Navigating Relationships During Lockdown
As many of us enter into the 3rd, 4th, 5th, week—or longer—of in-home confinement, it is natural that nerves are beginning to fray, and relationships are beginning to strain. We are finding ourselves, quite literally, not having our own “space” or “breathing room” right now, and that can certainly take a toll on our own wellbeing, let alone the health of our relationships.
Right now, the vast majority of us are navigating two types of relationships: those of the loved ones we are on lockdown with 24/7, and those family members, coworkers, and friends that we are only able to communicate and connect with through technology or from afar. Both have their challenges, and as we all know, too much of anything, even if it’s a good thing (like being stuck with our sweet, darling spouse all hours of the day) can take its toll.
So how do we move through this? How do we maintain our own space, breathing room, privacy, and boundaries, and still maintain connection? How do we move from feeling helpless and disconnected to our loved ones who we are only able to connect with through Zoom or FaceTime?
Here are three ways to navigate relationships during lockdown:
ACKNOWLEDGE WHAT IS
First, accept and acknowledge that everyone (including you) is more on edge and cranky than usual. It just comes with the territory of being in the unknown and feeling out of control, both of which are running rampant. We are literally in survival mode right now. Our basic needs (see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs) on the most fundamental levels are being threatened—food, water, health, employment, security, safety. This alone causes stress and anxiety. Add in all the extra work, and other factors (more people in the house, social stressors of dealing with others also feeling this way, fear of being infected or having our loved ones infected) and you have a lot of anxious, worried, and depressed people.
For right now, allow yourself to recognize that things are not “normal.” Allow yourself the space to accept that you are going to have feelings come up for you that are new, unexplainable, and may feel out of control. This is also what others are experiencing. Allow yourself good cry. Allow yourself the space to break down. Allow others the space to have those experiences and those moments as well. Cry with your spouse. Scream with your children. Allow yourself to feel what you are experiencing, and don’t keep it inside. This is not to say that it is ok to scream at your children or take your frustrations out on your spouse. Doing that will only quickly escalate problems. Give yourself permission to take a “time out” to go for a walk, or take a hot bath or shower, and let everything go so you DON’T lash out at the hubby or kids from holding it all inside trying to act like everything is all good.
You may also want to keep a journal during this time. Write out what’s going on with you. All the pain, all the hurt, all the anger, all the fear, all the frustration—even the victories, the wins, and the brainstorming of the plan for when this is all over. Write it down and get it out of you. Get it out, so you don’t take it out on others. Nobody wants what’s happening right now. But it is happening. Don’t let it “have you.” Don’t let it take you down. You decide how you get to be about all of this, and you are in control of yourself and how you handle yourself.
MAKE A PLAN
Since we are unsure about how long this is going to last, it may now be time to sit down as a couple or as a family to start making a plan. Planning out your day or week, who handles what chores, when the work day ends, how you get to give each other space (and what that looks like) and how to handle things like shopping, cooking dinner, cleaning the house, even planning how and when you will make time for each other, and when you will give each other alone time—free time to do any mind-numbing ridiculousness you please (Tiger King, anyone?) -— without judgement.
Communicate to the others in your house when you need to be left completely alone to work, and when you don’t mind interruptions. A sign - even if it is a sticky note saying “Do not Disturb” will help make expectations clear and alleviate some of the frustration. However, talk as a family to explain what your roles are. You cannot expect your family to leave you alone everyday, 12 hours a day and expect there to not be a strain on the relationship. Come up with compromises and work together to come up with a plan of what daily life will look like. Will there be things that come up? Maybe a little chaos? Of course, but having a plan reduces this and allows for a “TEAM” and partnership to occur, putting less strain on the relationships.
Make a plan with loved ones that you are communicating with online. What works for both (all) of you to stay connected and yet not feel obligated to jump on a call all the time? So both are on the same page, and its a win-win.
MAKE POWERFUL REQUESTS
One of the ways to improve on your communication is to reduce the amount of frustration that results in an unmet expectation. Often, we get pissed off or frustrated with others because we have an expectation. But often, this expectation is not clear. It has not been communicated to the other person. We have expectations of behaviors of others based on our history.
When you find yourself irritated or frustrated about something, STOP and ask yourself, What is really going on? What is really happening? Especially if it concerns someone else, ask yourself, why am I irritated or frustrated? And how can this be resolved? Often, you had an expectation and that expectation was not met by that other person. They either did something - or didn’t do something, said something, or didn’t say something, that you in the back of your mind were expecting from them. So how do we interrupt this and stop all the irritation and frustration? One way is to make powerful requests. Having conversations about the expectations you all have in this moment, given these circumstances will be critical for your relationship. You can start with making requests.
For example, the expectation may be that you always make dinner and your husband clears the table and does the dishes. This is the way it’s done, and this is the way it’s always been done. An expectation. And when our husband decides he’s not going to do the dishes suddenly, we get frustrated and irritated because there was an expectation.
But things may look a little different right now. You may be on Zoom calls with your classes for 6-7 hours a day, answering emails, creating materials that work for distance learning, etc. and your husband may also be working from home, navigating his way through the challenges of his job suddenly going online. So now what? Is the expectation still there that you make dinner and he does the dishes under these circumstances? Why? Circumstances may have changed, so don’t get yourself caught in the trap of assumptions.
So here’s how to navigate by making a request: “Honey, I would like to request (and yes! use that word - it is a distinguisher to “pay attention here”) that you make dinner each night, and I will do the dishes. I just need a bit of a break after all my student calls and parent emails and everything, and it would really support me if you would take on that role for the rest of this month. I can handle the simple task of doing the dishes, but dinner is too much for me right now. Can you do that for me for the rest of this month? By then, I may have all of this in a system to where I can breathe again, and we can adjust from there at the beginning of next month.” And then, and this is important (again, to trigger the importance of the request: “Will you honor my request?”
Here’s another example: “Kids, I would like to request that you do not disturb me from now until 2:00pm, as I need to be on my computer uninterrupted. Can we set up some things for you to do from now until then so that that can happen? Maybe choose a couple snacks so that you can have those ready and you won’t need to interrupt me? Can you honor my request of not disturbing me until 2pm?” Then do it. Grab the snacks, set up the plan, and the expectations for both the kids, and you, are in place.
Now, the other person can either choose to honor your request, negotiate the request, or deny the request. If they honor the request, you both have an agreement in place, and can operate accordingly. If they deny the request, you can either ask to negotiate, or simply accept the denial. Negotiating the request would be simply that…making it a win-win for both of you. (Be prepared for the other person to make a request of you.)
What’s happening here is clarity of expectation. I am making a clear request - what I want, what it would look like for the other person, and a specification of timeframe (by when or for how long). Will the kids forget and mess up and knock on your door? Maybe. But you can remind them. “Remember that request I made that Mommy needs quiet time alone in here until 2:00pm?” The likelihood of them remembering that request, because you set up a win-win, has a much better chance than simply shooing them out the door in frustration when they’ve walked in on your Zoom call 4 times.
Relationships are not something you DO. It is how you BE. It takes care, tending, listening, communicating. Get rid of the need to control, to predict, to dominate. Rather, be in the flow of being relationship - of relating. You want love in your relationship? Be the love you want in your relationship.
Unconditional. Outpouring. Flow. Stop trying to fix or manipulate for your own ego’s sake. Solve problems as they happen, forgive and clean up unresolved messes. Stop getting frustrated with the other person, and handle yourself and how you act. Hold your loved ones as doing the best they can, just as you would want them to hold you with that unconditionality. And if you mess up, ask for forgiveness. Try practicing the Ho’oponopono Prayer:
“I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you."
If you are interested in doing more with this, here are some things to think about or to journal:
What are you experiencing frustration or irritation about in a relationship you have?
What are the expectations you have that are not being met?
What requests could you make that might clarify these expectations?
What are you willing to negotiate in order to make the situation a win-win?
By when will you make these requests?