Couples living together have their routines and set practices. A does these chores, B does those and everyone is on track — ideally. But during very stressful times such as the pandemic we’re now living through, it is far too common for all of that to go out the window. In many parts of the world, sadly, corona divorce has become one of many viral hashtags. Japan’s #coronarikon became a trending topic almost simultaneously with the spread of the virus in March.
Although Japan’s state of emergency is now lifted, many companies that instituted telework over the past several months are continuing the practice through the end of June. Some are even considering abandoning their offices for a permanent switch to online work. That means even more time spent at home with your partner (and potentially kids as well) under the same roof for 24 hours a day.
So how does a couple survive something extreme like that? Here are some tips that could help.
1. Give each other space
Easier said than done in a Japanese apartment, but generally speaking, there are ways to spend time apart in a small space. During work hours, it’s tempting to chat, or pay more attention to the apartment or your partner than your job. But try to avoid that. Your partner, if they’re working from home too, needs to focus on work too and might find your behavior distracting — which can lead to fighting or resentment. On the other hand, if your partner is typically the stay-at-home type, they won’t be used to your presence during the week. You being there disrupts their routine, and they might find it very hard to do what they usually would while you’re working.
To keep the two of you happy and working well, lay out your schedules in the morning or the night before work and come to some agreements about your working behaviors. This could mean ignoring each other entirely until work ends, or it might mean treating each other like coworkers — having lunch together and chatting but otherwise doing your jobs. If your spouse is a stay-at-home person, remind them that during certain hours you won’t be available to help with the housework or engage in whatever they are doing. When you’re done, however, make it up for them!
2. Be considerate
When people are under a lot of stress, common courtesy can go out the window. Weekdays can blur into weekends easily during a lockdown, and people forget to do things for one another because they’re so focused on keeping themselves going.
Showing that you haven’t forgotten your partner (unless you’ve mutually agreed to ignore them during work) is essential, not only for their sake but for your own. It’s immediately noticeable when you’re with each other all day if your partner is constantly doing things for you and you aren’t reciprocating. Seeing that spelled out when you’re already under a great deal of stress can have very extreme consequences for your relationship.
Not that you need to make grand sweeping gestures of love and outpourings of affection every day. Stopping to make your partner a cup of tea or coffee, bringing them a cookie, picking up papers they dropped, folding the laundry — these simple gestures can go a long way when it comes to keeping a relationship happy, especially when extra stress has been piling for both of you.
3. Make changes to your space
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There’s not much room to work and play in when you’re living in a one-bedroom apartment with just a living room and kitchen. It can feel cramped, and with two people working from home, it can start to feel like a prison instead.
There are plenty of easy and relatively cheap ways to add space to an existing apartment: rearrange the furniture to make a home office space for two or hanging up a curtain to divide the room, are just two of many. In the process, you might also Marie Kondo-ing your clutter to unearth old treasures and take walks down memory lane. This is a fun way to remind each other of the better times and showing how good you two are together.
4. It’s ok to be cheeky (sometimes!)
It can be hard to remember the vital role physical affection plays in a relationship when you spend 24 hours a day together. At first, being around one another and under such different circumstances can trigger more physical affection but more difficulties with performance (thanks stress!). Try showing some physical affection during a break or after work. A little kiss on the cheek during a coffee break, or a comforting hug after a particularly stressful conference call can do wonders for your relationship. Or, if you’d prefer a less direct approach, use your phone. Just because you’re at home together doesn’t mean you can’t send your partner a sweet text message.
5. Do something different together
With the increase in time spent together, some people may start realizing that they don’t have as many things in common with their partners as they once did. This is a fairly common phenomenon among couples at retirement age. While that might sound like you’ve grown apart, it’s also an opportunity to find new things that inspire you both.
Start by talking about things you used to enjoy doing together or things you always wanted to try but haven’t yet. Maybe you like hiking, and your partner likes bird-watching. Perhaps you’d like to learn how to cook authentic Indian curry, and your partner wants to learn how to bake. Those can be combined into activities you can do together — and the discussion itself can bring you both back in sync with one another too. With more stores and restaurants opening now, it’s also nice to go out for a drink — or lunch — when you need a break.
Last but not least, despite everything that’s happening in the world, remember that you and your partner are a team — and a good team gets stronger only after overcoming challenges together.