In a previous post I discussed Rick Hanson’s ideas about the intrapersonal and interpersonal challenges facing couples working from home during the quarantine conditions brought on by the Coronavirus. In his podcast, Coping with Quarantine, Rick also explored strategies for couples to cope with these challenges. His suggested strategies focused strongly on connection, contribution, control (inner and outer) and compassion.
Strategies for couples to cope with the challenges of
working together at home during social isolation
Connection with others: the fundamental principle underpinning physical distancing is avoidance rather than contact and connection. However, this does not prevent us from connecting with each other as a couple, with our family and friends or with colleagues. All of the remote communication strategies are available to us – online video calls, telephone, social media and email. There can be a tendency to let the physical distancing principles impact the rest of our behaviour. However, now is the time to reconnect with others who are also feeling socially isolated. As a couple, connection can take the form of increased hugs, considerateness, words of love and appreciation and thoughtful touch – all of which builds the relationship. It also involves avoiding the temptation to escalate an argument or conflict to prove you are right or to assuage your pride. Fundamental to connection with your partner is listening for understanding, not interrupting but being open and vulnerable to the thoughts and feelings of your partner. As Rick points out, listening provides you with the time to deeply connect with the other person and enables them to experience calm and clarity. He reiterates Dan Siegel’s view that deep listening enables the communicator to “feel felt by the other person”.
Connection to nature: we are connected to nature on multiple levels and it is possible through mindfulness practices, including mantra meditation, to experience this connection at a deep level. When we experience our deep connection to nature, we can feel inspired, energised, positive and calm. The very act of breathing and walking in nature regenerates our physical systems, clears our mind and helps us to reduce the power of our negative emotions. Nature has its own healing capacity which we can tap into in multiple ways – if only we would stop long enough to let it happen.
Contribution: there are so many people in need as a result of the pandemic. There are also endless ways to contribute and help others, to draw on our creativity and resourcefulness. For example, despite the lockdown in the Northern Territory in Australia, Arnhem Land artists are offering a series of free online concerts to lift people’s spirits and reinforce their connection to the land and the resilience of nature. Thirty of Australia’s top singing stars have also collaborated to provide an online concert from their homes, Music From The Home Front, that is dedicated to people who are in the frontline of the fight against the Coronavirus. Another exemplar of contribution in adversity is Nkosi Johnson who was born with HIV in South Africa and died at the age of 12. In his short life, he dedicated himself to fighting, locally and globally, for the rights of HIV affected people in South Africa and beyond. Nkosi is quoted as saying, “Do all you can with what you have in the time you have in the place you are”.
Controlling yourself and your environment: in times of crisis it is important to develop a sense of control over our difficult emotions and our immediate environment. There is a growing pool of advice on managing anxiety and achieving mental and emotional balance during these times of uncertainty and social isolation. In times of uncertainty we can achieve a sense of agency by controlling aspects of our immediate environment – whether that be tidying or renewing our garden, removing clutter from our workspace, developing new skills or getting our finances and accounts in order.
Compassionate thoughts and action: in the section above on contribution, I stressed the importance of finding ways to help and to take compassionate action. However, action is not always possible because of our personal circumstances, including being confined to home as a high-risk person. This is particularly where loving kindness meditation can be used to experience compassion towards others who are suffering and/or experiencing grief. Everyday there are stories of individuals and families experiencing heart-breaking situations brought on by the Coronavirus. We can keep these people in our thoughts and prayers and feel with them.
Creating connection, making a contribution, achieving
self-control and control over our immediate environment and offering compassion
and loving kindness are ways forward for individuals and couples restricted to
working from home. Meditation,
reflection and mindfulness practices will help us to grow in mindfulness and to
develop the necessary self-awareness, awareness of others, self-regulation and
presence of mind and body to bring these positive aspects into our lives as
individuals and couples.
Chris James captures
the essence of connection to nature in the songlet Tall Trees on his Enchant
Rick Hanson, in one of his Being Well Podcasts, spoke of Coping with Quarantine. His focus in this discussion was on the intrapersonal and interpersonal challenges of physical distancing and restrictions on movement. In the podcast, he identified the challenges and highlighted the fact that the pandemic and associated quarantine conditions have contributed to an increased divorce rate in China since the pandemic outbreak. Rick spoke of the interpersonal challenges brought on by the confinement conditions and the mental and emotional pressures experienced by couples working from home.
Challenges of social isolation for couples working from home
The unusual conditions for a couple working from home in the
context of other social constrictions creates increase emotional pressure for
individuals in a relationship as well as for the relationship itself. Rick describes some of these challenges as
Heightened emotional activation: both individuals in a relationship who are working from home will be experiencing heightened emotions in the form of anxiety, fear and frustration as a result of the Coronavirus and associated restrictions on location and movement. Couples typically experience daily aggravations with some of the comments and actions of their partner. These aggravations can be intensified in the situation of limited physical space in the home environment and restrictions on movement. The home environment can become a place of continuous annoyance, conflict and anger rather than a haven of peace and contentment. Married couples in this situation can experience suffocation and/or staleness and need to draw on considerable internal resources to increase their tolerance and maintain their relationship.
Loss of social support: physical distancing can separate us from people we usually associate with and from whom we draw support and reinforcement. Normally, we gain validation and confirmation of our competence and self-worth through these external relationships. The change to a working from home environment means that we have lost the daily “water cooler chat” and with it the exchange of information, including sharing of our thoughts and feelings. The loss of various forms of social reinforcement can cause us to challenge our self-concept and self-worth – difficult feelings compounded by feeling inadequate working from a home environment where we lack the personal capability for remote communications or the working space and technology to take advantage of the positive aspects of remote working.
Loss of structure: it is surprising how many people report in the current situation that they “don’t know what day it is”. This is due, in part, to a loss of structure in their day. The loss of regular, repetitive activities results in a loss of anchors to our days that serve to remind us what day it is. We no longer get dressed for work, take the train or car at set times, play our social tennis on Monday nights, watch the footy together on Friday nights, visit our extended bayside family or the local market on weekends or undertake any other activity that serves to structure our day or week. Rick suggests that these structures normally “prop us up” and their absence can leave a sense of “groundlessness”.
Loss of familiar role: in the work environment, we can feel competent and in control. When forced to work from home in a more complex and difficult environment, we can feel overwhelmed by all the challenges and be ill at ease for much of the time. For some people, this can be temporary as they develop the skills to master their circumstances; for others, being able to adapt becomes a real issue and aggravates the feelings of frustration and reduced self-esteem. The intense sense of ill-ease and associated stress can debilitate people and hinder them from seeing a way forward and acquiring the necessary skills to capitalise on the current situation and personal conditions.
Loss of freedoms: with the restrictions on movement and need for social isolation, people can experience a loss of the fundamental right to “freedom of association”. Along with this, may be the experience of a lack of privacy where both partners are working from home, especially where for many years one partner went to work every day for an extended period. Introverts may experience a loss of access to their “cave” where they would normally retreat to recover from extroverted activity, including interactions with their partner. One or both partners in a relationship may feel that their other partner is constantly “under their feet” – a complaint frequently voiced by people where one partner usually works from home and the other partner has recently retired from their job in the city or away from the home.
Quarantine as a result of the Coronavirus and enforced
working from home conditions can place increased stress on couples and their
relationship. The current environment
also offers an opportunity to develop our inner resources through meditations
meditations), mindfulness practices and reflection on our resultant emotions
and responses. As we grow in
mindfulness, we can develop a deeper understanding of what we are experiencing,
keep issues and aggravations in perspective, develop tolerance, build our
skills and draw on our innate resourcefulness and resilience.