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quarantine and relationships

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Going through any sort of split – whether it’s a breakup, separation, or divorce – is difficult enough when life is normal (whatever that means), but it’s immeasurably harder during a pandemic because our usual tools and outlets for coping aren’t available to us. For some, it’s a group exercise class where the company of others, the high-energy music, and the militant instructor provide great distractions. For others, it’s seeing friends in person and laughing and crying over bad movies. Whatever the coping mechanism, few of us can imagine going through a breakup alone, as quarantine would have it.

Dr. Laura Louis, Atlanta Couple's Therapy

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But perhaps you are imagining what that would be like because your relationship has been feeling particularly rocky during this pandemic. Maybe it’s your relationship, at its core, that’s flawed, or maybe it’s just the pandemic playing tricks on you. To help you figure out the real issue, Dr. Laura Louis, PhD, founder of Atlanta Couples Therapy, discussed some of the common issues couples are facing during this odd time in history. You may find that your conflicts are much more common, and less alarming, than you thought.

quarantine and relationships

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This, too, shall pass

To couples considering breaking up over conflict that’s been a direct result of this pandemic, Dr. Louis advises, “Never let a temporary circumstance allow for permanent decisions…Don’t separate because of this pandemic, that will end.” If there are pre-existing issues, that’s something to examine, but if relationship conflict seems to be an immediate result of the pandemic, take a pause.

quarantine and relationships

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Introverts and extroverts

The obstacles introverts and extroverts face when together is a topic we’ve covered here before. Dr. Louis confirms that this pairing may face particular struggles during a quarantine. “[One example] She’s an introvert, her partner is an extrovert. She can take it personally when her husband is longing to connect with other people.”

quarantine and relationships

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It’s not you; it’s the pandemic

Dr. Louis urges couples not to read into bumps in the road right now. A lot of conflict is just a result of the pandemic – everyone is coping in their different ways, and couples cannot hold each other to the standard of having coping mechanisms that are always in line with their partner’s. As she put it, “We have to find a way to navigate this pandemic without taking things super personal.”

quarantine and relationships

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No separation of work and home

Before this pandemic, many working professionals could count on their commute home as a time to unwind – listen to a podcast, call a friend, listen to music, etc. It was a time to transition from work life to home life. “Now we don’t have that time,” notes Dr. Louis. “Now there is more conflict due to a lack of alone time.”

quarantine and relationships

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Night owls and early birds

If one person is an early bird and used to leave for the office but now works from home, they could disturb the one who is used to sleeping in and having a quiet home in the mornings. Dr. Louis states “Couples who are thriving are understanding. They’re patient. They’re extending each other grace.” So maybe that’s about being quiet while a partner sleeps in a bit. Or wearing earplugs if one partner must make some noise to do their work in the morning.

quarantine and relationships

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Differences are amplified

Naturally, two people in a relationship won’t be exactly alike, and everyone has their own way of doing things. But those differences come head to head more, now, when couples are home together all of the time. Dr. Louis says that couples who do well are understanding of their partner. They take the approach that “You don’t have to be exactly like me. There’s no way you could be. I accept our differences.”

quarantine and relationships

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Codependency can thrive

Before this pandemic, we got to see friends, coworkers, gym buddies – we had full social circles outside of our relationships. We had other relationships that filled the gaps that our partners couldn’t. “Now our partners are everything to us. [They must] be our entertainment —  nourish us when we’re feeling sad, pick us up when we’re down, be sensitive when we’re angry. There is no way someone can be all of that, all of the time,” says Dr. Louis.

quarantine and relationships

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Find other outlets

Even though access to usual outlets and activities is limited, it’s still important to be flexible and find ways to connect with other people, for the sake of one’s relationship. Dr. Louis encourages, “The willingness to be patient and just admit ‘I’m going to need many different outlets. And my partner can’t be my everything. He’s dealing with his own issues.’”

quarantine and relationships

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Parenting conflicts

This can be an interesting time for parents who, before the pandemic, were the ones who were mostly away from the home, and not very involved in the day-to-day activities of the child-rearing. If they’re now the ones in the position to handle things like bedtime and mealtime, this can at first feel stressful – they’re out of their element. But Dr. Louis encourages parents in that position to look at the positive. “For the parent who wasn’t as involved, it’s an opportunity to deepen their relationship with their child now more than ever. When your children grow up and are out of the house, they’re going to remember these moments”

quarantine and relationships

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Keeping the romance alive

Traditional venues for date night aren’t readily available right now – neither is childcare. So how are couples to maintain intimacy? Dr. Louis says, “They have to be creative. For some couples, that’s a picnic outside in the backyard. You put the kids to bed at 8pm and have a candlelight dinner. Put your technology away and look at each other, go over highlights of the day. Get in tune with what’s happening in each other’s world.”

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