The world in 2020 is a stressful and sometimes scary place. It feels to me that our lives are getting more and more stressful. I have even heard some referring to 2020 as a “year of trauma.” And between elections, gun violence, pandemics and a lack of hand sanitizer, daily life can feel overwhelming. It can be hard to connect with your spouse around all this stress and these traumas.
Added to this, is the quarantine that many of us find ourselves in – even if we have not been formally quarantined. When many of the activities we enjoy and that enhance our lives are canceled for our safety – we find ourselves effectively quarantined. This is a challenge with jobs, daycare, school and children but it is also a challenge for our marriages and partnerships.
I have come up with a list of things to do with your spouse if you find yourself stuck at home while COVID-19 rages around us all. I have written other articles on trauma and how to connect with your spouse using empathy and curiosity. This article, however, is about activities you can do in your home to draw the two of you closer and perhaps spark some passion.
Create a photo album or collage. I use old photographs in my marital counseling – I will have couples bring in a photo from a time when they felt more connected or happier. We then talk through the feelings that come up as they remember these times. I usually explore all 5 senses – what they remember smelling, tasting or hearing when these photos were taken. Exploring pictures of when you first met can rekindle old feelings. It can also be a wonderfully connecting experience to create a small album or collage of your past. And how wonderful to create something tangible that reminds you of your connection each time you see it.
Tidy up one room or closet. I have recently found the Netflix show Tidying up with Marie Kondo based on her book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing.” I think that this can be a wonderful exercise for couples who find themselves at home – and stressed. There is something wonderfully cathartic about cleaning-up together. I recommend watching her show or finding her website to get a sense of her method. The basic idea is to find all of one kind of item in your house and then go piece by piece and ask yourself “does this spark joy within me?” Again, there are far more rules outlined in her book and show. I think that this can be a connecting and rejuvenating experience for a couple to do together. Perhaps choose one room or one common closet or storage area to work through. Don’t try to declutter a closet where the items only belong to one of you. This is a job for you to do by yourself. For a common-area closet – I imagine couples would be drawn into conversations about the history of items and the difficulty or ease of letting go. This is a time to be focused on the experience of reconnecting and reminiscing. I am very aware that for some couples this will bring up conflicts and fights – our belongings hold a great deal of nostalgia and emotion (cost, money spent, gifts from family, expectations, even power comes into play in these decisions). Make sure to just set aside any items that bring up a lot of emotion until you are both ready for those conversations. My wish is for you to feel a sense of accomplishment at a job well done with your partner – and a feeling of ease as you clean up one small part of your apartment or house.
Sexual Innuendos. Sexual innuendos are comments that have double meanings – that allude to sex or something sensual. My challenge to you is to see how many sexual innuendos you can use in one day – or perhaps begin with a smaller amount of time, like one hour. This game can be especially fun when you have children at home with you – and you have to work hard to make your innuendos less obvious. It might even leave you fit to be tied. While the stress in the world is increasing we need to create ways to play with our spouse. I invite you to play with them using your words. Double points if you can bring up any old connecting inside jokes (nothing shaming please).
Cook together. Cooking is a wonderful way to be creative and sensual. If you find that you have some extended time together at home, perhaps think about creating an elaborate meal – something that takes all day to cook. This does not have to be an expensive meal. Instead of using the jar of pasta sauce, think about making a sauce together – and letting it simmer all day. These small creations give you something to do that is healing and connecting. Your work will be to refrain from “coaching” your partner as your work together. Coaching is when we correct, teach or shame our partner for “doing it wrong.” Many couples find it easiest to divvy up the work and then allow their partner to do their job, their own way. The end result we want is to feel more connected – it is not a cooking lesson. And the bonus is a wonderful meal or perhaps even a new creation at the end.
Watch a movie from one of your first dates. Continuing the theme of reminding each other of times when you were more connected by watching a movie from when you first began dating. Pop some popcorn, get a blanket and watch it with your partner. Allow yourself to reminisce about the world and your relationship when this movie was released. It can be so easy to use this as a time to bring up the many things that have changed; or the things that did not go the way we wanted them to go. Mentioning these will spiral you into a place of conflict and anger. Your job is to remain curious. Curiosity is one of the first things to disappear with couples in conflict. We stop asking our partner how they feel or why they behave a specific way – and instead, we lean on the assumptions we have about them. Another way of saying this is that we become confident that we “know” what they are feeling and why they are acting in a specific way. Your work is to remind yourself that you might not know – and to be open enough to ask.
Start a game of Monopoly, Risk or a puzzle. Monopoly is one of those games that can take a long time to complete. It can also be a game that you can engage in, leave and then re-engage. It is a perfect game to set up and play on and off during this time. The goal in playing with your spouse is just that – to play together. If you know that you are sensitive to losing or winning, this might not be the task for you. You don’t want to end up feeling beaten by the game you choose, or by your partner. Picking a game of chance or a puzzle might allow for there to be more “playing” rather than competing.
The themes through these tasks are playing, curiosity and remembering together. When we are all so stressed and traumatized by the world – many wish for our homes and our partnerships to be rejuvenating, safe and connected. There are many small ways that we can begin to introduce these concepts back into our partnership. You can also come up with your own activities that bring these themes into your relationship. I always recommend that you talk with your partner about your expectations for the tasks and ask about their expectations. Be curious about what might happen and what you might feel and strategic about planning how to create the feelings you want.
And if you are having difficulty connecting with your partner, please consider couples therapy. The therapy room is a safe place where you can think through what you want your relationship to provide and find skills and tools to help you create the partnership you desire. Many counselors offer video sessions so you can remain safe while the flu and COVID-19 are in our communities. As always, please contact me with any questions and stay healthy everyone.