A recent survey by Relationships Australia found that 42 percent of respondents reported a negative change in their relationship with their partner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Facing illness, lockdowns, homeschooling, and other unexpected shifts in routine, many couples found themselves at a loss for how to maintain intimacy or recover it when life started to run smoothly again.
According to Chris Kraft, Ph.D., a psychologist and expert in relationships and sexuality, “Couples who were in a good place before COVID-19 [were likely to] have an easier time withstanding the stress of the pandemic.” However, he also noted that even partners who were struggling before the stay-home mandates began were encouraged to use the time to work through some of their problems.
While the future is looking more positive at the moment, none of us can predict the challenges of tomorrow. What we can do is invest in our relationships today to build a strong foundation that can withstand external forces. Staying open to love and intimacy is just as important during challenging times as it is during times of minimal stress. Whether you are in a long-term partnership or a new one, here are some things you can do to keep your relationship strong no matter what the future holds.
Acknowledge Your Needs
Maybe you learned from your parents and caregivers that your needs were unimportant. Maybe you learned it was easier to go with the flow. Wherever you learned to deny your own needs, your relationship is bound to suffer as a result. You’ll end up expecting your partner to meet these needs even though they’ve never been outwardly expressed.
While you may fear appearing “needy,” by voicing your needs to your partner, you run the risk of appearing needy anyway by finding subtle and sneaky ways to get your needs met or you may become totally detached from your partner. While acknowledging your needs is an important step in strengthening your intimacy with your partner, being able to voice your needs is a crucial next step.
Establish Your Negotiable and Non-Negotiable Agreements
Every relationship is different and what may be a dealbreaker in your relationship may be permissible in another. Set aside some time with your partner to establish your negotiable and non-negotiable agreements. Non-negotiable agreements refer to things you can’t tolerate in order to stay in the relationship. It’s paramount that both partners carefully consider if they’re willing to follow through or not willing to follow before they agree to a non-negotiable. Keep in mind that non-negotiable agreements may evolve over time and may, in fact, become open to negotiation. However, re-establishing the agreements requires both partners to commit to an open and considerate conversation.
Learn How to “Fight Right”
Love involves tough conversations. If your wants or needs are not being met, it is crucial that you find ways to express this to your partner to avoid building a resentment. Hoffman Director Volker Krohn offers these five tips when approaching a difficult conversation:
- Go to a place of vulnerability
- Get clear about what you want or need
- Make sure your request is not a demand
- Choose a time and place for the conversation that is free of distractions
- Sandwich your request with positive statements
Also be careful that you don’t drudge up the past or build a case against your partner. This points to an underlying problem with forgiveness and diverts the focus from the current situation.
Become Aware of Patterns and Triggers
In childhood you may have learned to reproduce the behaviors of your parents or caregivers—the positive and the negative—to earn their approval, attention, and love. In the Hoffman Process, we call this adoption of behaviors the “Negative Love Syndrome.” From shutting down in the face of conflict to lying or withholding your affection, there are number of ways the Negative Love Syndrome can affect your current relationship and taking inventory is a powerful way to start taking back control.
You may also notice that relationships are full of emotional triggers. Instead of always blaming your partner for provoking an undesirable reaction in you, make an effort to take full responsibility for your emotional reactions. When you blame another person, you hand your power over to them, allowing your inner world to be swayed by external input. Reclaim your power by noticing the trigger when it comes up and making room for the feeling it provokes.
Make Time for Fun and Play
According to Plato, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation.” It’s true — research suggests that couples who play together feel closer, experience more positive emotions, and as a result are happier together. No matter what the circumstances are beyond your front door, there’s always a way to make time for fun and play in your relationship.
Whether it’s taking a simple drive together or carving out time for a special dinner, finding undistracted time to spend with your partner can have a lasting impact on your satisfaction levels.
Expand Your Support System
A recent study out of the University of Texas at Austin found that a reliable and strong social network can not only save your relationships, but positively affect your health. When you expect your relationship to give you everything, you put enormous pressure on your partner. By expanding your social support system and staying open to love in all its forms, such as friendships, you and your partner are more likely to be happier and healthier in the long run. It is similarly important to keep growing as an individual and to practice self-care instead of solely depending on your partner for your happiness. The result is a mature relationship in which both partners feel closely connected while still maintaining a powerful sense of individuality and independence.
This article was contributed by by Erica Garza. Follow @ericadgarza on Instagram