By Heather Beach, founder of The Healthy Work Company
Unless you are blessed with a partner who doesn’t work, and a huge house in which everyone can have their own space, living through lockdown is going to see your relationship truly tested.
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to ensure you safeguard your mental health during this period and all of it requires us to be more organised and planned than we have been before because our old routines – in which we were perhaps perfectly happy, or dealing with low level dissatisfaction – have gone. We need to proactively create some new ones.
Probably never before have we been in such a creative position. Normally these routines, perhaps refreshed at New Year or after a family row and a resolution to be better, just creep up on us.
This also applies to family life.
Let’s face it, every couple is different. When we asked a panel of workers two weeks into this period how they thought they would maintain their relationship, the answers received offered two ends of a spectrum.
There are those who have created family agreements and posters and are sitting down for a family debrief at the end of the day, and those who are saying we just need to bring more love and kindness to every situation, accept there will be very bad days, and roll with it.
So you need to ask the following questions: Are you a family who usually sticks to a routine? Do you always sit down and discuss things over the dinner table or are you more fluid? Any attempt in my house to form a family agreement would be met with raucous laughter.
Even the fluid types with younger children to manage and home school to balance with work commitments realise some organisation is really necessary in this time.
Here are the bare basics that everyone should be doing:
• Share calendars and make agreements on who will be where at what time and who is managing childcare when. If you are taking on home schooling you have to share the times you will be unavailable. You can always negotiate and send an updated to-do list at the end of the day.
• If you only have a small space, agree who has the premium space and when.
• Start with a “commute” – even if it is a walk around the block (or kitchen!) – and shut all your equipment down at the same time each day.
• Allocate a time each day where you will do some things together – cooking a meal, playing a game, or doing an online workout session.
• Put less pressure on yourself. Those of us with perfectionist tendencies who try to be high achievers in every area of life have to put some of that on hold right now. If a child wanders into a zoom call, if they are not making the progress with school work you feel they should be right now, give yourself the same understanding you would give a friend.
• It is very normal for people to have meltdowns in trauma and crisis. What we are experiencing now, as a nation, is a form of collective grief. Anger is often the first stage of grief, so it doesn’t mean your relationship is in trouble if you have an outburst or raging argument. It may actually help release some emotions.
• Consider the five languages of love. We all express and receive love differently and if your method of working and your partner’s don’t align there is a temptation to feel you’re not compatible. Find out what their priorities are and try to work in line with them, if not in the same way. Don’t do as you would be done by, do as they would be done by). The five languages are:
- Words of affirmation – using words to build up the other person.
- Gifts – these don’t have to be bought, a flower from your daily walk or breakfast in bed can be just as gratefully received
- Acts of Service – Doing something helpful for your partner
- Quality time – giving your partner undivided attention
- Physical touch
- Give each other and yourself some space. Even if this means disappearing into the bedroom/back garden/bathroom for a while. Even the most extrovert among us will need our own space as this period of isolation continues.
Coronavirus lockdown can offer us all the opportunity to redefine our relationships but if it isn’t and you just get through it intact, then remember – that’s okay too.
Heather Beach is the founder and director of The Healthy Work Company. Unique in its model – THWC offers tailored training solutions in line with office culture and support employers’ wellbeing strategies. Heather is a positive psychologist and a leader in her field in health and safety and HR. She is currently working with ITV, London Luton Airport, Mace and The Telegraph delivering courses to enable managers to spot signs and symptoms of distress, have the confidence to start better conversations, and empower them with the tools to have teams which thrive.