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Couples and Coronavirus: Making sure your partnership survives

A Portland psychologist shares creative ways to get closer during this crisis.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Living with the love of your life can be challenging under the best of circumstances and now you add in a global pandemic!

You’re living and working under the same roof 24/7. Or worse, one or both of you has lost your job. And now the kids are home all the time, too.

I asked Portland psychologist Dr. Doreen Dodgen-Magee how you navigate that reality when “couple time” may be the last thing on your mind.

“The more we can get out of our comfort zones with our partners right now and try new and creative things, the better,”  she explained.

She says couples should come up with a list of possibilities. “A list that is varied. Things they can do that are meaningful and interesting and also connecting." She says the list should include activities you plan and others that are spontaneous.

Since there’s no eating out in restaurants, or going to a play or a movie, or even hanging out with friends what does that new normal look like?

Dr. Doreen suggests taking something you’re good at and teaching it to your significant other. She says it can be making “a certain recipe or learning how to tie a fly fishing hook or doing origami or making paper airplanes and seeing who can fly the farthest-- even blowing bubbles with bubble gum and seeing who can manage the largest bubble!”

She also recommends couples look to the future just a little bit.

“Maybe dreaming about things that they might like to do once we are not ‘sheltering’ anymore. Dates they'd like to save for or plan for.”

Dr. Doreen also says this is a great time for partners to get reacquainted and practice effective communication. Try “asking each other questions that they may not be expecting and then listening well to the answers, learning some things about each other that maybe in normal, busy everyday life we don’t have the opportunity to really learn about.”

And we can't have a conversation about couples without talking about sex. With the entire family home all the time now how do couples navigate intimacy in a crowded house?

“This is a huge and baffling question,” laughed Dr. Doreen. “I think the few things I would say is that it’s really important to watch our levels of resentment with our kids because they don’t really want to be stuck here anymore than we do. The onus is on the grown people to find creative work-arounds. Timing may not be ideal. Maybe sex in the middle of the night when people are sleeping!”

She adds, ”This is an important time to expand the ways that you meaningfully meet each other's physical needs. So amping up physical touch in other ways and other times of the day. Amping up playfulness with each other. Some of these things can help meet your emotional needs when it is more tricky to figure out how to schedule sex.”

Especially now during this crisis, Dr. Doreen urges couples to give each other lots of space and grace.

“I think we are going to thrive as a result of some of the things that we're learning now because difficulties can work to refine us and make us more healthy, whole people.”

So, here's to isolating together and emerging stronger and happier on the other side.

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