If you were having a difficult relationship at home before COVID-19, it is likely things just got harder with the Stay-At-Home order in place. Whereas before you at least had opportunities for time apart by going to work, going to the gym, or running errands, we don’t have those options now. But just like before where you could “create” opportunities to get away, you can still do that now. You just have to be a little more creative. You also have to exert some self-control. That may be the hard part!
We had therapist Jennifer Hilligus talk about this very topic on a Facebook Live video. (If you want to watch it, you can check out the replay right here on our YouTube channel). Jennifer says it comes down to one thing: Boundaries. That said, understand that many relationships end because of a lack of communication and boundaries, but it’s never too late to reset and develop new habits. If you have children together and will be co-parenting in the future, now is really a great time to get into the right mindset to start doing it. So here are some suggestions how you can establish some boundaries.
1. Time-share your living space. If one of you is undoubtedly a morning person and the other one is not, then that’s an easy one. Let the morning person have his or her time alone in the morning in the space they normally occupy. If they like to have their morning coffee in the kitchen with the newspaper, let them do that. You can even agree on designated times for each other to have the kitchen or the living room (or whatever space you customarily like to do your thing) so that they can feel like they can be alone to do those things. And this is with the understanding that you get your time too. If you actually schedule it, then you will both have an understanding and a common expectation as to who gets to do what and when they get to do it. Right now, it can feel like a luxury just to get out of the house and go to the grocery store. Imagine knowing that every day you will get the kitchen (or the living room or the den, or whatever space it is) to yourself without any tension or awkwardness in the room with your spouse, or any expectation that you have to “engage” with someone in conversation.
2. Establish a parenting schedule. I have seen couples do this even outside of COVID-19 and it can work really well. It lets you both know when one parent has “kid duty.” That way you know when you will have some free time to do other things like work, chores, or some leisure activity. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t be around. It just means that you have an understanding while you are sharing your living space as to when it’s your responsibility to supervise the children and take care of their needs and when it’s your spouse’s turn. This is also a great opportunity to start getting your kids accustomed to this as well. I realize if you are present, your kids are not going to just ignore you like you’re not there, but it’s your responsibility as the parents to redirect them and get them used to a new normal. You can simply say, “Dad is going to make your lunch today,” or “Mom is going to do homework with you tonight.” Now is a good time to do this since things are changing anyway. You could also use this as an opportunity to have some private time to be alone in your bedroom or other private space, go for a walk, or have a video chat with a friend.
3. Establish a “quiet zone.” Agree with your spouse that you are both going to designate a place in the house that gets to be your “spot” where you can go when you need a moment to decompress and remove yourself from the craziness. This could be an entire room, it could be a chair in a room, it could be your bedroom, it could be a seat outside on the patio. Agree with your spouse (because this benefits both of you) that when you are in your “quiet zone” that you get to be alone in that space for a designated period of time. Agree with each other that when you absolutely need to remove yourself, you will go to your quiet zone for a period of 15 minutes (or whatever you agree to do). We often regret arguments we have and things we say during those heated moments. If you find one coming on and you’re able to remove yourself from the situation, it can prevent you from saying things you know you will regret later. If there isn’t a designated space where you can hide from the kids, then use the time to go outside for a walk or even sit in your car and listen to the radio. Be creative. Think about what you like to do that actually makes you feel calmer and figure out how to make that your quiet zone time.
4. Have a common “silent time.” It’s important to have some quiet time periodically without distractions. This is especially true for introverts who often feel drained if they don’t get some time to be alone. If this is something you both value, agree on a time of day when the television will be turned off and any other noisy distractions will be turned off. This is also a good time to agree that there will be no expectation of conversation. Under normal circumstances, we could leave the house and go get coffee or go to a bookstore to be alone, but we can’t do that now. This is one way to give each other some space to have a moment of solitude. This may be harder with kids in the house, but maybe you could incorporate this practice into the parenting schedule suggested above, or at night when the kids go to bed.
These are just a few suggestions. If you have any others, please share them on our Facebook page or send us a direct message. There are plenty of other people going through this and everyone finds coping mechanisms that work for them.
If you need further assistance on any divorce-related matter, please contact us for your free consultation.