This is a time with great uncertainty. Not much is certain about what is going on in our world. We do know this: Nobody really knows what is happening and how it will all play out.
And so, the orders have gone out for us to engage in behaviors we have never heard of. Statements like “shelter-in-place” or “social distancing” are the language of the day. All this has created some real changes for most of us. Some of us have lost work, some of us are now working from home, some of us are trying to figure out what it looks like to home-school. All of us are waiting patiently for this to pass and get back to normal as soon as possible.
This situation potentially will change life as we know it. I am not sure how things will play out and what change will be permanent, but I do know this has created new obstacles and opportunities. Let me share one obstacle.
You may remember the good ol’ Venn diagram from school. It was that one where there are two circles that overlapped. It shows the relationship between two (or more) sets of something. Marriage and relationship nerds like myself love to use this diagram to understand healthy relationships.
Notice in the following diagram that there is a good healthy balance of space between “You” and “Me” with a healthy portion for the darker middle section, which represents “Us.” I say this is healthy because every relationship needs space. You know the old saying, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” It is true because we need space in our relationships to create a healthy balance.
This is because autonomy is as important as intimacy in a relationship. If that sounds counter-intuitive, it’s because it is. It is also counter to most Rom-coms which talk about “You complete me” stuff, which is actually very unhealthy. The autonomy represented in these circles is just about right. You have your life (work, friends, kids, hobbies, self-care, sleep), I have mine (work, friends, kids, hobbies, self-care, sleep) and we have us time as we build our relationship of companionship, intimacy and closeness. Neither of us need anyone to “complete” us, since we are whole people to begin with.
Back to our present day. With the stay at home orders, this diagram has changed. Many of us are working remotely, or not at all, the kids are at home 24/7 and we are all stuck in the house together. We are on top of each other spatially and chronologically. This is a potential firestorm. That’s why it’s important to read this. I can help you through this.
Here’s what the new diagram looks like with our friend “shelter-in-place”;
We don’t have much space for our autonomy. This is especially excruciating for introverts. Living like this without making considerations for the circumstances will make things really tense and maybe ugly. But we don’t have to fall into the ugly part. Let’s think this through and make it work.
First, know that your relationship thrives on space. Being apart is healthy and good. I have heard it explained this way: as a fire needs air to build flame, a relationship needs space to create passion. If you try to build a fire by piling sticks together you smother it and no flames start. If you smother a relationship it’s the same, you will lose attraction, desire and passion.
Second, pay attention to all the clues you are getting during this time coming from your internal resources. Your emotions, intuition and body will tell you what is going on. Are you getting irritable or cranky? Do you want to drink the extra glass of wine? Do you find yourself wanting out? Start to notice and observe yourself. All this is just good information telling you that you need something. That something will probably be space.
Third, identify what you need and clearly communicate what you need with your partner. Because healthy relationships rely on space, there is no shame in wanting space (or a hug, whatever it is). Let them know what you need and then begin to collaborate how to make sure you are both doing ok.
Fourth, make some plans to implement actions to get what you need, just make it so. We will be past this season soon enough and taking care of yourself in these tight quarters is very important. As you care for your own soul, your relationship will thrive as well. It works like that.
Ken Curry, LMFT helps couples and men through tough times regularly, and he understands that during this time, you may be facing new challenges and different feelings than usual. He is available to speak with you, as are all of our counselors, and guide you through the different emotions and issues quarantine brings. Click here to request an appointment, or call (720) 489-8555.