Locked down:Locked Apart
The current world crisis that we are all facing has seen our entire lives thrown upside down, our routines shattered and the roles we play within our own families completely re-designed. We’re not allowed to socialise with those outside of our house, we’re not allowed to go to work unless it is totally necessary, we’re not allowed to shop with friends or see loved ones. For many people this is hard but there is a lot of support out there, communities have come together, inspiration fills up every social media site and whilst for many they are making the most of a bad situation and spending extra time with their partners and children, there are many who cannot see their partners as they do not live together.
Whether you’re in a new relationship and facing the anxiety of getting through this separation, or you’re in a longer term committed relationship and missing the closeness you once had, below are a few tips on how you can keep the relationship exciting and keep communicating in ways that will enrich your bond and bring you closer together whilst being physically apart.
This may seem like a ‘no brainer’ as its all you can do, right? Well in a way yes but the way you talk matters. There are so many different platforms that allow you to communicate with virtually anyone nowadays but that doesn’t mean it’s always the best kind of communication for you or for what you need to achieve.
Video vs Phone vs text – You may not have escaped the exciting new video calling platform that is Zoom, I use it for my counselling work, I use it for socialising with friends and I use it for work meetings. Everyone is using Zoom, but is it always the right way to talk? Video chatting with your partners can be wonderful, you can finally see their face, their reactions to what you are saying, you can laugh and communicate on levels beyond just words. If you can access a platform like Zoom I would definitely recommend it as it’s the next best thing to sitting beside your partner. However, that doesn’t mean it should be your only method of contact. If you are zoom calling 4 times a day, you will soon get bored.
Firstly, when you’ re sat in front of a computer that’s all you’ re doing, you can’t get up and move around, you’re totally focused on that one thing which can lead to you running out of things to talk about quite quickly. Whilst I’m on a call, I like to get menial tasks done, things that keep me moving but require little thought, like washing up, preparing dinner etc. That way I can still concentrate on the call but whilst my mind is slightly off focus it allows me more freedom to think of other things to say thus keeping the conversation flowing.
Secondly, the very thing that you like about Video calling, seeing your partner, can also be the last thing you want. Video calling usually requires the other person to look at you throughout the conversation, think about that, even when you are in person how often do you stare at the person you are talking to face on? You don’t, because it makes you anxious. If someone is staring into your face the whole time you are talking you will start thinking about how you look, your facial expressions and reactions and worrying about what they think about what they see, what’s worse is that many video calling platforms show you how you look in a small window to the top of the screen. So not only do they see your every move but you do too. This can massively detract from the conversation and often lead people to ending calls quicker than they may normally do. Video calling is great but it takes effort so maybe keep it to once a day.
So, it is totally fine if you or your partner don’t want to video call all day or if you/they appear strange or end the call short, try not to get anxious. The whole nature of video calling is anxiety provoking, instead pick up the phone, walk around, send a text. Text conversations can stay alive for weeks; they allow us to keep a conversation going whilst still doing other things.
Things to do
So you can’t sit down and play a board game, watch a movie or play a game of cards…. Or can you. Most of the things you would usually do when you are in each other’s company, you can still do, I said most of them!
Movies – most people have access to some sort of streaming platform, be it Netflix, amazon Prime or good old fashioned Sky, Freeview or cable (is cable even a thing now?) So why not watch a film together. Choose a film you both have access to, pick up your phone and press play. Yes, they may not be beside you but you can still sync up, you can still chat about it and you can still have fun.
Books – the good old fashioned book club. If you and your partner like to read, why not do it together, either get the same book or recommend books for each other to read. You can get together on the phone and discuss what you loved and/or hated about each one.
Gaming – Why not find an online game and play together, if you have a device with internet access and the internet then you are ready to go. There are lots of gaming sites that allow you to connect and play against each other or as a team. You can chat as you go. No internet? Ok what about a quiz, or a crossword puzzle you can complete together.
Cook together – this may seem like a strange one as you aren’t actually together but with a bit of pre-planning there is no reason why you can’t decide on a meal you would both like to share. Each of you can get the ingredients and cook it at the same time whilst on a call. Your partner may be able to teach you a new dish or you may like to share with them one of your favourites. This can be a really good date idea as you get to learn so much about each other and get to share your own experiences through cooking.
If you have a bit of creativity, there are lots of things you can do without actually being in the same room. The point here is that you don’t need to constantly speak to be together, you can communicate through many different activities all of which can be fun and all of which can help you learn more about one another.
Worries, arguments and stresses
Of course there are going to be a whole myriad of worries that you may have about the strength of your relationship during this time and dependent upon the stage of your relationship these may be quite different.
New relationships – whether it’s been 1 week or 2 months there will be a lot you have yet to learn about your partner. Couples in this stage of the relationship may find the separation easier to handle, after all the chances are that much of your conversation thus far will have been from a distance. Continuing this should be relatively easy and hold much of the same passion as it did. For others though anxieties may start to creep in. It is really important here to rely on what initially attracted you to your partner, arrange date nights and continue to speak regularly on the phone. Remember each of you still have your own things going on at home and you need space but regular interaction and activities such as those listed above should help you maintain the spark and make seeing each other again even more exciting.
The middle phase – when a couple has been together between 2 – 8 months. Maybe you have met each other’s family and friends maybe you have started to integrate into each other’s daily lives, maybe you were even contemplating moving in together. This separation will feel like a blow to you and a real test to your relationship, you may feel like now is the time you should be spending the most time together as oppose to no time together. Try to take advantage of this time away, it will allow you to evaluate your relationship, to step back and take a look at what you have with your partner, what you would like and if it’s possible to achieve this within the relationship. This doesn’t have to be a negative experience but a time for you to take a breath and ensure you are doing exactly what you want to do to make yourself happy. Anxieties may start to bubble up, you may feel by not spending time together you are giving them the chance to ‘get over you’ or ‘forget about you’ this is a common anxiety for a couple when they spend a long time apart but try to have faith in what you have found in your partner. Remember why you are with them, what attracted you too them in first place and take solace in the fact that they choose to be with you. Keep communicating, make use of the activities above and spend the time getting to know each other properly.
Longer term relationships – For those who are in relationships from 8 months on wards. At this point in your relationship you should have a pretty good grasp on who your partner is, obviously people change continuously throughout their lives but you will be aware of their personality, their habits and the things they are likely to do. Being away from your partner regardless of how long you have been together, is an ideal opportunity to take stock and evaluate your life and your relationship. It is also a great time to speak to your partner about your expectations for the future your dreams and aspirations and discuss how you will achieve them if possible. Again utilise the above activities and try to calm anxieties with the knowledge that your partner is in the same predicament as you. Maintain good communication and discuss your feelings with them. If you feel anxious or fearful let them know, don’t hide away your emotions as this will only increase their strength which will eventually show through your actions, communications and moods. Again allow yourself and your partner space, it may feel hurtful if your partner doesn’t respond to messages straight away of wish to speak for long periods of time, especially if you know they are at home with little to do but try to remember that they are their own person. They may well be bored out of their mind but they may have gotten into such a relaxed space that the interruption of a text message or a phone call is not something that they can handle at that moment. They may like to spend time alone and in their own space, this doesn’t mean they don’t want to spend time with you, or they may be entertaining family members or watching a film, or reading a book. Try not to jump to the worst conclusions possible.
Overall no one can guarantee that your relationship will survive this period of separation, but similarly no one can say it won’t. If your partner should decide they are better off out of the relationship, then you have to respect that and eventually come to the conclusion that you are better off too, rather that than being stuck in a relationship with someone who doesn’t truly want to be there. This is the same if you decide you don't want to continue the relationship.All you can do is maintain communication and take advantage of this surreal experience, it will not always be easy but it doesn’t always have to be hard. Good luck.
The above timescales are approximations please do not feel that you should have achieved some of the stages I have mentioned in line with the given time frames. Every relationship is different and as long as you are both happy that is all that matters :)