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 follows:
- 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 (including mantra 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.
By Ron Passfield – Copyright (Creative Commons license, Attribution–Non Commercial–No Derivatives)
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