A quick search for “couples in quarantine memes” will reveal a hilariously relatable truth: Some are seriously struggling to adjust to being housebound with their SO 24/7. These circumstances obviously come with a whole slew of tests (like dealing with your partner’s habit of neglecting to replace the toilet paper), but whether you know it or not, quarantining together can make your relationship stronger. Experts agree that facing adversity as a team offers the opportunity not only to learn new things about each other but also to improve your communication skills.
According to Dr. Gary Brown, a couples' therapist in Los Angeles, challenging circumstances allow you to see a wider range of someone’s true characteristics, both positive and negative. In other words, you may gain deeper insight into the extremes of their personality — both the best (like, perhaps, how they are able to heroically brave the grocery store for pasta or calm you down when you’re feeling anxious) and the worst (like how they lose it when technical difficulties get in the way of their Zoom happy hour).
Melissa Divaris Thompson, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in working with young couples, points out that you’ll also get a better sense of how they handle stress. Do they lean into communicating their feelings to you, or do they try to bury their stress and cope with it alone?
“In quarantine, there is nowhere to hide, so it pushes couples to work through their issues more swiftly and therefore brings more intimacy and understanding,” she explains.
Brown explains that you may be able to learn your partner’s behavioral tendencies when they’re stressed, which can strengthen your bond because it allows you to sense when they’re under emotional strain in the future. For example, you might notice that they withdraw, become more impatient or irritable, struggle with falling or staying asleep, or experience changes in eating patterns. Once you know each other’s signs of stress, you’re in a better position to provide support as needed.
Obviously, strong relationships depend on open, healthy communication, and quarantining together forces you to process your feelings and worries on a whole new level. Dr. Mary Kay Cocharo, a licensed marriage and family therapist, has been advising couples to engage in deep conversations about their fears around the coronavirus pandemic — whether that includes health concerns, financial difficulties, career changes, or social life considerations. These discussions can not only draw you closer but also empower you both to reassure and support each other more easily. Quarantine life also provides an excellent opportunity to acknowledge your differences, which can only make you both more empathetic and tolerant.
“It’s important to directly negotiate each of your needs for distance and for connection,” says Cocharo. “Don’t assume that under stress, your partner wants and needs what you do. Everyone processes adversity and loss in different ways.”
Without a doubt, one of the most noticeable changes for many couples in quarantine is how much time they’re spending together. Even couples who were already living together spend a certain amount of time outside the home, whether at work, the gym, or with friends and family. The good news is that you can take advantage of this QT. Thompson notes that couples are getting creative by trying new bonding activities, like playing games, cooking together, taking a virtual class, or participating in the same workout.
“Being locked down together creates a lot of pressure on the relationship, but also provides more time to spend nurturing it,” adds Cocharo. “With all of the ‘exit doors’ closed (those things we do to avoid intimacy), the spotlight is shining on the strength of the relationship."
If you’re currently quarantined with your boo, and you’re looking for ways to continually strengthen your relationship, experts say there are many ways to deepen your bond amid these stressful circumstances. Brown highly recommends checking in with each other on a regular basis (ideally once a day).
“Reach out to your partner, and let them know what the impact of all of this is on you,” he explains. “It will help you both stay current with where each of you is in terms of the impact of all of this.”
Brown also advises using open-ended questions (rather than yes-or-no questions) to facilitate deeper conversations with your SO. For example, you might ask them the following: What is the worst part of this for you right now? What coping skills have you found useful? What do you need from me? What’s one thing I could do to make your day a bit better?
In addition to hashing out your concerns during this time, Cocharo suggests expressing gratitude during your check-ins. Consider making a routine out of telling each other at three things that you’re thankful for on that particular day.
Another way to strengthen your connection, according to Cocharo, is to find out each other’s love language. If either of you isn’t sure what yours is, you can take a quick and easy test online. Then, spend some time reading about your love languages so you can figure out new ways to meet each other’s needs.
“Find ways to make them feel special even in this time,” adds Thompson. “When people are hanging out every day, they often think that they are spending time together — but it’s not necessarily quality time. Figure out some fun things to do together — like doing a puzzle, baking, or participating in a dance battle. Get curious what your partner would find enjoyable.”
No one said quarantining with your partner would be easy. But as they say, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger — and the same can be said of your relationship. As long as you use this challenging time to understand your partner better, allow yourself to be vulnerable, keep checking in with them, and ideally, maintain a sense of humor about the situation, you're primed to come out of this quarantine closer and more compassionate toward each other than ever before.
Dr. Gary Brown, couples therapist
Dr. Mary Kay Cocharo, licensed marriage and family therapist
Melissa Divaris Thompson, licensed marriage and family therapist