Covid-19 has created an environment of Social isolation and social distancing meaning we all have to Stay at Home and remain in a household with the same people almost 24/7.
The pandemic itself is putting a strain on all our lives but being able to manage relationships in this confined space our, ‘New Normal’, can be a challenge.
With the news this week that the Isolation is to continue for at least another 3 weeks we will have been in close proximity, with the same people for the best part of 8 weeks, it could be even more depending on how isolation measures work.
This is not like a family holiday where there are lots of new things to experience, lots of activities to keep us amused and the chance to escape the family or rest and relax.
This is us living our daily lives, but in very strange circumstances.
Relationships are going to be affected in some way, for some it may strengthen relationships for others it may be putting a strain on relationships and for some it could be scary, if the environment is an abusive one.
Families are living on top of each other confined to 4 walls, with only a once a day exercise break, understandably we will all have seen changes in how we interact and tolerate each other.
Its OK to acknowledge that relationships will be affected, but how can you navigate your way through this and come out the other side with your relationships reasonably intact.
Relationships at this time will be important for us getting through this, we can be support for each other when things get difficult, we can cheer each other up, we can distract each other and do activities together
However we can also get on each others nerves, get into arguments, not understand how each other are feeling, not be supportive of one another.
As adults we may have a better understanding of what is going on, but children may not be able to fully understand why they have to stay home and not see other family members who are not part of their household. Managing how they cope will help with their reaction to the isolation and help with the relationship you have with them through this period.
In a simulated experience of travelling to Mars a group of NASA scientist spent 5 days in a very confined space and advice they gave after was, understanding the importance of talking to each other about potential conflict and capturing them early on to prevent things getting worse. They talked about being open with each other over their feelings and not to play the ‘blame game’
These tips along with some others may help you navigate the next few weeks and emerge from this with relationships that have survived the isolation.
Here are 5 tips that can help you keep relationships healthy and contribute to creating a calming environment,
1. Firstly, Take Care of Yourself
Being responsible for how you feel, and accepting how you feel, will help you take care of yourself.
In order to be in a good place to support others you need to be in a good place yourself.
Remember the safety talk you get on a plane when they tell you to put your own oxygen mask on before you help others with theirs?
This is because if you are not in a fit or healthy place you will not be able to help others effectively.
Of course we want the support from others around us too, but relying on others to be our sole source of support or stress relief will put pressure on the relationship.
Allow yourself to feel your feelings, if you resist your feelings they are not going to go away they will persist and will likely become more difficult to manage.
If you acknowledge and accept them you can start to process them. If they become to difficult for you to cope with then reach out to others for the support you need.
It can be difficult if the same person is required to support you, so stay connected with family and friends and reach out to them too.
If you feel overwhelmed by things take some time out, find a quiet place for yourself and calm yourself down, maybe listen to some calming music, read a book, meditate , whatever it is that will help you.
2. Take Time to Check in With Each Other
Dinner time is a great time to do this. Maybe go back to the tradition of family round the table dinner times.
This is an opportunity to bring all the family together and talk about what is going on for each of you and have a check in on how everyone is coping.
Once a week perhaps have a family pow-wow and decide what your families week is going to look like.
A good thing to do in this pow-wow is to allocate family chores so not just one person is taking the burden of everything.
If you are working from home and/or home schooling decide how much time will be work time and school time, who is going to take which lessons, are there going to be some particularly busy days for work when one partner won't be able to contribute to the home schooling etc.
Let the children know what kind of things you will be up to that week, let them input some ideas.
If it is just you and your partner in the household let each other know what support you need that week and how best you can both help each other.
A good idea is to have some sort of check in code, Maybe you can cut out some coloured hearts for how you are feeling and you stick these on the fridge so others in the house can see what mood you are in that day.
Red Heart- I'm feeling good today
Green Heart- I’m not in a good place today
Blue heart- I’m feeling a little low today
Yellow heat- I’m feeling happy today
By being aware of how others are feeling it helps you understand their mood better and how best to support them that day.
When you talk to others about how you are feeling try to use the I statement.
I am feeling………...........because...................... this helps stop the blame game.
If you say You make me feel…...........
Or When you do this I feel….........
It can lead to the other person getting defensive which can lead to harsh words.
Changing to the I statement can help prevent others getting defensive.
3. Setting Healthy Boundaries
In a confined space it can be difficult living on top of each other all the time.
You are probably spending more time together now than perhaps you ever have before, Although you love each other this can still lead to tension and frustration not being able to have time out.
Setting some healthy boundaries for the space you occupy can be useful.
If you and your partner are working from home try to find separate work spaces, if you can be in different rooms with a door that you can close this is even better, not only does it separate your work space from the other areas of your home, but it also means you are keeping your work lives separate from each other as you would if you both went off to work.
Be clear about how the spaces in the house are used. for example
The sofa is for relaxing and watching TV, not for working.
Each member of the house has their own chill out area for themselves.
Home schooling has its own area you always use
Allocate the spaces and respect them so the boundaries don’t get blurred
Maybe stagger when people in the house get up so you each have some time away from others and can use the space around the house as you would like, or if you are the one having a lie in use the quiet time to relax, reflect or sleep in.
Setting these boundaries helps to create a harmonious environment
4. Minimise Harsh Words and Arguements
None of us can be perfect and arguments are going to happen. At times the strain is going to take its toll.
If you can find ways to avoid the arguments this will create a much nicer environment to spend your time in. Try to share your feelings with each other before they become too overwhelming. This is where the dinner table and weekly pow-wows are useful.
Be aware of how others are feeling through the hearts or similar code and appreciate how others are feeling.
If you do feel your irritation rising towards others a good exercise to try is
Stop-Don’t act immediately, maybe count to 10
Take A breath-Take some deep breaths in and out
OBserve Observe your own thoughts and feelings
Is what you are thinking a fact or your opinion
Is what you are thinking accurate or inaccurate
Is your thought helpful or unhelpful
Is this really something that they have done or is this my own stuff causing me to think like this
Pull Back-Put in some perspective
See the situation as someone else might
Is there another way of looking at things
What would someone else say or do in this situation
What meaining am I giving to this, for me to react like this
How important is this going to be in a week, 3 months, 6 months, a year
Is my reaction in proportion with what has happened
Practice what works- What will be a more helpful response
What will be the consequence of my actions
What is the best thing to do now
What action will be more helpful to me and the other person
If you do have arguments then try to make up quickly, Apologise if you are the one who is in the wrong and try not to have an atmosphere in the house.
Currently people are unable to escape from the atmosphere and if it continues that’s a pretty dismal environment to be
5. Practice Appreciation and Gratitude.
Currently most people are trying to do the best they can in these difficult situations.
Try to remember to thank someone for their contribution to the effort that they are making. Share with others, you are in isolation with, how grateful you are for them,
Remind them of the things they are doing that are helping you get through this.
The more gratitude you show each other the more often you will find yourself start to notice the things you can be grateful.
Appreciating what others are doing to help and support you will be well received by others, sometimes we can forget to do this and take things for granted.o
A simple Thank you goes a long way
A hug shows your appreciation
A small gift can say thank you
Helping others as they have been helping you is simple to do
Hopefully you will see ways you can introduce these 5 tips into your household through this Stay at Home Period and help to create a more harmonious environemnt for you all to live in.
If you are struggling emotionally or otherwise, please do reach out to others, there are a number of crisis and helplines at the moment you can phone,
If professional help is useful I am offering telephone and video counselling sessions through this period and have some reduced rate sessions available for those struggling financially.
Please reach out if you are struggling in any way.
Laura Knight Dip.Couns MBACP is an experienced and qualified counsellor and CBT Therapist who runs her own private practice SeeClear Counselling in Poole, Dorset. She is an Anxiety UK Approved Therapist and specialises in working with anxiety and panic attacks.
Laura can offer Face to Face, telephone and online video counselling; and during the Coronavirus Crisis offering a number of discounted counselling sessions.