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  • Writer's picturelesleythompsonmft

Making Relationships Work While “Sheltering In”

Updated: Mar 24, 2020

Couple needing separateness

Often in relationship people are trying to find ways to spend time and connect. And while that may still be true while we “shelter in,” we also need to be just as deliberate about creating seperatness. Yes, there is a thing as “too much” closeness. We begin to feel smothered, suffocated, and intruded upon. These feelings usually lead to anger, resentment, and relational withdrawal. When we are cooped up at home all day, we need to communicate our needs for space, alone time, and connection clearly.

Here are 6 tips to help you balance the need for connection and the need for separateness.

Be Flexible:

Sometimes we like things just so. We like to have the same routine each day and know exactly what to expect. And during times of uncertainty, we can become more rigid in order to feel a sense of control. This rigidity can be a relationship killer and cause a lot of friction and conflict. We are all navigating new territory, none of us have done this before, none of us know what to expect or what it is “suppose” to look like. We have to be flexible, work together, not dictate to our partner the schedule or how they should or should not be doing this. We need to learn to adapt to what each day brings and find solutions together.

Have a Daily Check In:

In the morning, once each of you is more awake, check in about the day. Your schedule may be the same each day, or it might be shifting. Maybe you have a conference call and need things very quiet from 1-2pm, perhaps you need to make sure you are clear on how each of you will help with the kids while managing your work load, who is in charge of keeping them on task with school work etc. at any given time. Maybe you are feeling super cooped up and want to take and extra long walk in the afternoon or take an online exercise class and need some extra space to do it. It’s important that each of you communicates your various needs and give one another a heads up so you can be on the same page. It is important that you communicate clearly and do not assume your partner knows what you need or knows what is in your mind, no matter how clear and obvious it may be to you.

Communicate and Respect Boundaries:

Boundaries are important to have at any time and in any relationship. They let us know where we end and another begins. They let us know what is ours and what isn’t. We can use them to keep unwanted, intrusive things out, or let positive, constructive things in. They are also containers. Allowing us to let out what is helpful and constructive, but also contain and keep in our emotional "vomit." During these times in close quarters, we need to be aware of both emotional and physical boundaries. Also, this is new territory as most of us did not already work form home and spend the entire day with each other. Your partner does not know what your boundaries are, so you both will need to take time to know what your own boundaries are, communicate them to one another, and learn each others boundaries. So, what are some examples of boundaries?

- Set up different workspaces.

- Respect your partners work schedule, it might be different than yours. Just because you are “taking a break,” doesn’t mean they are also.

- If your partner needs alone time or has gone into their “special place,” leave them alone. This is why the morning check in time will be important, to communicate meal times, connection time, and child care needs and expectations, so “alone time” can be in sync with “workings” of the home.

- Find ways to communicate the daily needs of the home and one another at specific times. For example, the overflowing trashcan or the dishes left out may bother you, but your partner may be focused on a work project. Trying to bring up those needs while your partner is “at work” will be disruptive and you will most likely get a negative response.

Take Alone Time for Yourself:

Even in a small NYC apartment you can find a little corner, a chair, or another room to go and spend some time alone. Perhaps reading a book, listening to music in headphones, doing a meditation, watching a favorite show, or just enjoying a cup of coffee or tea. It is important to have a place you can go that is “yours” and just get away from it all for a bit. I also think that we need to know when we need to put ourselves in a “time out.” When in close quarters, it is easier to get annoyed, irritated and angry with one another. If you are not in a constructive place, before you say or do something hurtful, let your partner know you are going to your “quiet spot” to calm down, or relax.

Connection Time:

Have fun connection times that are not COVID-19 related. That means talk about other things other than COVID-19, and don’t try to connect over watching the news. Watch a movie, play a game, go for a walk, or have fun conversation over dinner. If you are having trouble knowing what to talk about, try finding “What If” questions online and use them as fun conversation starters.

Outside Relationships:

Now more than ever, it is important to not put all of your relational needs on your partner. You both may be feeling anxious, stressed and needing a little more space. You both may need more than the other is able to give, and if we don’t adjust for this by “spreading the love out,” we set ourselves up for disappointment, hurt and withdrawal. Have video calls or phone calls with friends and family to stay connected and be able to get some of your emotional, relational and connection needs met through them also.

By focusing on creating relational space and communicating and respecting each others boundaries, we can create the separateness needed to be able to come to close and grow more connected


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