Couples have never had so much time together and yet surviving a lock-down is wreaking havoc on relationships. If you’ve ever traveled with somebody when things went wrong (such as no hotel room thanks to your booking mistake!), you know how spending intense time with your partner can be a true test of a relationship.
But that doesn’t mean it has to be difficult. I surveyed marriage and therapy experts as well as the couples profiled in my relationship book The Truth About Marriage (also in the award-winning documentary) and asked them for their best, successful marriage tips for couples about how to survive a lock-down. It turns out there are indeed dos and don’ts for couples who are under “house arrest.”
1. BAN CRITICISM
The best thing you can do is agree to ban this one, specific behavior. Not having a plan for dealing with the criticism associated with a roller-coaster relationship, especially during this unsettling period, is one of the biggest reasons why relationships fail, according to marriage expert, John Gottman, of the Gottman Institute.
Dr. John Gottman is a psychologist, marriage expert, and co-author of The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. Dr. Gottman has identified criticism as one of the four, most-destructive, emotional reactions that lead to divorce. (Defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling are the other three.)
Dr. Gottman says, “[Criticism is] pointing your finger at your partner and saying, ‘You’re defective and I’m pretty much perfect.’ The antidote to criticism is pointing the finger at yourself and saying: ‘here’s what I need, honey, and here’s what the recipe for success is with me.’”
Rabbi Lazer Brody, marriage counselor and translator of The Garden of Peace: A Marital Guide for Men Only, offers this marriage tip: “Imagine that criticism causes coronavirus – keep it out of the house.”
2. DELAY BIG DECISIONS
It is common to wonder during a crisis, like the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19, will my marriage survive? But according to the experts, now is actually not the best time to figure out how to save a relationship in crisis.
Dr. William J. Doherty is a marriage therapist and author of Take Back Your Marriage: Sticking Together in a World That Pulls Us Apart. When dealing with this particular hardcore truth about marriage, Dr. Doherty advises:
“Don’t draw any conclusions (or make lifetime decisions) about your relationship during a crisis. Your judgment will be impaired. You can look back afterward with more perspective. You can always decide later.”
3. EMPHASIZE CONNECTION AT HOME
Practicing social (and physical) distancing causes stress. At home, practice connection instead.
Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil, marriage therapist and author of Make Up, Don’t Break Up: Finding and Keeping Love for Singles and Couples, encourages nurturing both the physical and emotional connection – an overlooked marriage tip: “Cuddle and hug more, before bedtime and upon awakening, because it releases oxytocin (the cuddle hormone), which spikes the immune system.”
Rabbi Lazer Brody agrees and offers a specific behavioral prescription: “Regularly schedule one hour with your partner just for listening (with no media, computers, cellphones). Each gets as much as 30 minutes to say how they feel with no interruption. Look for the good in each other. A way to prime the pump: write your partner a thank you note of at least 5 things they did for you on the last day that you appreciate. This is an amazing reinforcement of a relationship and something they almost surely never did.”
4. PLAN FOR DISCONNECTION
Everybody needs space sometimes, and couples are no different. Make disconnection an expected, normal part of your day. Over time, this will improve communication in your relationship.
Dr. Bonnie Eaker Weil advises, “We can’t do mind reading. Spell out when you will have connection time. And announce your disconnection intentions and boundaries in the morning (or the night before).”
Jordan Mackay, one of the profilees in my documentary (as well as a proprietor of traveling pub), had this great advice: “Don’t look at this as an opportunity to try to spend a whole bunch of extra time together. Set up areas where each can go to not be bothered. If a person is used to being offsite working for eight hours a day, continue to separate for roughly the same period.”
5. STAY PHYSICAL
Even though you may be cooped up, stay active. Managing unrealistic marriage expectations starts when you get out of your head and reconnect with your body.
Don Blanquito is a rapper who is another of my documentary profilees. He offers this great marriage tip for families who may feel cooped up from the ongoing sheltering in place order:
“Work in exercise time in the mornings, especially with kids, because you release endorphins and that makes anyone feel better. Get creative and try to learn something new with your partner; develop new skills together: cooking, sex, Kung Fu, whatever.”
6. BONUS: COMMUNICATE – DUH
Everybody these days seems to agree on the importance of improving communication in marriage, which is also stressed in my marriage documentary “The Truth about Marriage.” But does this seemingly obvious advice bear repeating – especially now in an ongoing pandemic?
Christopher Ryan, Ph.D., psychologist, and co-author of Sex at Dawn: The Prehistoric Origins of Modern Sexuality has this to say about improving communication in a relationship. “I tend to avoid giving advice, but when I do, it’s simplistic and annoying, so here are my top 3 tips for couples:
Only they know what’s going on. Use this opportunity to face life and death head-on. We’re all going to die one day, so why not talk openly now, while we can? Reality is scary, but avoiding it makes it more dangerous.”
As you can see, there’s hope for how to survive a lock-down – do not despair! With time and patience, you can manage unrealistic expectations in your relationship and work towards a path of healing, love, and acceptance.
Roger Nygard’s award-winning funny documentary The Truth about Marriage and its companion book will help lighten your load and provide you, your relationship, and your family much needed support during such unprecedented tough times, when you feel there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.
You can start with The Truth about Marriage trailer, and follow the links to stream or download the documentary. Or, you can click below to purchase The Truth about Marriage companion book by Roger Nygard.