Being in a Couple During a Pandemic

Let’s just admit that being around our partners 24/7 is an unusual state of affairs. Don’t get me wrong. Some people LOVE to be with their significant other all the time. But when we are forced to be together by something like a pandemic over many, many months (I count 9), some people get pretty distressed in one way or another: stir crazy, bored, lonely, restless, agitated, depressed, and/or anxious. 

We have all been living during one of the most extraordinary times in our lives this past year. People have experienced and still experience a whole range of emotions from great fear and terror to anger to out-of-control-ness to relaxation and peace. We spiral between these feelings, having some excellent days and some terrible days. And some people enjoy the fact that they can’t leave home. So many different reactions, so unique to the individual and to the couple. 

How can current couples, whether physically distant or close in proximity, survive and even thrive during this pandemic? 

How can we not lose connection with each other, and how do we deepen or strengthen our connection during such a tragic time? Without regular, brief separations throughout a day, partners may not look or feel the same. If you are eating every meal together, not going out much, and not even being able to enjoy friends or family indoors, you may lose some of the joy or energy you usually feel. If one part of the couple has been laid off or your business has closed, you may be experiencing severe financial stresses. How can any of us be good partners if we are suffering or struggling ourselves with our moods and lack of outlets, like going to the gym to work out our stresses?  

A pandemic is a real test of partnership. Being with someone without the daily, brief separations of work and other contacts, we may not be enthused by our partner’s constant presence. We may need more time alone. Some partners, though housed together, still don’t seem to enjoy quality time with each other when the days go on and on without some changes in the air. 

With parenting? I feel much sympathy (and perhaps envy) for couples who are currently parents, who are continually juggling their work schedules with kids’ school schedules and needs. We used to be tired after a full day of work anyway, and now life seems even more exhausting. Who is up for an exciting, energetic evening of glorious lovemaking after such days? 

During pandemic, people who have open relationships or who are polyamorous may be more worried about infection being shared. Careful practices and good communication are necessary, or more than usual conflict can occur. 

The fact is that we need to attend to our relationships and partnerships no matter what is going on in the world. Now, there is more risk of couples breaking up and some feel stuck in difficult relationships because they aren’t able to easily leave due to financial or emotional strain. Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) has risen in numbers, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. 

Couples, who are distant physically from each other given the limits of transportation and safety during the pandemic, have a hard time as well. When conflict occurs in long distance relationships, it can be difficult to communicate effectively and resolve these conflicts when you can’t be near each other to enjoy the benefits of being a couple as well. 

The truth is that every couple is unique. And, each person in the couple is unique so it is impossible to offer a recipe for couples to follow to survive and thrive during this pandemic. But, I will try: 

  • Spend quality time with each other. Find time and space to be together, alone together, participating in some activity together or just being with each other. Privacy and cuddling are also important.
  • If you are not in your partner’s bubble of safety, you have to evaluate risk. Is it more risky to the couple’s health for you to quarantine, or is it less risky to be together even if you get infected? Illness and death are no jokes during this pandemic. But, relationships need nurturing as well. What happens in most couples is that each person may have different opinions and beliefs about risk and health. How you resolve these differences matters. 
  • Each part of the couple needs to take good care of themselves. If you don’t take care of yourself, emotions may be heightened and excellent communication is difficult when you are feeling tired, anxious, distressed, or hungry.  
  • Explore new activities for the couple, like chess, card games, TV series, walks in nature, and outdoor activities with friends. Find creative ways to enjoy life, like singing, dancing, meditating, yoga, and artwork. Working together on a common project can enhance your relationship or prompt more difficulties. 
  • Seeking professional assistance may help couples weather this pandemic. Counselors, psychotherapists, couples therapists, coaches, and ministers/rabbis/imams are available. 
  • Take some time outs from each other. Take a break, be alone for a while, take some deep breaths, and let yourself relax. Then, wonder how you are feeling and be curious about how you might be participating in any current distress. Above all, try being compassionate not only with your partner but with yourself.
  • The pandemic is an excellent time to participate in a process called “shadow work,” which means working intensely inside yourself, exploring all of your parts, from the positive and peaceful parts to those negative, critical, and judgmental parts. Shadow work is usually done in a professional setting because we all need facilitation and support outside of ourselves when doing this kind of deep work which can be so freeing and life restoring for individuals and couples. 

My hope is that we can each bring more grace, forgiveness and gentleness to everyone, ourselves first and foremost. If we can focus on values like love and nonviolence, then perhaps we can help to create a new world where people care about community rather than just about themselves. 

Couples are a wonderful place to explore and understand yourself better while you practice new ways of acting and being. Instead of holding on to black and white thinking, we realize that there is a lot of gray and many other colors inside us and all around us. Our job is to take care of ourselves so that we can better communicate with and be in relationship with others, especially with our partners. 


Barbara Sanders, LCSW, is a psychotherapist, writer and activist: Click here to read more from Barbara!

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