• As the UK lockdown continues, many of us are seeing more of our partners than perhaps ever before

  • Sharing space 24/7 while coping with coronavirus-related stress could spell trouble for your relationship. Therapist Julia Bueno offers 7 ways to manage conflict 

  • Our therapists and counsellors are available to see you online, and many are trained to work with couples – find your therapist here

For the time being, many of us are spending a lot more time with our partners than we may usually do, or even choose to do. Working parents combining childcare and domestic duties with their virtual offices are also now stripped of any decent quality time with each other. I’ve been talking to people a lot about how best to handle this sudden re-calibration of life, and in particular, how best to communicate with their partners in these unprecedentedly stressful circumstances – whether it means talking about vulnerable feeings or the mundane of domestic life, or indeed, anything else.

It’s more necessary than ever for us to dig deeper than usual to both look after ourselves, but also our relationships. Some potentially useful tips:

1) Create and respect boundaries

If you are lucky enough to be able to escape to a room and shut a door, for however long, then agree that that when you do this, you signal a need for no interruptions. If you don’t have such an escape, then agree to make and respect invisible boundaries – e.g.: wearing headphones, or reading a book/working on a laptop should signal non interruption too. Just because someone is visually available, this doesn’t mean that their heart and mind are. Remember to ask another if it’s a good time to be interrupted. If it isn’t, agree a mutually suitable time to talk.

2) Manage alone time

Associated with this is the potential importance of negotiating time to be left completely alone: couples can have different needs for solitude though, so one may need more than another. So, for example, this may mean agreeing to take a walk or buy provisions alone, or to take a chunk of time out of sight from the other.

3) Be mindful of your partner's needs

It’s entirely possible for an introvert to be with an extrovert too – so negotiations about online socialising will have to confront these differing needs for contact with other people too. Socialising online is also more tiring, and especially so for an introvert.

4) Make time for each other

This may sound odd when you are stuck together, but domestic or other duties may make be so draining that the temptation is to sit next to each other at the end of the day absorbed by smartphones or Netflix. Try prioritising switching devices off and taking it in turns to speak to another without interruption and with full attention – ten minutes each a day can be profound. We all have a lot on our mind, and a lot that is changing – our brains are wired to be making sense of the chaos outside, so they are busy!

5) Choose your battles

Lockdown may not be the best time to tackle every issue in a relationship. As long as you have to live together, it may be wise to agree to delay the thorniest issues between you two – especially if there are children in the house. Agree to come back to them at a later date, when the resources of ‘normal’ life are returning.

6) Don't let resentment fester

Having urged you to choose your battles, you may also need to arrange a closer time to tackle a brewing argument: if a niggle festers and grows, try your best to postpone it for a ‘better’ time. Maybe when the children are in bed, or certainly when blood temperatures are cooler. If it’s possible to get a night’s sleep in before broaching the matter, even better.

7) Be mindful of criticisms

If your partner’s cooking/cleaning habits annoyed you before lockdown, they are likely to be amplified now. But now’s the time for appreciation rather than undermining: thank him or her for the helpful or kind gestures. Try hard to make gratitude far outweigh the criticisms.

Julia Bueno is a verified welldoing.org therapist in North London and online

Further reading

Addiction and co-dependency in relationships

How technology affects our relationships

7 steps to resolve anger in relationships

Parenting in lockdown: managing changing roles and responsibilities

Has lockdown changed your sex life?