5 Lessons Learned from Maintaining a Relationship During the Pandemic

Written by Chao Wang

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

As COVID-19 swept over the globe, every aspect of our life was challenged. Our romantic life was no exception.

With the unusual circumstances brought by the health crisis, we feel like we are riding an emotional roller coaster. It is no wonder that our relationships feel harder than ever to maintain.

As seen in China, the divorce rate surged when couples came out of quarantine. Undoubtedly, it could be a break-or-make time for many of our relationships. However, the upside of the story is that there are still quite a number of couples happily together. And more importantly, we can learn from both the mistakes and successes.

In this post, I’d like to share 5 lessons that I learned from maintaining, observing and contemplating romantic relationships during the quarantine. While acknowledging the difficulty of covering such a personal and complex topic, I hope the summarised lessons would inspire you in navigating your love life in challenging times.

May your love survive and thrive in these difficult times and beyond.

We all know that good communication is key in relationships. However, how to be a good communicator to your partner is a lifelong learning topic. Surely, there is no one-fits-all solution for communication issues in relationships. But one universal thing is that effective communication requires constant love, care and attention, especially under challenging circumstances.

In a long-distance relationship, or living separately in quarantine, the medium of communication is often an issue.

Couples living apart may find themselves texting a lot but still not feeling content with the communication they have. Being unable to see the other person’s face and hear their voice, along with the increased irritability under stress, we are exceptionally prone to misinterpret text messages.

To avoid such misunderstandings, calling or video chatting could be a great alternative. Save some time spent on texting sporadically for a high-quality concentrated video call. While recognising the importance of showing love and care through messaging, we also need to learn to say to each other: “We can’t solve a problem over text. Let’s talk instead.”

However, we all know that no matter how hard we try, conflicts happen and that even the sweetest couples fight. Acknowledge its normalcy and try to fight in a smart way.

To fight smart, practice staying focused on the cause of the fight. Do not dig into the old history and fight over the past. Instead, make the expectations clear and be solution-oriented. Keep in mind that the goal is to solve problems, not to play and win in the blame game.

2. Cultivate separateness as much as togetherness.

Although we all like to think of ourselves as someone easy to be around, the truth is that everyone is very hard to be with, let alone to be with all the time.

It is easy to forget that separateness is as vital as togetherness for a healthy relationship. Creating personal space for each other has always been essential since the time of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Our ancestors built pair-bonds but separated every morning for their own different tasks.

No two human beings can stay together 24/7 without getting fed up with each other. Make some alone time for each of you, and in a caring way. Do things separately in different spaces if you can. Also, keep in mind that you do not need to leave a space physically to have some alone time.

Meanwhile, nurturing a healthy togetherness is also worth efforts. Plan something special regularly. Arrange a virtual dinner with your partner if they are far away. Have a romantic movie and wine night or a fun game night.

Be creative and effortful to make life more, literally, eventful. With the prospect of some kind of unusualness going on for a long while, even small-scale events, or rhythm changes in the days, can make a big and positive difference.

3. Take care of your sex life.

Sex and intimacy is another pressing topic in relationships, especially during this time. Separated couples may suffer from lack of physical affection, experiencing the so-called “skin hunger” (a concept created by Kory Floyd, a professor at the University of Arizona). Meanwhile, the “stuck-together” couples may struggle with differentiated libido levels.

There is no such thing as a bad time for trying something new to spice up your sex life. Discuss what your partner feels comfortable with. Create a private and cosy intimate atmosphere. Start small with sexting. Upgrade to audio and then perhaps video. Use technology to your advantage.

What about the situation of unequal sex drives? Again, the key is to communicate what and how you feel and then find a solution together.

Meanwhile, remember that stress is a vital impact factor in sex drives. Occasional lack of sex interest does not mean that your partner does not love you anymore. Consider consulting a therapist if the problem persists.

4. Check in with yourself before you do with your partner.

We’ve all heard the common phrase that you must love yourself before you can love another. But as much as it is universally known, it is constantly forgotten.

Morgan Scott Peck, American psychiatrist and best-selling author, elaborates in his best-seller The Road Less Travelled: “The only way to be assured of being loved is to be a person worthy of love, and you cannot be a person worthy of love when your primary goal in life is to passively be loved.”

To love yourself is not as simple as it may sound. You have to focus on yourself in order to do so. Listen to your inner voice. Identify how and what you are feeling. Tools like meditation, yoga and journals are great assistants for this purpose. Write things down and go inwards before you reach outwards.

Truly understanding yourself will help you be more loving and nurturing toward others. Share your feelings with your partner and ask about their feelings.

How to react to your partner’s feelings is then the next question. Psychologist Brené Brown has recently discussed this in a chat with Tim Ferris on his podcast the “80/20 rule” in the context of relationships.

She explains that it is unrealistic to expect constantly equal energy, patience, kindness and investment from your partner. Instead, in a healthy relationship, when one is temporarily 20, the other can meet them at 80.

Of course, it is absolutely normal that sometimes the other is not able to make up for your low. Brown explains further:

“During the times when they’re less than 100 combined, they sit down together and work out a plan of kindness towards each other.”

Communicate and ask your partner where they are at today and find something that works together as a team.

5. Engage in some common activities.

Whether living together or apart, common activities can strengthen relationships. It is a great time to develop a common hobby.

In our blog post on 9 (free) ways to care for your mental health during crises, we recommended a range of activities linked with resources for you to try out, such as working out at home, making handicrafts and cooking.

Try a new recipe. Have a friendly sports competition. Send a hand-written letter. Go through some old photo albums. Find something interesting for both of you and give it a try. Discuss and organise your activities together. Make your partner feel happily involved in your life.

We hope you’ve found my lessons learned on managing a romantic relationship inspiring and helpful. Check out our blog on Medium for more inspirational content on dealing with COVID-19 and beyond. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn and share your experience with managing your relationship during this pandemic.

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