Now Or Never

Self-isolating with your partner? A relationship expert's advice on how to get along

In moments where relationships face challenges, there are also opportunities to learn, says relationship expert Allison Villa.

'Redefine what self-care and space looks like in these unusual circumstances,' says Allison Villa

In this time of self-isolation, relationship expert Allison Villa says we can learn a lot about how to get along better with loved ones. (Dusan Petkovic/Shutterstock)

Are you self-isolating with your partner? Are you bickering more than you'd like, wishing they'd unload the dishwasher and take their turn making sure the kids are doing their homework?

Take a deep breath: psychotherapist and relationship expert Allison Villa says some conflict is to be expected.

Villa told Now or Never that in moments where relationships face challenges, there are also opportunities to learn about how to get along better with the one you love—even though they might be driving you bananas at the moment.

So, dear reader, here's Villa's advice on how to keep your relationship strong during the time of COVID-19 and self-isolation.

How do I get some personal space while isolating with my spouse?

"Redefine what self-care and space looks like in these unusual circumstances. It is possible. We need to be creative," says Villa. That could mean going to another room, reading a book alone, heading outside to the backyard to smash out a few pushups, or calling up a dear friend on the phone.

Villa's family knows that, when sharing close quarters, it's important to 'redefine what self-care and space looks like in these unusual circumstances.' (Submitted by Allison Villa)

How can we not talk about COVID-19 when nothing seems as important?

"The question is: what are your interests?" says Villa. "Get back to being curious about each other."

Do a home workout, listen to a podcast, read a book you love and then talk with your partner about how it made you feel, she says. According to Villa, now could be a good time to dust off that long-lost list of "things that we always said we wanted to do but never had the time." Sprechen sie Deutsch?

What's your advice for parents to keep a fair division of labour?

Villa reminds us that "resentment breeds when we feel there is an imbalance in who is doing what." The key to making this work as you self-isolate is having a daily check-in with your partner to prevent "next level" parental stress. Set a schedule and divide parental responsibilities; it's not going to happen naturally.

Villa and her partner make sure to schedule and divide parental responsibilities, like washing the dishes. It's not going to happen naturally. (Submitted by Allison Villa )

How do I not be so short-tempered?

Villa says that right now, it's understandable that we might not be able to regulate our emotions the way we normally do.

"There's higher stress. There's higher anxiety. That's what happens," she says. 

For couples with kids, she suggests having a pre-meltdown conversation. She says it may sound like this: "OK, I know we had a freak-out moment yesterday and I noticed that in those moments I really need space, or I really need a hug, or I really need you to reflect back that you could see that was hard for me."

Have the conversation before the next meltdown because it's going to happen one way or another. 

How do we handle not knowing when this is all going to end?

One tool, says Villa, is to shift your perspective from imagining this might be a few weeks, to imaginging it's going to be six months. That longer view may allow you to ask yourself some different questions about how to adapt to the challenges you're facing.

"Let's just give it a large timeline so that you can just start to mentally relax around [the idea that] this is the new normal," Villa says. "How can we do this in a way that's going to be enjoyable for all of us?"

Can I wear sweatpants every day, all day?

Villa did not express any major issues with repeatedly wearing sweatpants, but did posit that you might feel a little better about yourself if you mixed it up.