With the Covid-19 outbreak, and subsequent quarantine orders, many marriages are starting to feel like they exist inside a pressure cooker. We are all experiencing extra stress in regards to our finances, mental and physical welfare, and family life (especially if there are children at home). And to top it off, we are stuck in our homes together. But we have to remember why we got married in the first place; to have the love and support of a partner through this crazy journey of life.
During these trying times we must take extra care to keep our bonds strong and avoid falling into the resentment trap, where one partner typically feels unappreciated or like they are carrying more of the load in the relationship.
Follow along for 5 tips to reduce spousal resentment at home.
- Establish Separate Daytime Zones. Even in the confines of one’s home, you and your spouse have to find ways to get space from each other. Otherwise those habits that you may have found mildly annoying in the past will start to drive you insane. It’s no one’s fault, most of us simply need a little space and a little novelty to keep our relationships thriving. With the help of WIFI and space heaters, my husband and I have turned an old garage into a (sanity-saving) makeshift studio. At a minimum, find separate rooms to spend the bulk of your daytime working hours.
- Respect Each Other’s Personal Space. Most of us are likely used to having some amount of personal space during the work day, be it a cubicle, a personal office, or having your home to yourself for a stretch (even if this is just during a little one’s nap time). With these barriers now gone, annoying intrusions are much more likely. My husband’s workday mostly consists of a slew of conference calls. Now that he works from his studio (a.k.a. the garage), the kids and I are more than a little guilty of barging in on him multiple times a day. During his hour-long lunch break, he takes over with the kids, leaving me a little quiet time to write. This is nearly always interrupted by my kids every few minutes as they are used to me filling the role as the primary caregiver. Working through these issues by drawing solid boundaries around work-time are not only respectful to your partner, but key to keeping tensions down.
- Have Scheduled Planning Meetings to Stay on the Same Page and Discuss Grievances. Having a scheduled sit-down with your spouse to map out your days or week is key to tackling your home-bound time as a team. These scheduled meet-ups are also an opportune time to discuss, and hopefully resolve any conflicts that are popping up in this new normal (see work-time interruptions above!). These chats can go a long way to ward off resentment, which can feel like a consistent undercurrent in a relationship if not addressed, as well as make certain that emotions don’t turn to anger, which is more explosive, and unhealthy for partners and kids to experience.
- Divide up Domestic Tasks Together. With both partners presumably home full-time, the burden of domestic tasks will likely need to adjust. During family planning meetings, take a look at the daily and weekly tasks at hand, be it cleaning, cooking, or childcare, and divide them up in way that feels fair to both parties. Whenever possible, couples should focus on the things they enjoy or tolerate the most, and try to hand off what they don’t, since these are often different for both partners. Establishing set personal responsibilities together has the benefit of one partner (ideally) not having to ask the other to pitch in. In our home, we’ve established a few daily chores my husband and I both take on each day, then come Sunday the whole family participates in a deep-cleaning session.
- Block out Equal Amounts of Free Time. Our sources of pleasure have certainly narrowed over the last several weeks. Gone (temporarily!) are the days of dinners out, drinks or yoga classes with your girlfriends, writing at your favorite coffee joint, or catching a movie at the theater. To ward of despair (and grumpiness), we all need to build in free time for self-care into our daily routines. For instance, after very long days with my young kids, I have been taking a lot of quiet baths and getting in miles of trail running. Make sure you and your partner incorporate these slices of time “off” into your family schedules so they don’t get overlooked.
- Avoid Blaming or Labeling Language. Couples stuck in quarantine are going to have a squabble or two. A piece of advice I learned from listening to this amazing podcast, is that when you’re having an issue with your partner, it’s important to talk about how something makes YOU feel, instead of labeling your partner or telling them what they are doing wrong. For example, it’s much more effective to say something like “when you never help me clean up dinner it makes me feel like you don’t value how hard I work all day,” than some version of, “you don’t appreciate anything I do. I pull all the weight around the house. You’re a selfish jerk.” First off, the only thing you know to be really true is how something is making you feel, and second, putting someone down typically does not result in change, but more likely hurt and distance. And just like with children, acknowledging helpful and positive behavior is more effective than criticizing behavior you don’t like.
The dynamics of our relationships are all under a microscope these days. And while this can surely feel stressful, it can also be an amazing opportunity to build a stronger foundation for the future (which hopefully involves vacations, dinners out, and lots of socializing with friends). Take care, and stay healthy!
Feature photograph by Angela Carlyle