Being stuck indoors with family during Coronavirus quarantine could be a blessing or your worst nightmare. Here’s how to survive it without getting divorced…
A friend just emailed me an article about how divorce rates have skyrocketed after the Coronavirus lock down in China.
If you’ve been reading my emails for a while, then you’ll also know that January is dubbed Divorce Month because more divorces are filed in January than in any other month of the year.
What do the divorce rate spike in China and “Divorce Month” in January have in common?
They both follow an extended period of time living with family.
I expect the marriage death toll after this quarantine to be even greater than the January one.
Because while Christmas holidays only last a few weeks, quarantine could last many months.
Imagine the stress that two months of quarantine might put on your marriage…
Well, fear not.
Here are some helpful tips to make sure that your marriage doesn’t become another casualty of this pandemic.
WHY CORONAVIRUS QUARANTINE WILL BECOME A NIGHTMARE
In any relationship, we have to balance being communal (being a WE) with being autonomous (being a ME).
This balancing act gives rise to two basic relational needs:
- the need for CLOSENESS and
- the need for SEPARATENESS.
Here’s a more detailed look at how to balance closeness and separateness.
Normally (when we’re not forced to stay at home in quarantine), we’d get our need for closeness met at home.
We’d get our need for separateness met by leaving the house (e.g. going to work, going outside for walk, going to the gym).
Since quarantine means that we can’t leave the house, we’re completely screwed when it comes to getting our need for separateness met.
And if you’re an introvert,
you’re doubly screwed…
…because introverts recharge their batteries by being alone – which is much more difficult during a quarantine.
Being in quarantine as a family might be tolerable for a few days or so, but after a week the cracks will begin to show.
After a few weeks, expect your home to turn into a minefield with everyone walking on eggshells around each other feeling stressed, overwhelmed, exhausted, irritable, or annoyed and angry…
…and that’s when arguments are going to erupt into blow out fights.
One argument won’t kill you, but imagine if we’re all forced into quarantine for several months…
It’ll be a shit show at home in no time at all.
Even your pet Labrador will be grumpy.
So, here’s what we’re going to do to make sure we’re all happy at home if this quarantine thing lasts longer than we’d like it to.
TIP #1: CALL A FAMILY PLANING MEETING
No, I don’t mean the kind of family planning you do before having kids!
I mean a meeting with your household to figure out how to get everybody’s needs met while living in such close quarters.
Here’s what I suggest you do tonight at dinner.
DISCOVER HOW TO SUPPORT EACH OTHER
- Propose this:
“Guys, I know that none of us planned spending the next two weeks or even two months at home together.It’s going to be difficult unless we all work together to help make sure that everyone has what they need.Let’s take turns saying what we need in order to feel good every day. Who can think of a need immediately?”
- As each person in your home shares their needs, write them down.
- Then ask “How can we all help you meet that need?” If someone at the table doesn’t know what they need, offer this: “How can we help you meet your need for privacy and alone time?”
My wife and I, along with her two kids, are currently all holed up during quarantine in a 2-bedroom apartment in Chile.
Thinking that we were finally Empty Nesters, we were happily traveling the world when Coronavirus hit.
Normally, we’d have returned home to wait out this Coronavirus quarantine, but we’d rented out our home for six months. Doh!
So, when Coronavirus hit and universities closed, the kids came home to roost – in our 2-bed apartment in Chile.
Overnight, my ‘home office’
became the kids' new bedroom.
All four of us in a 2-bed apartment 24/7 is challenging.
Here’s what I’m struggling with personally:
- I need a private place to work and complete silence while I work.
- I need my 20-minute afternoon nap every day (Jeez! Reading that, I sound like an old man!).
How can my family help me meet those needs?
The kids have agreed to be quiet during my client calls and my 20-minute nap time (earplugs are also my friend).
And, I’ve converted the balcony into a temporary office and everyone has agreed to stay away from it while I work there.
My new “office” on the balcony. At least the view doesn’t suck.
Not rocket-science, right? But it makes an enormous difference to my life.
My wife and step-daughter are both introverts. They need their ‘alone time’ every day or else bad things begin to happen!
So, my wife gets the bedroom to herself at the end of the day to unwind, read a book or veg out on Netflix. When my step-daughter has her headphones on, we leave her well alone.
Simple, right? They get their recharge time and all is well in their world.
Now, you might think that this all sounds rather obvious, but…
unless you’ve made your needs explicit, chances are that your family won’t know how to help you get them met.
So, have that chat at the dinner table tonight, take notes on everyone’s needs and get clear on how you can all help each other have a good time during quarantine.
This will go a long way to making sure that you all feel recharged, respected, and cared for – especially if this Coronavirus thing lasts months.
TIP #2: PICK UP THE TRASH
Most of us walk around other people’s trash in the street instead of stopping, picking it up and putting it in the trash can.
We tell ourselves, “It’s not my trash, so it’s not my responsibility.”
My mentor who taught me this idea wasn’t referring to trash on the street, but psychological and emotional trash.
What does this have to do with your relationship or marriage during this Coronavirus quarantine?
Living in such close quarters…
…it’s inevitable that eventually you’re going to hurt each other’s feelings.
Unintentionally, of course, but that’s just how relationships go.
When we feel hurt by someone we love, it’s doubly sore.
It can be tempting to step over our hurt (the trash), hoping that it’ll go away. And it does – for a while.
Perhaps we don’t want to make a fuss, or rock the boat, or appear weak, or cause a fight – all of which are completely understandable.
However, after a few weeks of stepping over our emotional trash, it starts piling up and the space between us begins to stink of anger and resentment.
And nothing will kill your connection faster than resentment.
Moral of the story?
Pick up your emotional trash – meaning talk about your hurt feelings and resolve them there and then.
If you notice that your partner looking upset, ask them what’s up and listen attentively (and with an open heart) to what they say.
If your partner declares that “Nothing’s wrong!” (and you know that’s not the case), just say “Your feelings matter to me. I’m always available for you if and when you want to talk about it.”
HOW TO PICK UP THE TRASH
If you’re not sure exactly how to do that without sparking a fight, here’s a quick and dirty way to make sure that sharing your hurt doesn’t come across as a threat to your partner/family member.
When I saw/heard/felt you ____,
(insert triggering action)
…the story that I made up was ____.
(insert your assumption)
I felt ____.
(choose one: hurt, sad, lonely, scared)
I need ____.
(choose one: reassurance that…, help with…, to understand you, to be listened to, a hug)
That will get you out of trouble quickly.
If you want more simple tools like this (a lot more), check out my online relationship repair program.
With time on your hands, it’s the perfect way to use quarantine to strengthen and improve your marriage.
TIP #3: APPRECIATE YOUR PARTNER’S SURVIVAL STRATEGY
Just like each of us prefers to write with our right hand or left hand, each of us prefers to use one of three survival strategies to ensure that we stay alive.
These strategies are unconscious to us, and in uncertain times like these, with Coronavirus (and people infected with it) threatening our physical safety, we’ll all be using our strategy to survive.
If you don’t respect each other’s survival strategy, quarantine won’t be fun.
But when you appreciate your partner’s strategy, a lot of unnecessary misunderstandings (and possibly World War 3) will be kept at bay in your household.
What are the three survival strategies?
- Self-Preservation – the drive to be prepared in case a threat appears.
- Social – the drive to be valued in a group in case a threat appears.
- One-on-one – the drive to be intimately connected to one other person in case a threat appears.
Although you can use all three strategies, you will prefer to use one of these over the other two. So, let’s take a quick look at each of them.
“When the sh*t hits the fan, I can only count on me to protect myself and my family”
The person who uses this strategy stays alive by being prepared for anything.
Before the Coronavirus was even announced, they already had a stockpile of dried foods, tin cans, toilet paper (and possibly guns and ammunition) down in the basement. And it had been there for years, just in case something like Coronavirus happened.
They are prepared.
In fact, even if they can’t work right now, it’s no biggie. The Self Preservation person probably has a rainy day bank account just for times like these.
If they had a slogan, it might be ‘Me against the world.’
If your partner uses the Self Preservation strategy, go and give them a big hug and thank them immediately!
Because they are the reason that you’re sitting pretty right now while the rest of the (unprepared) world panics.
You might also want to apologize for giving them such a hard time about all the “junk” in the basement!
“When the sh*t hits the fan, I can call on my network to protect me and my family”
The person who uses this strategy stays safe by staying in the hearts and minds of (influential) people in their community.
They want to be popular – not for their ego’s sake, but because popular people have many options during times of crisis.
Because they’re popular and well connected, they can call on other members of their group who might have useful resources to help them survive.
If they run out of food during a famine, one phone call will fix that.
And if they had a slogan, it might be ‘My group against the world.’
Of all the three types, the person who uses the Social survival strategy will suffer the most during a quarantine.
Because it’s hard for them to stay at home where they can’t connect with other people face to face. You’ll probably find them spending a lot of time on their phone as a way to connect instead.
If your partner uses the Social strategy, go and give them a big hug and thank them immediately!
Because, all the time they spent networking with others (and didn’t spend with you) was to make sure that you were kept safe during times of crisis like these.
You might also want to apologize for giving them such a hard time about all the “other” people in their life. Those people might just save yours one day.
“When the sh*t hits the fan, I can count on my partner to protect me and my family”
The person who uses this strategy stays safe by attracting one significant other person to have their back.
The one-on-one person is looking for intimacy, wanting to drop all barriers to closeness and create the perfect union.
From a survival perspective, they bet all their money on one horse – their partner.
They invest their energy and time into building an intimate relationship that they can turn to for support in times of crisis.
If they had a slogan, it might be ‘You and me against the world.’
If your partner uses the One-On-One strategy, go and give them a big hug and thank them immediately!
…they’ve invested more time in you than anyone else on the planet ever would!
They’ve put you first, kept you safe, stroked your head when you were sick, and generally made sure that you were OK.
And if the world comes to an end, they might be the only person standing by your side, on your side, supporting you, fighting for your survival.
While you’re at it, you might also want to apologize for giving them such a hard time for pushing you to reveal how you were feeling. They were just wanting to know you better so that they could support you better.
WHAT IF YOU HAVE THE SAME OR DIFFERENT SURVIVAL STYLES?
Have you figured out you and your partner’s survival style yet? Are they the same or different?
If you both use the same survival strategy…
…then it’ll be easier for you both to get along during your quarantine. You’ll have similar expectations of how quarantine looks.
On the other hand, by doubling down on your survival strengths you’re also doubling your ‘survival weaknesses’ by putting all of your “survival eggs” into one basket.
I recommend that you have a conversation about the other two survival styles and how you both may benefit from incorporating them into your life together.
If you each use different survival strategies…
…then you may already have had fights about how to prepare for and survive quarantine (or how not to).
Perhaps you can have a conversation today about your different styles and ask your partner to explain more about how theirs works.
An advantage to using different strategies is that between the two of you, you use two of them, so you might actually be more prepared to thrive during this crisis.
The point of knowing about these three strategies is to become more tolerant, more appreciative, and more compassionate towards each other.
When we don’t understand how we’re different from each other, it’s easy to assume that our partner is wrong, bad or just plain crazy.
That’s not going to help things, especially during quarantine.
Everyone uses one of these survival strategies. Can you figure out which ones your children use? Your neighbors? Your parents?
Understanding the styles of your family might make sense of your whole life.
Let me know in the comments which survival style you use.
If you want to geek out on these three survival strategies, google ‘Instinctual Subtypes’.
TIP #4: BUILD RITUALS
Have you ever used sticky notes to remember something?
I remember learning the Spanish names for the rooms in my house by sticking sticky notes in each room.
I noticed them for a few days, but after a week my mind blocked them out.
In the same way, after a few weeks of spending 24/7 together all of us will begin relating to our housemates as if they’re just another object around the house.
We’ll forget that the people we live with are real human beings like us, with real needs and real dreams and real struggles.
Our interactions will become shallow, void of any meaningful significance. Our mealtimes will become opportunities to watch more TV or be on our phones instead of with each other.
You’ll be surrounded by people, but feel desperately lonely and starved of connection.
Ritualize spending meaningful quality time together.
Don’t leave connection to chance.
Here are three obvious opportunities to create meaningful connection every day.
HOW TO CREATE MEANINGFUL CONNECTION DAILY
I’ve categorized each example using one of the 5 Love Languages (i.e. touch, gift giving, quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation).
1. Wake Up Rituals
- Kiss your partner awake (a touch ritual).
- Make “I love you” the first words your partner hears each day (a words of affirmation ritual).
- Greet your partner/family with a meaningful hug in the morning (a touch ritual).
- Bring your partner coffee (acts of service / gift giving ritual).
- My wife and I read to each other for 15 minutes in the mornings (a quality time ritual).
- Workout at home together (a quality time ritual).
2. Mealtime Rituals
- Sit down and eat meals together without the TV on and with phones away (a quality time ritual).
- Go around the table and share one thing you appreciate about each person at the table and why (a words of affirmation ritual).
- Ask each other questions about what you’re looking forward to today; what you’re struggling with today; what you’re hoping for today; highlights of the day etc… (a quality time ritual).
- Laugh together e.g. each bring one joke to tell to the meal table (a quality time ritual).
- Hold hands and bless your meal (a touch ritual).
3. Evening Rituals
- Play board games together (a quality time ritual).
- Share highlights and lowlights of your day (a quality time ritual).
- Thank each other for one thing they did for you (a words of affirmation ritual).
- Hug (for a minimum of 5 seconds) and kiss each other goodnight (a touch ritual).
- Gift yummy food – my step-daughter always brings me vegan chocolate each night (gift giving ritual).
These are just a handful of suggestions. None of this is rocket science.
Come up with your own ideas and share them in the comments please!
If you’ve fallen into unconscious patterns, forgetting to connect meaningfully, then creating rituals to ensure moments of connection will quickly make your household happier.
FUN TIP: If you haven’t yet, take your love language test and read the book together.
Let me know in the comments below what part of quarantine you’re struggling with most. I’ll do my best to offer you a solution when I update this blog post (which I plan to do often).
If you enjoyed reading this, please hit the share buttons below and share it with your friends.
Till next time, be kind to each other.