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How can we support each other, and be supported, in the times of lockdown? Insights from a new relationship study.

How can we support each other, and be supported, in the times of lockdown? Insights from a new relationship study.

At the time of writing this blog post, I’m sitting in our back garden and enjoying what has been forecasted to be the last beautiful day for a while. It’s a month into lockdown and many households are starting to notice the effects of social isolation and being in confined spaces with one another.

We’ve all had to negotiate what the new normal looks like. In many households this includes partners figuring out how to both work from home, how to manage work and kids or figuring out what to do with all the extra time. In our house, our lives haven’t massively changed as we both do our PhDs from home. I’ve moved my office into another room so that I can see clients instead of sharing the office with my husband and we might actually see less of each other. We’re fortunate that we have the space. However, many couples, especially in major cities, live in small spaces where the space is limited and it can feel like you’re living on top of each other at the moment.

One of the things that has kept me busy during lockdown has been conducting a study about relationships during the coronavirus pandemic. I have spoken to nearly 50 people to find out how they’ve experienced lockdown in their relationship. I’m sure you will be hearing more about the study in subsequent weeks and months as I analyse the data. However, today I thought I’d tell you a bit about how my participants have supported each other during the pandemic, especially focusing on being able to still get tasks done and pursue goals.

The most common way that the participants reported providing support for each other was to give each other the time and space to do things. In many cases this involved doing something, such as taking on some of the chores or watching children to give the other partner a break. For example, Ali* spoke about how they’ve divided their flat into two workspaces to give each other the space:

“I think we’re quite supportive of each other’s space when we need to. My partner mostly works in the living room, and I’ve got the corridor to myself, sometimes it’s just it gets close to the door if we need that space when we’re working.”

Sarah, on the other hand, talks about taking the kids so that her husband can get work done:

“I’ll try and get the kids out into the garden a bit more so that we’re not in the house so that he can’t hear us in the house. And he’s not being distracted by us making we’re not making noise. I’ve got two small kids. So, you know, they get excited. My daughter is continuously going ‘Baby Shark’ at me because she wants to watch a shark. Which isn’t great for him when he’s working. And all he can hear is ‘Baby shark’.”

It can be easy to feel that since we’re both at home, we should spend all of our time together. However, we were not meant to spend all of our time with one person (or one family). Even the happiest couples can’t spend all of their time together for a long period of time without it being too much. Therefore, one of the most important things during the lockdown is to ensure that you each have your own space. If you live in a studio flat, this may mean putting on noise cancelling headphones and watching a TV show only you like.

In addition to spending time apart, the lockdown is also a good opportunity to work on the relationship and to spend quality time together. This is only possible if you have time apart also. Many of the participants in the study also spoke about how they have really come together and found new ideas for time together. For example, Lou talks about how they’ve gotten inventive about date nights:

“And then kind of collaboratively we’ve been thinking of things we can do, especially for date night since we can’t go out anymore. Yeah, so I have a silly idea, which we haven’t started yet, but I was gonna see if he wanted to collaborate with me on a painting. I have no artistic bone in my body, and he certainly does. But we’re thinking of painting our dog with like a super fancy painting where she has an Elizabeth clean collar on. And I saw some meme of your next wine tour made easy with just a map of someone’s house with like different wine glasses and like the closet in the kitchen or whatever. So, we’re thinking of, and we could print out like, or draw whatever pictures of like Paris or other places and post them around the house and just kind of do a little walking tour. So, trying to find fun ways to spend our time.“

The study participants have also spoken about providing emotional support; the kind of support that is encouraging, reassuring and comforting. Some participants have spoken about providing comfort with increased hugs and kisses, giving each other the time to talk about things that are bothering them, and motivating each other to continue to work on their tasks.

For example, Anna says that her husband “helps me a lot with getting motivated and remembering that I have things to do. But at the same time, not overworking myself. He encourages me to take breaks and he steps in and just helps me like he’ll refill my coffee. Which is really nice.”

Many of the people I’ve spoken to have also said they’ve been able to help each other to work towards tasks and goals by providing practical assistance. This may have meant providing advice and suggestions, spending time working on the goal with them or researching opportunities.

For example, both Emily and her partner work in research and she said that “we do talk a lot about work after work, but usually more on the theoretical side of it than the actual application of it. And so, being across the room from each other all day, I can turn around and think, “Okay, well, now you’re working on that thing. Maybe it would be better if you had this control, or have you thought about that control?” It’s nice to see that my opinion actually has some influence over his work and what he’s doing.“

While the majority of the people I’ve spoken to have been able to find ways to support each other both emotionally and practically, at least on some level, this was not true for everyone. Sometimes it can be really difficult to be there for the other if you’re struggling yourself. It is perfectly normal. If you’re struggling to support each other, it can be good to reach out to other people for help. Indeed, some of the participants mentioned that they had gotten in touch with family members and friends for their partner to help support them.

During this time of corona, our EFT Clinic therapists are all working online with clients. If you find yourself struggling to support each other and feel that you need more help, you can always contact us and one of our experienced therapists will be able to see you straight away.

We are there for you just a click away!

*All names have been changed to maintain participants’ anonymity.

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