This has been a straining time for many couples. Crisis can bring out the best or worst in people. Living together 24/7, many in small spaces, with emotional and financial stress along with the fear of the unknown can give even the best relationships a whack.

Add kids, teens, housework, and homeschooling to the mix and it becomes easy to see the heavy toll this may be taking. Before Covid-19 we had a built-in breather – getting out to work, kids going to school, socializing with friends and extended family, but now we are left to spend days and nights constantly together. Many are frustrated and in a negative zone. (I am of course speaking to couples in this piece who were not in a severely dysfunctional relationship and seeking help before this situation).

How can we successfully navigate these days as couples?

1. Focus on Needs and Goals

Though we may be a couple, it does not mean that we see every situation eye to eye. One may see catastrophe looming, the other may see no big deal. We can be in the same situation and have completely different views. Our unique perspective can bring us to conflicting places.

In order to keep our relationship strong, now is the time to remove confusion and identify needs.

Voice needs. If we need a partner to hear our views, to take health concerns more seriously, or to lighten up a bit so that we don’t fall into anxiety, then we should have a conversation and express ourselves.

Living together under quarantine also means that there is a lot more responsibility in the home. Instead of becoming frustrated and going into resentment mode, talk about how we will both be accountable. Divide the checklist. Consider each other’s schedules.

Who cooks? Who takes out the trash? Who does the laundry and then puts it away? If we have children living at home there is no reason that they not be a part of this conversation. Too many parents have told me that they feel sorry for their kids now, or that their children are sleeping, eating, snacking, constantly online, and then going to bed at ridiculous hours. It’s time to take back our homes with wisdom and guidance. This is what parenting is all about.

2. Create Personal Space

Space is not just about a floor plan, it is also mental space. We each need room for reflection, quiet, work, exercise and down time. Just because I am asking for alone time does not mean that I don’t love you or want to be with you. It means that unwinding and finding self-time is healthy for us both.

Think about providing both physical and emotional space. If you live in tight quarters, can you set up a screen and a desk? Can you figure out a schedule so that both parents are not ‘on’ all day?

Getting into some sort of routine makes us feel as if we have regained some control and safety. Voice your feelings in a calm, private conversation. If we each carve out some alone time and create a schedule, we will feel less antagonistic and overwhelmed.

3. Practice Kindness

In times of stress it becomes easy to say and do things that we regret. Kindness falls away without our realizing that we have become hardened. We over react. We take each other for granted. We forget ‘please’, ‘thank you’, and ‘would you like me to warm a slice of pizza for you, too?’

Go out of your way to be kind to your spouse. Give a good word, encouraging thought, a hug, even a smile is considered kindness. Express gratitude for the little things that become overlooked. Hold back from becoming that critical person. Don’t attack, belittle, and call names and shame. Yes, this is true for all times but especially now it becomes more vital to remember.

Don’t grow selfish. When you do for yourself, do for your spouse, too. This includes making your bed, a hot cup of coffee or a midafternoon snack. Not because you are counting on ‘payback’ but simply because you are kind. If you see that your spouse is down be extra sensitive. Use humor to lift spirits, be positive, forgive, apologize, stop blaming and find a way to express ‘I love you, we will make it through this’.

4. Find a New Way of Connecting

Stop checking the news all day. No devices or corona conversation at meal times. Enough!

Transform this challenge into an opportunity. If you would have been asked: What would you do if you had free time together with your spouse? What would have been your response? Well, now you have it! Go for it!

Think about these days as a segue towards connection. Take the corona challenge. Rethink priorities, values and lifestyle. All those things you thought you needed have fallen away by the wayside. Now it’s just you and your spouse. What can you do together to bond more? Even if you have kids at home you must find the time and place for privacy. Create meaning in your days. Take an online Torah class together. Cook a meal, bake a dessert together. See the world online and plan a future vacation. Take a walk (safely of course). Put on music. Paint. Take an exercise class online. Do whatever it is that you love and do it together. Create an at home date night.

This is your chance to get creative. Turn darkness into light, bring joy home and use this time together to find peace with one another.