Could COVID-19 be quietly saving my relationship?
Author: Hayley Alexander
Look, free canteen coffee, constant air-conditioning and titillating watercooler conversations have their perks, but that cup of java in your favourite mug and a comfortably familiar jabber session with your significant other while you’re both working from home may be doing you and your relationship much more good.
What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger
While the coronavirus lockdown has tested and “infected” many relationships – as an article for Psychology Today puts it, predominantly referring to the negative effects of spending too much time in one another’s space – in some cases, the results are more positive.
According to a survey conducted on 1,200 married and engaged couples, originally published by The Knot, enabled by a relationship app called Lasting, surprisingly, the majority of respondents reported that their relationships had strengthened as a result of co-quarantining.
Commenting on this study in an article for Forbes, it’s highlighted that “40 per cent of couples surveyed report spending more than 20 extra hours per week with their partners as a result of social distancing. This means that couples are doing a bit of everything together: binge watching TV, working on home projects, cooking, baking and even volunteering.”
Providing deeper insights, the data also shows that “71 per cent of engaged respondents said they were feeling anxious—the most common emotion above being stressed (62 per cent) and overwhelmed (50 per cent). But most couples (68 per cent) are making it a priority to deepen their emotional connection and are finding new ways to spend time together—discovering new things about each other, including aspirations for post-pandemic life.”
Together as one
Never mind COVID, there is a limit to how much time you and your spouse (or significant other) can spend together before you start to get sick – that is, of each another.
Speaking to Antony Tarboton, a Johannesburg based clinical psychologist specialising in relationship therapy, he says that “marriage is always about having a balance.” In order to maintain a healthy relationship, he recommends that couples should have two hours of “face to face interactive time” over the course of a day. Ideally, this should be without screens or other people around, i.e. cooking together, going for a walk, having a bath, or sitting down to a meal and facing one another. What’s important during such times, says Tarboton, is that “couples can talk about things and learn to resolve conflicts.”
Of course, before the pandemic, many couples were not getting close to spending two hours a day together – now, you’re lucky if you can find a few minutes to yourself!
Commenting from experience in counselling with couples over the lockdown period, Tarboton shares that it’s hit hard on many relationships and that “too much time together can also start to feel strangling or claustrophobic.” He asserts that just as important as it is to spend quality time together, we also need time apart: “I encourage my clients to create their own private space, even if they are living in a small flat. They can wear headphones and listen to music; or find hobbies they can do while staying out of each other’s way, it helps.”
That said, every couple’s situation will be different, and no one really knows when things will ever return to “normal.” As a married woman in this very situation, I feel that we may as well take advantage during these vulnerable times – using what’s left of this time to work on our relationships and be present and compassionate to our partners and ourselves in the best way we can. After all, as Antony Tarboton says, it is kindness that determines whether a not a relationship can last.