I re-wrote that title at least 8 times because it's still so wild to believe that this is going on. I also didn't really know how to word it, because a lot of us are experiencing quarantine and isolation with our partners that we already live with, which faces its own sorts of challenges. But, there's also a lot of us who are experiencing a sort of long-distance relationship ... we're separated and isolated away from our partner during this pandemic and that in itself can be challenging to navigate. I've written about long-distance relationships before here, however this kind of separation and distance from our partner is hitting a bit differently.
With all the unknown out there and the restrictions of keeping to our household, we're really not sure when we will see our significant other again. Some couples may be used to seeing each other every day at school or work, a few days a week, maybe every weekend. Some couples may live down the street from one another, and others may be time zones apart. Either way, there was a pattern or familiarity that you might have been used to, and now that's been taken away for an unforeseeable amount of time. You have every right to feel frustrated, sad, upset, angry, confused ... I've experienced a whole range of emotions during this pandemic so far. Without going in to too much detail, I'm in a long-distance relationship myself. I live here in Canada and my partner lives in the UK. We are used to this distance thing and keeping in touch, however, this still impacts plans and dates we had coming up and the uncertainty can place a sort of heaviness on things. I'm going to chat about some tools that might be useful to you if you're currently experiencing physical/social distancing from your significant other. Some of these tips can also apply to non-romantic relationships with friends and family.
Communication is always one of the first and foremost on my list of what I believe is important in a relationship, and communication is something I truly value. Now, that's my opinion and everyone has their own list, but in my experience, I find that communication is key - especially during a pandemic. We're experiencing a lot of emotions and feelings during all of this, so it's important to keep our partners in the loop.
Communicating how we feel can be really tough for some of us and the vulnerability can be challenging when it comes to opening up. But if your partner doesn't know what's going on with you or how you're feeling, it can add a layer of uncertainty on top of the already uncertain times. We sometimes assume that our partner is feeling the same way as us, and therefore feel like it's not really necessary to share. However, creating a safe space to share and talk with one another is nice way to bond, strengthen your connection, and continue to build on your relationship while being apart.
When we lack communication, we can start to sense that gap. We might start to create false or negative assumptions on how the other person feels, we might start to fill in the gaps in time or space (what are they doing right now? why aren't they messaging me?), we might start to listen to our self-sabotaging inner critic, and this can all lead to a bit of a blame game. Instead of piling up the stress on yourself unnecessarily, try to open up to express how you feel to them. If you're struggling to keep up with communication and not sure how to deal with the frustration of being apart - give yourself some time, feel what you need to, and try to let your partner in on this. If your partner opens up to lets you in on their current experience, remember to listen...like, really listen. Actively listening to your partner and their experience will allow them to feel heard. Paraphrase what they're saying and ask if you're hearing them correctly. If you're not sure whether to put forward advice - ask! You can simply ask your partner, "how can I support/assist you right now?" "What do you need from me?" Letting them know you're here for them can make a world of difference.
When communicating, it's best to be as clear as possible. Communicate your needs with your partner by indicating to them what will be helpful for you right now and what it is you're looking for. Try to be mindful to own the statements you make as well. For example, "I feel this way because of this incident" is different than "you made me feel this way." This kind of communication can feel like way less of an attack and more of a way to lay out the feelings and address them clearly. Remember as well - this is all so new. This new temporary normal is a huge change up and shift in so many relationship dynamics. Be gentle, be compassionate and hold space for one another. The next few points might be helpful in your communication styles as well.
Explore Your Individual Interests and Get Curious about Your Partner's
I've mentioned this in my previous post on long-distance relationships, but building yourself up and owning your individuality is always a great thing so you keep connected with yourself, your values, your interests and who you are at the core. One of the benefits, you could say, of a distanced relationship is that you have a lot of time to do some personal soul searching. You have the time and space to act on those interests and hobbies you always wanted to, and you get to share that with your partner by letting them in on your new experiences. Now I'm not saying this wouldn't happen if you were not in a long-distance relationship, and I hope you do explore all those interests you want to. But if you have extra free time, why not utilize it to do something fun for yourself, learn a new skill/hobby/language/craft, or engage in something you haven't had time for before. You can let your partner in on how the experience is and share this new thing with them. You can also show them a side of you that may not have seen, and that can strengthen your bond and knowledge of each other even more. I fully believe that couples should be their own individual people coming together, rather than being one enmeshed being. So exploring your interests is an excellent way to feel independent while also bonding over new experiences with your significant other.
Stay Open and Optimistic
When I say this, I do not mean to slap everything with a sticker of "just be positive!" This is generally to encourage you to keep an open mind, try to stay optimistic and hopeful, know in your heart that this isolated state isn't forever, and try to create positive moments with each other. There's a lot of false and toxic positivity out there and some statements that almost make you feel bad for having negative thoughts or a low mood. So please note, that's not what this point is :)
'Openness to Experience' is a personality trait from 'The Big Five' personality theory. It indicates toward the open-mindedness of someone and also relates to higher levels of creativity, new experiences, imagination and curiosity. These are all things I love! Having this openness to experience might sound like a bit of an oxymoron during this Covid-19 pandemic, but hey ... we're here, it sucks, but we may as well try to make the most of it and live in the moments that we have. So share your big dreams together. Create bucket-lists together and discuss future plans. What do you want your life to look like together a year from now? What fun things and places do you want to see and tackle, if you're the adventurous type? What are some imaginative things you can think up that could be fun to discuss or dream about together? These can all induce positive feelings and overall help you feel better about yourselves, your relationship and your situation in general. These are some huge conversations, so if this seems like a big dive - take it slow. You're not in a rush to get there!
In addition to this, practice gratitude. Individually and together. You can even write each other homemade cards or letters expressing your gratitude. Increase your mood to be more positive and shift your mindset by practicing gratitude as many days a week as you can. You can even get in a habit of texting each other one to three things you're grateful for every morning or at the end of every day, so that you get in a nice habit of keeping in contact and practicing positivity.
And PS... knowing you can get through this can make you hopeful and optimistic to be able to conquer any challenge together!
Get Creative with Your Dates
Take out your calendar and explore new ways to date! Keeping up your social calendar and date nights by maintaining a consistent schedule can help you and your partner know when it's 'your time' and so that you have something fun to look forward to. You may not be able to go for dinner and a movie, but perhaps you can make the same recipe over an online video chat and then watch a movie at the same time. Or maybe sharing voice notes of reactions and thoughts about the plot.
I had such a fun chat with Elmwood Spa on their Instagram page today discussing this topic, and we had amazing date ideas come up from all the guests! So here are some of the ideas that came up from our conversation today from the awesome viewers. These ideas can apply to partners, families, friends, etc. Thank you to all of those who participated!
- Make a bucket list of things you want to do and places you want to explore. Share these ideas in a unique way. Maybe it's sending a picture of the thing you want to do and they have to guess what it is.
- Send postcards, letters, cards to express your feelings or maybe just draw a silly picture to express yourself.
- Have a paint night together. Perhaps draw self-portraits of one another? Now that would be hilarious!
- Buy the same puzzle and complete it separately. How can you make this challenging and fun? Maybe the person who finishes last has to buy the other a gift card to their favourite local restaurant (support local!).
- Have a dress-up date night and make it romantic.
- Start a book club with each other and maybe invite some friends and family along to participate!
- Listen to the same podcast (maybe some uplifting stuff during this time) and have a discussion about it after. Here's one that my partner and I listened to recently from the podcast "Reply All" and it was so much fun.
- Learn a new recipe and cook it together while on the phone or video.
- Communicate your day with pictures, videos and voice notes. Have fun narrating your day!
- For families with grandkids - call the grandparents so they can read the grandchildren a bedtime story.
- Create a playlist for your friend, partner or family with some of your favourite songs that remind you of them.
- Have a dance party and let it all go.
- Do a yoga/exercise class together while on video.
- Practice a yoga meditation together on the phone/video.
- Have wine/beer/cocktails or mocktails night and have a fun 'pub night' in. Maybe bust out a quiz and have teams!
- Play charades or some other fun group games over an online video chat.
- Play a game of 20 questions (or however many). For partners, write out the questions you want your partner to guess about you. Have fun with this!
What else can you think of? :)
As I write down these activities, I'm smiling as I think and imagine of all the silly, goofy and lighthearted times that loved ones can share together...while also thinking of how this can bond people during such a heavy time. I'm a bit of a softy, so I'll log off now before I get all teary-eyed thinking of it more and ruin my laptop.
To wrap up - there are many ways to keep connected while in a relationship and some creative ways to maintain a healthy bond. Explore the new and interesting ways to keep in touch and work out a way that aligns best for you. We may be isolated, but we're not alone - we're all in this together. It can be hard to be vulnerable with your partner and loved ones, but it'll only strengthen your relationships and help you gain a better insight into yourself and to others. If it's something you're having a hard time and struggling with, reach out. You can reach out to a life coach, therapist, doctor, best friend, doctor, or a trusted person. Try to maintain the healthy connections you have so you don't have to tough this out alone. Stay strong friends :)
PS. Don't forget to check out Elmwood Spa's Wellness Series for some amazing experts on really fun, educational and healthy topics that centre around your well-being. Click on the link here for more info and recaps on the discussions hosted on Instagram Live.