Couples and Covid19
My single sister: If Liam Neeson and Brad Pitt came to your door, offering to stay with you during the quarantine, who would you choose?
Me: Ah, honestly, neither. I would choose Steve (my husband). He knows me, he likes me, we get along really well. We are good company for each other.
Sister: Oh, wow.
Me: We respect each other’s boundaries. We collide once in a while, then step away, but we always return and talk it through.
There are opportunities for grace and beauty in these times. But as all throughout history, being closed-in can cause tension. How do couples navigate the new normal of being in each other’s company 24/7 in these days of forced confinement? My sister knows a man who was dating a woman for only two weeks, when they went away for a weekend to the mountains. The woman became ill and the man had to take her to the emergency room twice. Then the “shelter in place” command came, and they are now stuck together in the mountains, and they barely know each other. Other couples have been together for years but have created wide circles, even within their homes to keep a distance, sometimes to avoid intimacy. For most couples, being in each other’s space all the time is new and while it creates opportunities for closeness, can also cause stress.
Then there are extra strains as part of this global pandemic. Some of these strains are the constant vigilance to avoid illness, the grief of lost lives, the anger at people who are ignoring “shelter in place” laws, sadness at missing loved ones we cannot touch, worry about money and supplies, anger at authorities slow to make the health of the planet their primary directive, and concern for medical people and others on the front line of this war against the virus. What can help couples manage these days, weeks, likely months of being stuck at home together?
Creating some schedule that organizes your day to include a balance between closeness, individual space, work and play is useful. Couples counseling, as well as support groups are now widely available online through tele-psychology. I wrote a practical self-help book on communication in 2018. The goal of the book is to reduce suffering caused by poor communication. The book shows how the brain reacts under stress and provides powerful body techniques to help us easily shift moods. There are techniques for better listening and for more effective expression of anger, pain, sadness, and anxiety. Skills include how to manage these feelings in ourselves and best practices for dealing with these states in others around us. These tools can improve the experience of living in close contact with a partner.
In “The Fellowship of the Ring” Elron, the head Elf, wants his daughter, Arwen, to leave her mortal lover, Aragorn, and go off with the Elves. Elron warns his daughter that if she stays with Aragorn, “There is only death”. Arwen agrees to go with the Elves, but then has a vision of her beloved Aragorn in the future. He is smiling at her and holding their baby boy. Arwen awakes from the dream and decides to stay with her lover. She tells her father, “There may be death, but there is also life.”
Last week, the actor, Idris Elba, tested positive for COVID19, while his wife was out of the house. He calls her with the news and tells her she can decide whether to come home or not. She decides to go home and shelter in place with her beloved husband. Like Arwen, she made a choice - to face possible death, out of love.
There is a pandemic spreading death across the globe. I check the numbers and feel a wave of fear as deaths increase daily in my state, my county and now my town. Then I look at Steve. We are still here. Healthy for now. Love fills my heart, as I cherish his presence.
My book, Communication Breakthrough, How Using Brain Science and Listening to Body Cues Can Transform Your Relationships, is on Amazon or go to: www.vincentiaschroeterphd.com/books