The Unexpected Relationship Benefits of Social Distancing

The coronavirus pandemic has us all maintaining social distances, which has translated to spending the majority of our day stuck at home with the exception of a walk outside or a trip to the grocery store. For couples living or isolating together, this means a lot of one-on-one time—like an entire month’s worth (and potentially more). While this might seem less-than-ideal, given the inability to take time away from the relationship to go out with friends or simply have some true alone time, marriage and family therapists say that there’s a true silver lining in the situation for couples.

“Couples seem to be speaking more, sharing feelings and discussing the pandemic versus not talking about it,” Lisa Bahar, a marriage and family therapist in Newport Beach, California, says. “After experiencing something like this together, there is a closeness that only the couple understands and how it had an effect on the relationship is a true life changer.”

If you’re cooped up with your partner during this chaotic and unprecedented time, whether you’re in a three-bedroom house in the ‘burbs or a studio apartment smack-dab in the middle of a city, here are some unexpected ways your relationship might actually benefit from social distancing.

You rely on each other more than ever.
Right now, you’re depending on your partner more than you may ever in your entire relationship. With little outside socialization, let alone communication, and an inability to “get some space” when tensions rise, your partner is the one you’re going to turn to for emotional support. “Looking to one another to fulfill needs typically filled by a variety of people boosts a couple’s emotional bond and builds trust,” explains Ili Rivera Walter, Ph.D., licensed marriage and family therapist, and professor of marriage and family therapy.

During these times, however, it’s important to remember that we all deal with stress differently. For example, watching the news might give you some sense of relief in that you’re in the know about what’s going on with the situation, but this may be a trigger for your partner. Lisa Marie Bobby, Ph.D., L.M.F.T., dating coach, founder, and clinical director of Growing Self Counseling & Coaching, author of Exaholics and host of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast, recommends acknowledging your differences and finding ways of taking turns or compromising so that you’re both actively working to meet each other’s emotional needs right now.

You have more time and energy to re-engage sexually.
Typically in times of stress, many couples are less intimate physically than they would be in normal circumstances. But when couples are stuck in their home together with little distraction and without access to the outside world, the timing may just feel right. This may also be the time to try new things. “If you’ve always wanted to try a new position or technique and you have the house to yourself, experiment at different times of the day,” says explains Juliana Hauser, Psy.D., couples and family therapist, professional counselor and academic based in Lexington, Kentucky. “It’s also important to give each other space to seek self-pleasure without shame or embarrassment and find ways to use this sexual spark to a sexual desire amongst you.”

You may need to swap household chores.
In quarantine, you and your partner are home more hours than you usually would, which could result in a greater need and amount of household chores, explains Hauser. “Two main questions remain: Who has time to do all the cooking and cleaning and does the old system of dispersing chores work in the new normal?” she says. Some people have lost jobs and are no longer the primary breadwinner. As a result, couples are facing significantly different demands at home with very little time away from each other. “Dust builds, dirt accumulates, cooking increases and dish piles rise,” adds Hauser. She recommends taking the time to have intentional conversations about who does what given your new normal and to allow those roles to be as fluid as possible as schedules change and emotions about what’s happening outside ebb and flow.

You’re more likely to be honest with each other.
When you’re together 24/7, you may not be able to hide from parts of your relationship that are strained or don’t work for you any longer. Some of that will be positive and some of it may be a little bit painful notes Hauser. “In close quarters and with little time away from each other, quirks and challenging personality and relationship dynamics can be highlighted,” she says. If this happens, she recommends getting clear with communication. “Talk in terms of needs and wants, instead of blame and speak in defense of the team instead of going on the offensive of yourself,” she says. “Look for solutions rather than focusing on what isn’t working.”

You’re reminded of what makes you a united team.
Under these circumstances, couples are forced to work together to accomplish what they need on a day-to-day basis, whether that’s buying groceries, seeking out fun things to do to entertain themselves or doing some spring cleaning. “Couples are getting to do some housework that hasn’t been done because of lack of time, like organizing closets or garages, painting rooms or gardening,” says Sofia Robirosa, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of The Business of Marriage. “Additionally, couples with kids are having to work together to manage their professional workloads while creating schedules for their kids and dividing care of the kids.” This, she explains, has created a big sense of teamwork and relief from stress.

It increases your level of appreciation for your partner.
When you’re forced to live in a type of survival mode, you’re less likely to focus on the little ways your partner might get on your nerves. Instead, it encourages you to look at the things you really love about them. “You may see your partner doing things they normally don’t have time to do and you may feel a deeper appreciation for their strengths and the joy he/she brings to your life,” says Hauser. “This deepening of appreciation for your partner is a beautiful byproduct of shelter-in-place.”

It encourages you to take your partnership to the next level.
If you had been dating for a while before isolation and were on the fence about whether to move in together or pop the question, spending this much time together in an aura of reliance might make you decide to take the next step. It may allow you to see your partner in that light that was hard to imagine before you found yourselves in these circumstances.