Living in self-isolation is putting millions of relationships under strain, so how do you survive being with your partner 24/7?
As the world continues to deal with the fallout of the global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, life has slowed almost to a stop. The knock-on effect of enforced isolation and closed schools, public spaces and borders to curb the spread, has led to devastating job losses, mandatory unpaid leave, struggling businesses and cancelled holidays.
A network of key workers are keeping the country going, with the NHS at the beating heart, while the rest responsibly protect our elderly, vulnerable and sick through self-isolation and social distancing. Our job is to do nothing, go nowhere and see no-one, which sounds pretty simple – especially if it helps to stop the frightening death toll rising.
Yet, for millions, that means spending exceptional periods of time at home, alongside partners and children, trying to juggle work, childcare and chores. Family and working life have collided to become a 24/7 activity, mostly spent between the same four walls. So, as we navigate this unprecedented time of great uncertainty, how do we keep our tempers from erupting and our relationships intact?
‘It made our relationship stronger’
Thea Paraskevaides, 33, lives in Sussex with her husband, Tim, 36. Together, they run Beaumont Music, producing fashion accessories for musicians, and have spent the last decade working in close proximity to her each other.
Even before businesses and schools closed, my husband, Tim, and I had discovered we’d come into contact with someone suffering from COVID-19, and had to self-isolate for 14 days. It was a worry, not just for our loved one with the virus, but thinking we could have it, too, even though we’d no symptoms. What we weren’t concerned about, though, was spending every hour working and living together, as we’d already been doing that for 10 years. So, for anyone who’s already at the end of their tether with their other half, don’t worry, I promise it gets easier.
Tim and I first met in London while I was at university, in 2008. A year later, we relocated to Brighton, renting a tiny seafront flat where we set up a company refurbishing musical instruments and making trendy cases for them.
I was in charge of the creative and marketing side, while Tim did the sales and the books, and it was a steep learning curve, spending all day in a one-bedroom flat trying to thrash out business decisions without it spilling over into our personal time.
The temptation to work late was always there, making it impossible to stop talking shop at 5pm. Inevitably, we didn’t always agree on everything, either, and would argue over website design or a colour scheme. Normally, if you’ve had a disagreement at work, you can go home and let off steam to your partner. But when they’re the one that annoyed you, it’s hard.
Those first months were the most difficult – being together all the time certainly tested our relationship – which is what many couples will be experiencing during self-isolation. Yet we both wanted it to work, so decided not to let disagreements fester. We also made sure we were considerate, taking it in turns to make lunch or offer a cup of tea. And as our office space was cramped, one of us would often take our laptop to the sofa to give the other space.
We’d divvy up housework and keep the place clean, especially when the flat was full of instruments. If it was messy, it put us both in a bad mood. As we’ve adapted, it’s had a positive effect. We barely rowed as we took the same matter-of-fact approach to our relationship as we did at work and talked things through calmly.
It did help that in 2014 we managed to moveto a bigger house with a garden and some spare rooms to have some time alone. We still find it hard to switch off, though. Hours before our wedding in 2017, we were taking business calls, and we combined our honeymoon with a trade trip to Los Angeles.
However, we do have date nights where all mention of work is completely banned! During working hours, we also take breaks, which means, in practice, taking a book to the spare room or five minutes in the garden.
Friends often ask how we cope with living and working together, but if you’re mindful and just keep talking everything through, being with each other 24/7 can make your relationship a lot stronger. Tim and I are more intuitive with each other and I trust his decisions in business and life. So, for families who are worried about being stuck at home together – don’t panic. You may even find you come out of it feeling closer to your spouse.
‘Communication is THE key’
Rebecca Lockwood is a neurolinguistic programming trainer, who works with relationship coaches.
She says: It’s hard spending a lot of time with anyone, especially when it’s your own partner, as you don’t tend to hold back voicing your opinions when they get on your nerves. This can easily put a real strain on your relationship.
But there are many couples who live and work together successfully. The important thing is to ensure you have clear boundaries on who is doing what, and each other’s domains, then things will run smoothly – whether that’s in business or household chores.
Proper communication is key. Be open about how you feel and what you need and don’t let negative feelings fester. Take turns to do the coffee breaks, and understand you’re both going to be feeling the pressure at the moment, so don’t be hard on yourself or each other.
If the kids are at home, it’s very important to share the burden. This is a time to pull together and make use of the time with our loved ones more than ever. Don’t think of this as a burden, but about how much closer you’ll become as a result.
Actor Tom Hanks, 63, confirmed that – along with his wife Rita Wilson, 63 – he was being quarantined in hospital in Australia, following a positive diagnosis. He said they’d been playing games to pass the time. ‘Bad news: My wife @ritawilson has won six straight hands of Gin Rummy and leads by 201 points.’
John Legend, 41, wowed fans on Instagram while he self-isolated with his wife Chrissy Teigen, 34, by playing the piano and singing his hits. Chrissy sat in her bathrobe while pouring a very large glass of wine. We like her style.
It looks like Robbie Williams, 46, didn’t get the welcome home he was expecting. Wife Ayda Field, 40, joked, ‘We’re social distancing right now. I think it’s just staying away from bars, restaurants and clubs, and your own husband when he’s been on a plane and in an airport.’
But, as this video shows, he got a very emotional reunion with his daughters after quarantine – too cute!