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Maintaining your relationship during social distancing

We’ve all found ourselves in a situation we couldn’t plan for. We know that the best thing to do is stay home and avoid contact with others as much as possible but, understandably, a lot of us will be worried about what that might mean.

There are lots of tips and ideas for dealing with various aspects of the current situation, but we’re going to focus on our expertise – relationships.

Our relationships with others make it easier for us to adjust to and cope with stressful situations. This article will help you find ways to look after your relationships as you switch to a new way of being, for however long that may be.

Why relationships matter

In a period of social distancing, normal concerns like work, family, and children can be intensified and you worry about how you will cope [1] [2]. You might be adjusting to different ways of working or facing the idea of being unable to work at all. Many of you will also be looking for ways to keep the children busy while they’re off school.

On top of all of this, it feels like there’s something new to worry about every time you look at the news or social media. We don’t know what will happen, or when things will change. In the meantime, we’ve got to get on with our lives.

Find an exercise community

While there are many great reasons to snuggle up in front of the TV, you could see this as an opportunity to get fit. Exercise can have a positive effect on your physical and mental wellbeing [3] [4].

Under UK government guidelines, you should only exercise outside once a day. But, if you can make yourself a little space, there are no restrictions on how much exercise you can do at home. There are lots of exercise videos available online, from aerobics to yoga to Pilates to dance. Could you commit to doing a home workout three times a week?

Exercising in a group can be a great way to stay well [5], so take the opportunity to search for exercise classes online. Even if you’re on your own in real life, working out with an online instructor can give you a sense of community, knowing that other people around the world are doing the same activity as you.

Use technology to stay connected

The internet and social media allow us to keep in touch with loved ones in a way that isn’t always possible face to face. In a period when you can’t visit or meet up with friends and family in person, make use of web chats and video calling to stay connected.

Send a quick text and see who wants to book in a chat. Get yourself on Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime, Zoom, Houseparty, or whatever works for you, and hang out with a friend or family member for a bit. You could plan to bring a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, so it feels like you’re meeting up in real life. And, with things like Netflix Party and twoseven, you can even have long distance movie nights.

Feel closer through the power of imagination

Being apart from loved ones can be difficult. If you don’t live with your partner, you might be missing sex and intimacy. Even if you’ve got your immediate family at home, you might just want to hug your granny!

Whoever you’re missing, you can support the relationship by staying close emotionally. It may not be easy but switching your focus to the emotional connection can be just as good for your relationship as being in the same physical space [6].

One way to hold onto this closeness is to imagine that you’re physically close. Visualising yourselves together can boost your mood [7] and make you feel closer [8].

Try this exercise, focusing on someone you want to feel closer to:

  • Find a space where you won’t be disturbed for a few minutes.
  • Think about the other person. Picture them somewhere safe and comfortable.
  • Imagine that person encouraging you to feel safe, secure and comforted.
  • What would they say? What would they do?

It might sound silly but spending three minutes on this exercise can help you feel closer and more supported.

Practise gratitude

If you do live with your partner or your family, you might find yourselves spending lots more time together than usual, which can put extra pressure on everyone.

Try this gratitude exercise, focusing on a loved one:

  • Grab a pen and paper.
  • Think about the person.
  • Remember the things you’ve always loved about them.
  • Think about what they’re doing now that you’re grateful for.
  • Write down three things about the person that make you feel grateful.

Practising gratitude can give your mood a boost [9]. Gratitude for your partner specifically can make you feel better about your relationship [10].

Learning to argue better

Times of increased stress and tension can lead to more arguments at home, especially if both of you are finding it hard to cope. When you sense things getting out of hand, try to keep these basic steps in mind.

  • STOP. When you feel an argument creeping up, pause the conversation. Agree to put it on hold until you both feel calmer.
  • SEE IT DIFFERENTLY. Look at things from the other person’s point of view. We’re all dealing with this in our own ways and might need different kinds of support.
  • SPEAK FOR YOURSELF. Say how you feel and ask for what you need. Instead of saying, “Stop stressing me out!”, try saying, “I get worried when you read out the headlines. Can we talk about something else for a bit?”

Above all, try to keep arguments away from your children. This might be harder with everyone at home but it’s much better for children to see you sorting things out in a calm and healthy way.

Getting through it

You might be feeling lots of different emotions, including anger, sadness, or irritation [11]. It’s all perfectly normal. Do what you can to relieve the boredom and stay in touch with friends and family. Take up a hobby, start a book group, do some exercise, give someone a call. It all helps.

While all of this feels very strange and new, there’s actually lots of evidence about what it’s like for people who have to self-isolate. It may never have been done on such a wide scale, but it’s been done. People have got through it, and you can too.

Share your tips

Have you learned any helpful relationship tips during social distancing? Post a comment below, or  click ‘Write a post’ to share your ideas.

Extra help for dealing with uncertainty and anxiety

If things are getting overwhelming, these helplines can offer support with mental health concerns like anxiety or depression.

Anxiety UK
Support around anxiety. Monday to Friday, 9.30am – 5.30pm. Saturday to Sunday, 10am – 8pm.
03444 775 774

Information about mental health problems. Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm.
0300 123 3393


[1] Cacioppo and Hawkley, 2003
[2] Leigh-Hunt, et al., 2017
[3] Goodwin, 2003
[4] Hyde, Maher, and Elavsky, 2013
[5] Williams and Lord, 1997
[6] Adams, 1986
[7] Carnelley, Bejinaru, & Otway, 2018
[8] Otway, Carnelly, & Rowe, 2014
[9] Davis 2016
[10] Parnell, 2015
[11] Brooks et al., 2020

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