I read a news report the other day that divorce rates had increased as a result of the enforced lockdowns during the Coronavirus pandemic. While I’m saddened by the thought of the suffering that leads a couple to decide to split up, I’m not surprised. After all, for many of us this has been an unusual and challenging year with no real end in sight to the uncertainty and loss of freedom.
I consider ourselves fortunate that we have not had direct contact with the disease itself, yet since mid-March we’ve been largely confined to our apartment, our daughter at home and a dramatic reduction in our work and income. I can easily imagine that for many people, this big change to daily life has put a huge strain on their intimate relationships. If you combine this with the loss of the usual support networks of family, friends and work colleagues and the extra demands of unexpected, full time childcare then it has been clearly more than some couples could cope with. This has led to more divorce.
We recognised early on that we needed to approach this period consciously and an important part of that was taking steps to ensure we were taking good care of our relationship. Given there was to be three of us sharing the apartment every day for an indeterminate period we decided not to just go with the flow but to set up some routines and practices to organise time and space. These have served us well and I consider they have helped us navigate this crisis in the best possible way.
I would like to share what we established and maybe there are some useful ideas here for you to take and adapt to your own circumstances. I would also love to hear in the comments what practices have served you well through this time.
As a family we decided to design a template timetable, breaking the day into chunks of time for working/studying, family time and alone time. It was broad and generous enough to give flexibility and freedom without detail or prescription.
- 09:00 to 12:00
- 12:00 was for exercise
- 12:30 family meal time and rest
- 14:00 to 16:00 work and study time
- 16:00 to 18:00 was self-time
- 18;00 meal time
- 19:30 entertainment time.
The main benefit of this schedule was it gave a base line of predictability combined with alignment of activity … so when we needed quiet time for concentration, we were all either working or studying.
During self-time we were free to do whatever we wished. Read, meditate, or, in my case, binge watch ‘The Walking Dead’ on Netflix as my way to remind myself that no matter how hard it was for us, we were lucky relative to a virus-induced zombie apocalypse.
We recognised the importance of keeping ourselves occupied on high value activities as much as possible and resisting the urge to sink into a TV coma. We weren’t always successful and were not willing to throw the TV out so it did dominate some evenings. Overall though, I think we managed well to keep ourselves intellectually active.
We are deeply grateful to our daughter’s school for getting organised for online schooling within two days of school closing. They were also very responsive to dialogue with parents and kids to evolve how they were working throughout the 3.5 months they were forced to close. This helped our daughter keep engaged on learning most of this time. She was starting to lose interest towards the end of the school year and so then started to read a lot – something she gets from us – so overall it was great learning for all of us. She is definitely much better organised and self responsible now.
She had started to learn piano at school and a friend gave us an old electronic keyboard for her to practice with. We tested out a few apps for piano lessons and found one she liked and her piano has advanced very quickly through this time following lessons on a tablet.
And for us. We had to adapt how we work and move a lot of our activities online. Not an easy task and still ongoing, but it did keep us busy. I also found an app with home workouts to keep me fit while I wasn’t able to leave home for running – my usual exercise.
The daily schedule didn’t give any dedicated couple time so we decided to focus on this on a weekly basis. We divided the evenings and ended up with a week looking something like this:
Tuesday night was cultural evening where we explored together some cultural or artistic concert or show and the rest of the evening was mother and daughter time – they slept together and I had a break.
Wednesday night was educational evening where we learned something together as a family and the rest of the evening was for father and daughter time and Mona had a break.
Thursday night was Ian and Mona evening where Emma would have a break. This way we got at least one evening a week that was ours – like a date night but with some restrictions given that we weren’t entirely alone.
Friday was family night and we stayed up late watching TV, eating homemade junk food and sleeping together on the sofa. Even the dog joined in as she was not usaully allowed to sleep with us.
Individual and Couple Practices
Even before lockdown we had in place a series of daily practices to bring our focus on us as a couple. Keeping these going was crucially important because we found that, even though we were spending more time together than usual, with everything going on, we found it tough to maintain the quality of that time.
Our daily practices comprise:
- Eye gazing – 3 minutes of silent eye contact
- Focused Listening – 10 minutes each sharing what’s going on (thoughts, feelings, experiences) and the other listening in silence – summarising what the themes were only at the end
- Gratitude – we tell each other 5 things the other did during the previous 24 hours that we are grateful for and 2 things we’re grateful for about ourselves.
Now I’m in no way recommending that this approach would work for everyone. We are all different and all need to find our own way through these situations. What I can say is that this time of Coronavirus has increased the love and care we have for each-other, brought us closer together as a family and as a couple and we have not had a single conflict that was not quickly and easily resolved. Our life is simpler, more conscious and I do believe we have benefited a lot from this period.
What has worked for you to keep Love in the Time of Coronavirus?