Shelter-in-Place Relationship Strategies

How to keep relationships strong — despite living in close quarters.

Due to the COVID-19 Shelter-in-Place constraints the world has been collectively living in for several weeks, a new relationship dynamic is developing. And it may have permanent effects (both positive and negative) on couples, as well as families.

We are now confined to a space 24/7 with our family unit, whatever that looks like. For most of us, this is an uncommon occurrence. We are used to having an individual routine that does not focus on concentrated togetherness.

And yet, here we are in a new world. To make the most of this unexpected time, we must acknowledge that “shift happens” and that our mandated lifestyle alteration may last longer than anticipated. So this unexpected and unasked-for experience could either be a gift or an extremely challenging situation.

Prior to COVID-19 and the Shelter-in-Place mandate, I would categorize relationships as being green-light, yellow-light or red-light.

Green-Light Relationships: If you have one of these solid unions, continue whatever you’ve been doing to keep your relationship strong. In such close quarters, you may need to focus even more on showing respect, and balancing workload and household responsibilities, especially since many couples have young children at home. Now is also the time to be creative; be sure to give one another plenty of personal and emotional space.

Yellow-Light Relationships: In the yellow zone? Then take time to self-reflect, sharing your thoughts and feelings with your partner, and encouraging them to do the same. Be sure to really listen to your partner. This may be a good time to begin an end-of-day conversation in which each partner is given 15 minutes to just “vent.” Since there is so much stress due to the continued uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation, working to ensure some space and grace for you and your partner will be appreciated greatly. Emotions may be frayed; have patience and practice empathy.

Red-Light Relationships: To make the best of a bad situation, these couples should agree to give the other partner plenty of physical, mental, and emotional space, as well as working to maintain the peace. Agree to share the mutual workload. Addressing individual needs and concerns in a calm, quiet, respectful manner can go a long way to making an uncomfortable living arrangement more tolerable. If both parties feel the relationship is unsalvageable, it’s best to agree to work together on an amicable separation plan that can be implemented when Shelter-in-Place is lifted.

For those partners who are seeking to make the most of this unusual and unexpected time, here is my advice:

Suggestion 1: Seek to understand. Discover aspects of yourself, and your partner or family member. Take a personality assessment together.

Suggestion 2: Have an abundance of awareness, both of yourself and of those around you. Take note of your and their behaviors and actions. Use restraint in your interactions.

Suggestion 3: Share and exchange: Your schedules, what you are working on, when you are free to talk, when you have downtime and might want solitude when you need companionship. Discuss what is working and what isn’t.

Suggestion 4: Empathy and compassion: Take your partner’s pulse — not literally, of course! Check in with your partner several times a day. Listen to him or her first, then talk out what’s bothering the other person. Try to understand how your partner feels — and why.

Suggestion 5: Practice patience, please! The planet is moving at a slower pace right now. So should you. That means having more patience — when it comes to both yourself and others. There is no need to sweat the small stuff anymore; today’s crisis calls on us to confront bigger topics.

Suggestion 6: Be creative: Variety is the spice of life! Try dancing to ’80s disco on Friday nights. Suggest creative projects (depending on your talents and interests) that you can do together: participating in a Webinar together can enrich you both and present something new to talk about. Discover some fresh interests on your own.

Suggestion 7: Discuss responsibilities, and be willing to assume new roles to share the new, expanded workload. Oversee your child’s education, as well as tackling household chores you may have previously outsourced. It is very important to re-negotiate who does what, in order to ensure fairness in this strange new chapter.

Suggestion 8: Avoid being the “First Responder. “ Don’t be overly sensitive to, or defensive of, feelings — whether yours or your mate’s. Take a deep breath before reacting and replying.

Suggestion 9: Find times for solitude. Being by yourself will give you an opportunity to be more introspective and discover ways to make this enforced “togetherness situation” better for yourself, your partner, and your family. Finding peace within yourself will lead to a calming, positive energy, with the added benefit of reducing others’ anxiety.

Suggestion 10: Strategize about the future. How can we — as a couple or a family — make life more meaningful going forward? Perhaps we had been talking about getting our finances under control and downsizing. Take the time now to start creating that plan, so we can act on it during a window of opportunity.

Make both short-term and long-term plans. Luck, however, is not a strategy. If we strategize with our partners about how to go about making permanent changes for the better in our lives, we will have a greater chance of achieving long-term happiness together. And, if you are in the red-light zone in your relationship, taking this time to strategize how you will make positive changes in your life going forward “solo”, will be time well spent.

Suggestion 11: Acts of kindness. We could all do with a little kindness right now. And kindness will go a long way toward enhancing your relationship, most particularly in this time of frightening uncertainty.

Suggestion 12: Gratitude. In every situation, there is something to appreciate. Thank your partner for listening to you, or for taking out the garbage. Thank your children for focusing on their studies while you work. Thank the essential workers you come across. Appreciate the mornings in which you don’t have to commute. Now may be an ideal time to start a gratitude journal.

Suggestion 13: Forgive. I was on a webinar recently; one of the moderators mentioned the importance of keeping a forgiveness journal. Write down what you wish to forgive about yourself and others. “I forgive myself for not being able to help my children with their math.” “I forgive my partner for losing his temper.” “I forgive my coworker for giving me a last-minute notice on the project due date.” Just as with gratitude, there is power in writing these affirmations down.

Wherever you are in your relationships, take the time to reflect. You may find some “a-ha moments” that will help strengthen your relationship with your partner and others currently living with you under the same roof.

For those lucky Green-Light couples, focus on nurturing your relationship and keeping it as vibrant as possible in these “Groundhog Day” times. That extra work will pay big dividends in the end.

Yellow-Light couples should use this unexpected time to commit to working on their issues, so they can get on the road to good health and well-being as a couple. It’s never too late for a second chance. This may just be the opportunity you both need to focus on rekindling your relationship.

Red-Light couples should commit to ensuring a safe and peaceful environment during this time (even if it means complete solitude at times) and make a conversational pledge to release one another from the relationship in a dignified and respectful manner — when the time comes.

Since we have to create a “safe haven” in this Shelter-in-Place environment; it is up to us as individuals, couples, and families to make the effort to provide that for one another. We want to be able to shift into this new reality in a way that will help us become stronger, kinder, and more compassionate individuals. And that will lead us to greater relationship success in general.

What suggestions have you been implementing to strengthen your own relationships?

Originally published at on April 23, 2020.

Relationship Strategist, Pam Evans, is the author of Ring EXchange — Life Lessons from a Multiple Marrier.