bringing up problems in a calm and considerate way before they escalate could prevent bigger, unnecessary arguments in the future. If the issue is quite big to begin with, Relate advises to wait until the worst part of this crisis is over so it doesn’t impact the situation.
It is also important not to forget to acknowledge that your partner is willing to improve on things that irritate you and to let them know that you appreciate it. This might also be a good opportunity to talk openly about what you can improve on in order to reciprocate their support and consideration. Preaching that communication is key is of course always easier said than done. People have shared their own unique methods of handling conflict or preventing it online. For example, one couple is coping by “Smoking plenty of weed to stop getting so pissed off with each other”. Others stress the importance of spending time alone and finding ways to keep yourself stimulated by “spending time doing individual activities is a refreshing way to enjoy time together” as it is “very crucial for your mental health to cling to anything that remotely brings normality and security in your life when nothing is secure. Anything that can make you feel in control: Art, books, creating and growing something is another useful way of regaining mental control over your life. In conclusion: don’t let your life stop just because it feels like it has.”
Couple’s therapist Rachel Wright also talked to Business Insider about her tips to survive quarantine with your partner. She encourages couples to see this increase in time spent together as an opportunity to practice being respectful and kind, as well as an opportunity to grow closer by making a list of activities you can do from home. Going back to the point made earlier about respecting the way your partner might react to this crisis, Wright also emphasised the importance of coping mechanisms and finding new ones that help you adapt to the current situation. She writes, “work on managing your emotions so you can be the best partner you are able to under the circumstances. Talk about the skills that are working for you and offer to assist your partner if they are looking for some quick ways to regulate their mood as well.”
Now is a good time to reflect and communicate what you actually need from your partner during this crisis, as well as what expectations you’ve given yourself. As difficult as this situation is, it can turn into a valuable learning curve in which you can figure out your own ratio of time spent together to prevent the loneliness many are facing now, and the privacy needed to stay sane. If your partner needs space and isn’t able to spend time with you when you need it, make sure there’s a back-up plan such as arranging regular online hangouts with friends, or doing creative tasks. It might also be helpful to sync your work with the same timeframe in which your partner is most likely to be unavailable. Try to take turns with who needs to get groceries and leave the house for a walk to give each other extra space once in a while. Most importantly: There’s no time for petty mind-reading, cooperation is more important than ever before. Let the outside world be more threatening than your own home, so your post-quarantine selves can get out of this crisis with relief instead of regret.
Disclaimer: Quarantine should not force you to stay in an abusive relationship. It will be particularly hard to escape and seek help now, so here are some resources and advice on who can help out. Women’s aid also offers guidance on how to reach out for help without your partner finding out:
Written by Annika Løbig