Some of us are in the throes of week two of social isolation in a confined space, under one roof with our intimate partner, family members and children. The weekend is here and what to do, gosh. There are some people who are separated from loved ones, older family members and some who are alone during this time and/or travelling into work to see colleagues still. I would like to just acknowledge that all these experiences come with their own unique interpersonal challenges and opportunities. I am here at home with four daughters aged between 11 and 16 who are currently on school holidays and my partner who is working from home. It's a fascinating experience to see how we're all tracking through the changes to our lifestyle, connecting with others online and hearing about their experience and how we're all slowly adapting. I figure we're the lucky ones to firstly have a home to isolate into and secondly to have each other and this extra time together. But that being said, today is a good day and I don't want you to think it's been all rose-coloured classes - because it hasn't. I hope todays blog can help you and your partner find your groove together; take a breather and have your own personal space too. I hope that you can take care of your interpersonal connections, even when you have physical distance to contend with because I've always been a big believer in the idea that it takes a village - even couples need friends and support networks.
My partner and I have a healthy relationship, we've been together for a couple of years now and already navigated some big difficulties in our short time together. In the past I've had some unhealthy relationships so I've learned to tell the difference. By 'healthy', I mean we've supported one another through some major health and family challenges that have been out of control, but have also had adventures and memorable moments together. Thankfully we both share a similar political ideology and worldview but have enough diversity to keep things fresh and interesting. He's a logical thinker and I am a creative, I'm an extrovert and he's an introvert. He's also a mathematical whiz who loves data and I have a wild spirit and revel in the mysteries of life. When we met, he was beginning to explore mindfulness and has had a keen interest in spirituality and philosophy since childhood - he even had an ex who was a yoga teacher! Nowadays we get to share yoga and meditation practices together and have both dived deep into learning about Buddhism and insight meditation on retreat and in community. He's a leader within the workplace and I am a leadership coach and have a passion for empowering ethical and authentic leadership, which I believe he embodies. Having a shared love of all these things helps us value living a balanced life. We also encourage each other to keep learning new things, contribute meaningfully beyond our own families, eat well, exercise and sleep when we fall off the self-care wagon.
Let's be real, though - it's been two weeks so far and we've had little time for ourselves as individuals or even as a couple as we are constantly surrounded by children, and by the time we put them to bed we're exhausted and ready for two pages of reading before sleep takes us. I get to see him more often during the day, which is nice - but we've seen so much of each other that we don't get to miss one another anymore. This weekend our children go to their fathers for a week over the holidays and we'll have more time to ourselves and for ourselves - and that will be different again. I can't complain though, as we don't tend to annoy each other and I know if I am feeling frustrated I can reflect on myself in a way that helps me stay connected to him rather than needing to move away, most of the time. If I find myself moving away in my mind, I just need to be self-compassionate and I am pretty sure he's coping in his own way too. Here are a few things I have found that really work for our relationship in isolation - and in Coaching Conversations (our weekly IGTV video) this week we're going to talk about these things together in a candid and normalising way that I hope you can appreciate and draw upon.
Letting go expectations of normal
In this situation I believe it is important to let go of expectations you had around what constitutes 'normal'. These are not normal times and you really need to cut each other some slack. If one of you is struggling a bit or needing some alone time, just try and be mindful not to blow anything up that doesn't need to be. Trying to keep calm and in the present moment really helps you see the situation in front of you clearly and stay connected to your capacity for compassion.
Find new ways to decompress alone
One thing that is working for us is having time alone after work to decompress. I know my partner finds this really helpful and his work hours are longer and more intense and being an introvert it just helps him reset before entering into family life in the home. I take opportunities throughout the day and my work is more gig-based or in chunks of time throughout the week. Today I did some stretches and meditation and I often find cooking or going for a walk is a good way for me to decompress. I sometimes see him out under the tree eating his lunch and just let him be.
Connect daily for quality moments
While weekly we are both exhausted by the end of the day, we find we connect over coffee in the morning for a bit of chat. We might share something we read in the news or an idea we have for our work, and this helps us plan what each of us has to do that day. We also connect after work and chat about the positive things that happened or the challenges we are currently navigating in the workplace. I have to work hard on not being the coach or giving advice (he forgives me when I do) and just be the unconditional and loving supporter.
Exercise and Play
One thing we have found really nice for our relationship is doing meditation together during the week. We just sit in silence and practice for about 20 minutes in the evening before bed. We did a practice at sunset outside this week which was lovely too. We encourage one another to keep exercising which is so important and easy to let go of when the gyms and studios are closed. We also love walking the dog together and will take the ball and have a kick around to get some exercise in. He's a naturally good sportsman so one could be forgiven for getting a bit playful and trying to tackle him to the ground. We are planning to explore a new park this weekend to mix it up a little while we are still allowed outside in our neighbourhood.
Sometimes as a couple is easy to be self sufficient but it's healthy to have other connections in the community and now we have to think outside the square on how we do that. I have been chatty with the people I bump into at the supermarket or park because I am missing my friends. Your one intimate partner is not meant to be everything for you. Think of your community like your tribe - for me, I am setting up some new ways to connect with the friends I care about over video with food, dance and music. I am thinking about having an online house party if this thing goes on too long.
Romance and Intimacy
Admittedly, like many couples with kids this area is challenging for us right now - but in the big scheme of things we're doing ok. We both feel connected and available to each other in that way and the special moments of emotional connection we do have help me feel intimately close. These are things I really value from my partner and we are both committed to making time to connect. With the weekend coming up I'm planning a romantic dinner by candlelight and will leave out my Deepak Chopra book on the Karma Sutra to get us inspired. If I am lucky he might read me some poetry, sip some wine and light the fire too!
All of these elements make up a sustaining and fulfilling relationship and I think your partner really needs to be your best friend as well as your lover. It's not the easiest path being a couple, but it's worth the heartache and vulnerability to share the moments of connection and support, and contribute to something that can make you a better person - through the very act of loving another human being.