- Many couples have spending all day every day together during the coronavirus pandemic.
- But that may be changing as some return to work – and feel worried about doing so.
- If you or your partner is returning to work, it’s normal for your relationship to feel a strain.
- it’s important to identify your concerns upfront, work together on solving the problems that may come up, think about your future together, and be sure to schedule regular check-ins.
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Throughout the country, couples have been spending pretty much all of their time together, day in and day out.
For most couples it took some time – and a lot of trial and error – to figure out a new routine that worked for both people. And now it’s all changing again as couples anticipate one or both of them returning to work.
But going back to work is far from business as usual; it is filled with uncertainty and brings up emotional and practical concerns, with people experiencing sadness, fear, and a lot of questions about health and safety, and suffering from the overall uncertainty of how it will work.
My client Anders said about his time with his partner Jasmine: “Initially, our home felt a bit crowded. We seemed to keep bumping up against one another. But it all evened out and the last few months have been lovely. We’ve been eating lunch together every day and it’s going to be really weird to leave each morning. I am going to miss all the conversations with her.”
His main concern is losing the deep sense of connection in their relationship.
Mariana, a therapist in Chicago, is extremely concerned about her family’s health. She has been working at home and will continue to do so. However, her husband is going back to his job at a rental car company next week, and she is panicked about maintaining the health of their family and her elderly parents who live next door. She is worried his employer won’t be proactive enough to keep him safe despite mask wearing, gloves, and social distancing.
Mariana and her husband have plans for him to shower the moment he comes home from work, to do laundry everyday, and to send him with a packed lunch which he will eat in his car in order to minimise potential exposure to the coronavirus in the company cafeteria. Feeling stressed as she anticipates this big change for them, she is realising how much safer she felt while they were both sheltering in place.
While her attention is on other things right now, it’s clear to me that this is going to create issues with their physical intimacy as well – for the foreseeable future any kind of physical intimacy will feel risky, insofar as it may be putting her at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.
While none of us have ever gone back to the office in the context of a pandemic, we can learn from the experience of those who have a new job after being laid off for many months, anyone who has dealt with returning to a regular routine after an injury or illness, the return of a loved one from deployment, going back to work after maternity leave, or even the complications that sometimes arise with returning home from an intense vacation.
In each of those transitions, all the logistical challenges are exacerbated by tension and disconnection in the relationship, leaving each person feeling a bit alone at a time when they especially yearn for support from their partner.
In 25 years of guiding couples through challenging transitions, I have discovered a way to create harmony and collaboration in the face of an impactful transition. The following four steps are designed to help you and your partner weather any storm with a strong sense of stability and the pleasure that comes from feeling a heartwarming connection with your partner.
1. Separately, take the time to identify your concerns.
Make a list of your fears and give yourself permission to name all of them, from the most significant to the seemingly insignificant.
Look over your list and group what you have written into themes. For example, everything which pertains to your fear that someone in your family will get sick is one theme. Another theme might be the sadness because your time together will be ending. Another might be financial concerns. Or perhaps you feel burdened by the awareness that it was very difficult to spend so much time together, or the overwhelm from the extreme uncertainty about how the next months will unfold.
2. Next, take the time to be together with your partner, and organise your time in the following way. (It is best to do this before either of you go back to work, and if that’s not possible do it as soon as you can.)
Take turns sharing with one another what worked well during the time you were sheltering in place. Express your gratitude for your partner, and your relationship. Acknowledge the good that was revealed in how you navigated this very intense time.
Then take turns sharing your concerns about what’s next. Refer to your list of themes from #1. It’s really important to listen with compassion and hear what your partner shares. This isn’t a time to comfort or problem solve (or judge); it’s a time to witness one another’s emotional truth, and respond by saying, “Thank you for telling me how you feel.”
Only once you each feel fully heard, then collaborate on problem solving and putting strategies in place to mitigate your concerns.
3. After you have each identified your concerns, and shared your gladness for one another as well as the themes that emerged, and done some problem solving, then it’s time to express your hopes and dreams, for yourself, your partner, and your relationship.
Let yourselves relax, and remember you are partners who have known each other a long time. You are in the process of making memories and at some point in the future you will be able to travel, and laugh about some of the awkwardness of this time.
4. Put a date in your calendars to do this check in process again.
In anticipating the return to work we are all pioneers, because none of us have experienced a pandemic before. However, these four steps are universally relevant in any big transition, and will bring you and your partner closer together. When you feel you are on the same team, navigating the challenges together, it will ultimately create more joy and set the stage for more passion in your relationship.
Alexandra Stockwell MD is a relationship and intimacy expert and the bestselling author of “Uncompromising Intimacy.” Her book is filled with ways to improve communication and create more emotional and sensual intimacy with your partner. Click here to download the first chapter of her book.