As we enter the second phase of lockdown, there’d be few among us who wouldn’t have read about the spike in divorce rates in China of couples in lockdown. The city of Xian, in central China, and Dazhou, in Sichuan province, both reported record-high numbers of divorce filings in early March, just as the country emerged from two months of lockdown.
While this does sound extreme, and you personally may not be heading straight for a lawyer post lockdown, it is understandable if couples in lockdown crave for some distance right now. Juggling work-from-home, daily chores, and your own cabin fever can test anyone’s patience; couples with young children have an added layer of responsibility. And if you have to deal with your partner’s outbursts as well, the situation is ripe for a rift. But that doesn’t mean your relationship has to succumb to it.
Before we get to the tools to combat this unusual relationship stress, let us first understand the whys. Here’s how being forced to stay cooped-up is affecting your relationship health.
Loss of personal space
In any relationship, it is essential to have a common space and an individual space. The common space allows for the couple to stay connected and do things together, while the individual space allows for personal growth and nourishment. Losing personal space takes away the opportunity for personal nourishment, which leads to loss of newness in the couple’s interaction.
It’s no secret that a little mystery keeps the spark alive in any relationship, no matter how old it is. When you’re around each other 24×7, it is very hard to maintain that mystery, especially with regards to how you cope with your bad moods, and what you look like when you’re a total mess.
Best behaviour rip-off
In regular times we have our friends, colleagues, and family to vent to, in case we’re angry with our partners. Now, as couples in lockdown, we have nothing to diffuse that pent-up frustration so, despite all the resistance, the ugly stuff bubbles to the surface in the rawest form.
So, what are the best strategies to counter the side-effects of this lockdown? Here are the five strongest tools.
Always choose a soft start up
“Where are the groceries you said you’ll pick up? Could you, for once, get anything done on time?”
A soft start up is a concept given by John and Julie Gottman, the world leaders in couple therapy. This is a technique that helps to soften the broaching of a conflicting subject between partners. In the current lockdown scenario, there will be plenty of situations where statements such as the above are likely to arise. Don’t be defensive, don’t attack. Word yourself carefully, and reduce the chances of things going downhill.
“Hey, we need those groceries soon. Since we are both on a deadline, could you go and get them as soon as you can?”
Make your islands
We mentioned right in the beginning how important it is to have personal space, but it can feel impossible living under the same roof for weeks on end. But that doesn’t have to be the case. Start by designating two separate rooms for each of you in the house. If that’s not possible, then designate time slots for a single room, and use your slots to shut yourself off. This is especially important if you have kids. Make a mutual pact to look after the kids when the other is on their ‘island’. Once you’re in there, do whatever you want – read, Netflix, enjoy a calming cup of tea, sing, dance.
Assess your priorities
Yes, a clean house feels nice but there’s no deadline on a clean house. There is, however a deadline on the times when you can connect with your partner. When the opportunity arises, choose the option that works for both of you.
Respect each other’s decisions
Couples in lockdown need to start respecting each other’s wishes. Don’t expect your partner to go along with yours all the time, especially when there is no scope of other distractions.
Remember, your wish has come true
Remember how you used to crib about staying busy and wished for more time together? It is easy to forget this gift of uninterrupted time with your partner while being caught up in household chores and office work. The dirty dishes can always be done a few hours later, and you can log off work at the designated time. Sit together, enjoy a drink, or catch up on a movie.
All illustrations: Courtesy Getty