By Sean Zucker –
An occasional night in together with your significant other used to feel nice. However, when you’re forced to stay in together night after night, that quiet time may begin to feel tortuous (read: mandatory Stay At Home orders). Despite Netflix’s best efforts to ease the strain by pumping out unworldly levels of content, thanks to the COVID-19 lockdown virtually everyone now is beginning to feel the consequences of being cooped up indoors for the foreseeable future with the ones they hold most dear.
Unfortunately, those consequences can do a lot of lasting damage to otherwise healthy relationships.
Michigan State University is at the forefront of this growing issue, conducting a study focusing on the effect social distancing and prolonged isolation together may have on the well-being of intimate relationships.
The research focuses primarily on the sense of obligation relationships produce and the overall effect it has on the sustainability and wealth of the union. The university’s findings suggest that there’s a distinct point at which an obligation becomes a burden, therefore harming their relationships and creating emotional fractures. It notes that friendships are different than romantic relationships. Friendships generate low-investment obligations, while romantic relationships can become draining substantive obligations, which may be heightened by extended periods of combined seclusion.
The good news is that Michigan State’s findings weren’t all doom and gloom. Led by an assistant professor in the Communication Department and Director of the Family Communication and Relationships Lab, Elizabeth Dorrance Hall, the university’s research provided four steps that can be taken to keep relationships healthy.
First and foremost, try not to criticize your partner. Declarative statements like “you never” or “you always” tend to create more fractures than they heal. Instead, focus on specific actions and productive solutions expressed calmly that explain how you feel rather than what your partner lacks.
Second, accept fault and don’t deny responsibility even if you feel you’ve done nothing wrong. Personal feelings aside, Michigan State researchers note it is important to acknowledge a partner’s point of view. Ultimately, it is not about who’s right but rather why someone is upset and how together bruised feelings can be resolved.
Hall insists on the importance of speaking with empathy rather than contempt. She states, “Don’t belittle your partner, roll your eyes or otherwise act superior. These behaviors have been called ‘sulfuric acid for love.’ These extremely disrespectful ways of communicating are painful and hard to recover from.”
Finally, it’s crucial to avoid withdrawing emotionally. It’s nonproductive, easy and all too common. Shutting down or simply walking from an issue will only create more frustration and needlessly escalate a bad situation. Shutting down is not only discourteous, but it can also further isolate a partner at a time when they are already feeling freaked out and alone.
Compassion and empathy are essential to maintaining strong relationships during combined periods of isolation, but so is taking personal space. While that may seem counterproductive, it’s imperative to maintain both parties’ happiness and sanity. What’s crucial is how to approach each individual’s need for some solute. Be honest, open and clear. Be sure to acknowledge the need for personal space as self-soothing and not a reflection of a splintered connection.
Covid-19 has generated unprecedented and challenging social situations. Effort, empathy and compassion are almost as critical to surviving the pandemic as social distancing, 20-second hand washings and skipping handshakes.