Relationships

Married At First Sight expert Mel Schilling's tips on how to make sure your relationship survives the Covid-19 lockdown

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, being isolated together could put a few relationships on shaky ground.

By Alex Blackwood
Since the beginning of the month, many cities in China are seeing record high divorce rates - in some provinces, requests are coming in faster than they can be processed. With much of the country in isolation for Covid-19, it isn't hard to guess what is causing the divorce boom; too much time spent in close quarters together.
We aren't seeing the same trend yet, but we've got a while to go. So to prevent the same happening in New Zealand, we had a chat (online of course) to Married At First Sight relationship expert Melanie Schilling and got her advice about how to weather the storm of lockdown.
Here's what she had to say...

If you're a couple self-isolating together...

This might sound like conflicting advice, but, stay close and keep your distance!
Firstly, it's important to keep talking and stay connected. Open up and share your fears, your frustrations and hopes for this highly unusual time. Schedule in a weekly 'date night in' and switch off all devices (especially the constant stream of news) and just tune in to each other. It's so normal to experience insecurity and self-doubt during a period of global uncertainty, so lean on your partner for support and be each other's mutual cheer squad.
On the other hand, it's also important to create space for yourself and each other, especially when physically enclosed in such a small space. Even if you live in a tiny apartment, allocate some time each day or week that is 'solo' time for each of you - maybe go out for a walk, listen to a podcast, read a book in your bedroom. Having time to reflect and just be is critical to allow yourself to process all the information and emotion swirling around you at present.
Mel with fellow experts John Aitken and Trisha Stratford.

If you're a new couple spending the time apart...

For new couples who may not be sharing physical space, it's important to find alternative ways to continue deepening your bond and creating closeness. You don't want your new relationship to stall during this time.
The good news is that you have access to so many technological ways to connect - social media, texting, FaceTime... There is no reason not to be just as emotionally connected now as you were pre-Corona.
Take the time to ask your partner some of the big questions (you know, the ones that might be a bit embarrassing face to face) uncover their deeper values, tap into their big dreams, their relationship goals. And of course, there's always phone sex!

If one of you is working from home and the other has time off work...

The schedule is the answer here. We have been thrust into a totally unstructured world where no rules or expectations really exist. In order to function effectively it's critical to agree on allocated time and space for work and non-work activity.
It won't serve anyone to have a free-flowing home-life where one person is trying to get work done at the kitchen table while the other one watches TV and prepares a meal. Stressful!

For couples with kids...

Accept that the kids are going to be demanding of attention, in strange moods, possibly showing regressive behaviour and maybe not sleeping well. These are all within the realms of normal reactions to an uncertain environment.
As a couple, it's important to create a united front and be clear about the way you'll communicate with your kids about the virus and broader situation, how you'll approach discipline, boundaries and 'parenting in quarantine' as a team. And don't forget that your relationship as a couple is just as important as the one with your kids.

The number one thing to keep in mind

Remember that this is temporary, this too shall pass. Don't fall into the trap of 'catastrophising' the situation and blowing it out of proportion. This is not the new normal. Discuss and agree on how you plan to work together as a team during this temporary period and also look to the future and make big plans together for your post-pandemic life.
Need to talk?
1737 – free call or text 24/7 to talk to a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Healthline – 0800 611 116
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Information about suicide prevention can be found at mentalhealth.org.nz/suicideprevention.