They say, "Absence makes the heart grow fonder," but what does isolation do to couples and families?
Dr. Scott Sibley is an assistant professor in human development and family sciences at Northern Illinois University. He said practicing self-care helps couples and families stay strong while sheltering in place, but so does accountability.
"Too often, we have couples and families that just like to point the finger at each other," he said. "I think that's one of the things I see often as a therapist; just a lot of finger pointing."
Instead of blaming someone else, Sibley said it is better to take a moment of reflection and ask yourself, "What can I do to be a better husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, brother, sister, daughter?"
No matter what kind of relationship you are in, when you are stressed, Sibley emphasized it's important that you slow down, not make assumptions, and be intentional with your words and decisions.
"If we're not careful," he said, "we could potentially be thinking rather irrationally and see things in only black and white categories." Sibley said anxiety travels fast in any relationship and, if you want to be ready to make good choices, you need to have allowed yourself alone time first.
"I think couples and families function best when it's a group of individuals that already have their own pursuits. They have their own hobbies and things that they enjoy -- their own personalities."
Some examples of healthy "alone time" activities include:
- Mowing the lawn
- Physical exercise
- Looking up your family history
- Taking care of your body
When unique individuals come together as a couple or a family, Sibley said it leads to good decision-making as well as exciting, vibrant, and fun times together.
But what about romantic time? What does romance look like in the midst of COVID-19?
Sibley recommended that couples schedule time for romance and intimacy, especially if they have children. "It could be especially challenging to try to find the time when you're trying to help kids with online learning or you're managing these new schedules." But he was firm: "When it's bedtime for children," he said, "it's time for bed."
Sibley defended the importance of scheduling time together even if it's just for ordering takeout or watching Netflix.
"I think sometimes people think romance is all about being spontaneous. Spontaneity can be important, but I don't think there's anything less romantic about scheduling something and saying, 'We're going to make time for each other because we want to be together.'"
The coronavirus has made times tough for everyone, especially people who have lost their jobs. But Sibley said this time also qualifies as an opportunity to slow down and strengthen the relationships in your life as well as yourself. And whether you are managing a conflict, making a fun decision with your family, or scheduling intimacy with your partner, Sibley said that you'll do best in those instances if you have consistently been taking care of yourself first. So...go take that bubble bath, enjoy a walk, put those headphones on, pray, or meditate. And then take care of each other.
To learn more about Dr. Sibley, visit his blog.