Surviving relationship meltdown during the pandemic
"Many of you will fall asleep vowing that the very first thing you'll do as soon as lockdown is over is file for divorce."
This was possibly the only line in the compelling article, written by Francesca Melandri on her experience during this COVID-19 outbreak in Italy, that made me smile.
Not because divorce is anything to smile about you understand, but because, when we began our journey as travel nomads over five years ago, that's exactly how I felt on too many times to count. I'm sure Ian, my husband, felt the same way too.
Living together 24/7, as we are being asked to do now, to help flatten the curve of this virus, is an art. And I'm not being smug when I say that. It takes patience, love, devotion, organisation, as well as the foresight to hide all the sharp knives when things get really tough!
"How do you manage being with each other all day, every day"?
Even before COVID-19 took hold, it was still the question we got asked the most. Let's face it, we went from having full-time jobs where we hardly ever saw each other (when weekends were spent cooking, cleaning and seeing friends and family), to travelling full time and being with each other every hour of every day! It was pretty much from one extreme to another.
But maybe we've just been in training for this COVID-19 outbreak for the last five years!
Whilst some people are already at the end of their tether, for us, being placed on lockdown whilst house sitting here in France, has simply been business as usual.
Being stuck in one place with your family right now might be your idea of heaven, but it isn't that way for everyone.
So here are a few tips on how you can get through these difficult times, and remain socially responsible… and that means, no escaping into the wider world!
Create structure in your day
It's been proven that structuring your day improves your mental health. Building a routine keeps you grounded. It provides comfort, a sense of the familiar, and can reduce stress.
For those working from home, you'll most likely have something akin to a structure already planned for you. But, for those new to remote working, you're going to feel a whole lot better if you have mini "goals" to achieve daily, believe me.
These goals can be something you to do together as a couple, or on your own. Just don't forget to schedule times to periodically reconnect with each other!
Divvy out the daily chores
As well as structuring your day, it will definitely help to stick as close to your pre-virus routine as you can. No fighting over who is going to escape to do the supermarket shop!
But seriously, trying to retain a semblance of normality during lockdown is important, so divide the chores between you and the rest of the family (if you have them around), and make that the backbone of your day.
The key here is to play to each other's strengths. Take the chores each of you enjoy doing, or that are best at.
I'm the best cook (sorry Ian) - unless we're talking curry and then the spicemeister comes into his own. But I also enjoy it, so for us, it's a given that I'll take on the culinary duties. Just don't ask me to wash the dishes afterwards!
Laughter is the best medicine
Charlie Chaplin once quipped, "A day without laughter is a day wasted." And that's certainly the way we see it too.
If you let the fact that you're effectively incarcerated get to you, then there's a good chance you'll take it out on each other. So learn to see the funny side of these enforced situations.
We're British and have a natural ability to laugh at ourselves - and of course, others when they deserve it. Ian comes from a part of England that's renowned for its humour. And I admit that I do have a tendency to take myself rather seriously at times. His answer is, whenever appropriate, to take the piss. But this is not a one way street. The banter goes both ways!
Organising online catch-ups with friends and family is great fun too and a way to inject that laughter into your lives. Everyone is in the same boat, so there's plenty of gallows humour going around right now. And there's no excuse to say that you don't have the time. Having a laugh is what we do best. It's a key component of our relationships - with each other, our friends, and our family. If we didn't joke and have a bit of banter with them, life would soon get boring.
We managed to have an impromptu dinner party the other night with some friends of ours, thanks to the medium of FaceTime! With the added bonus that they couldn't drink our wine!
Stake out your territory
OK I'm going to use the "U" word. This virus is unprecedented. And so, unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.
If you're going to escape this crisis without murdering each other, you'll need your own space. You need to stake a claim on part of the house you're sharing, for yourself. Hiding in the closet is not a long term solution!
I cannot stress how important this is to me. As the eldest of four children, I absolutely cherish peace and quiet. I actively seek it out and prefer to work in silence.
Ian, on the other hand, likes to listen to music, which can become a problem for me. I spend more time grumbling like an old bag about his choice of music than I do concentrating on what I'm doing. Another reason to create your own space... and to seek out those noise-cancelling headphones you've been promising to treat yourself to!
Deciding where each of you is going to work, research or simply idle your time away during "alone times" is the easy part. Sticking to it is the toughie.
As a rule of thumb, try not to go and plonk yourself next to your significant other and begin a conversation about a certain World Leader's latest deranged ramblings,. Especially when she's finally got around to Google translating the instructions for a recipe she picked up in Peru.
If you're working from home, this is even more important. No-one on a conference call needs to see your partner flouncing past in their "tighty whities", do they?!
Take it slow
The great thing about social isolation is you can move to the beat of your own drum. If you want a duvet day, there's literally nothing stopping you. If you want to stay in your jammies all day, why not?
If you want to use this time to have a long promised clear out of unnecessary "stuff", or to redecorate your house (having had the foresight to buy the materials before lockdown) - then do it!
These are strange times. It's going to take you a while to find your own rhythm, so be kind to yourself.
You'll figure out what works for you soon enough.
Get out and about
With social distancing comes social responsibility.
We are not supposed to be interacting with each other outside our households. Gyms… those hallowed palaces of sweat, are closed. And, for many of us, our daily walks or hikes have been curtailed due to government restrictions. Even cycling has been banned here in France, a tough call for what is arguably the world's biggest cycling nation.
Ian figured out his exercise routine early on in our journey. He devised a routine which is a mixture of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and resistance band work.
But, there are plenty of classes popping up online. Joe Wickes (aka The Body Coach) on YouTube, has transformed himself into the UK's PE teacher for the benefit of school kids and their parents. Or you'll find a number of 30-day exercise challenge apps if you need motivation to keep you in the zone.
Whatever your normal routine, see if you can replicate it at home. Exercise can be great fun, and extremely beneficial to your mental health - especially if you're lucky enough to be able to do it outdoors.
Take some "me time"
Naturally we are talking about physical health a lot at the moment, but mental health is just as, if not more important. And finding that "me time" is something many of us struggle with. During all of this upheaval, it's easy to lose yourself and put everyone else and their needs first.
Worrying about older parents who won't do as they're told, or kids and grand-kids who are struggling to balance home education with the pressures of working from home. It's easy to lose sight of your own basic needs.
The simplest way to find that much needed time, is to build it into your daily routine.
It doesn't need to be a big deal, but it is SO very important. It can be something as simple as drinking your cup of tea in the morning without interruption, meditation, reading a book, exercising, or cooking. These are all great ways to take quality time for yourself, where you very specifically meet your own needs.
This isn't being selfish. When you are living in such close proximity to others, it's absolutely necessary.
Give yourself that gift.
Don't forget to communicate, you're a team
Whether you like it or not, you're in this together. There's nowhere to run to if you need to let off steam.
So, if something is bothering you, you need to communicate it, because letting those little frustrations build up is not advisable.
By the same token, choose your battles wisely.
Does it really matter if she's left her dirty cup in the sink for you to wash up?
I can guarantee, you are going to get on each other's very last nerve. In fact, I believe that rage hoovering is quite the thing nowadays.
So find an appropriate outlet and let it go.
Remember… the lawyers' office is closed and the neighbours are all at home watching you. There's not a chance you can dig a six-foot hole in the garden and not be detected!
Patience is a virtue!
guest post - nicky mackenzie
Nicky is one half of Above Us Only Skies, a world travel blog for travelers, would-be travelers and anybody else with a curious interest in ditching the routine and exploring our planet. She’s been traveling since 2015 with her husband Ian, backpacking, house sitting and road tripping their way, slowly around the world.
Check out their website at AboveUsOnlySkies.com or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram
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Last updated on May 19th, 2020