There was a movie in 2007 called Love in the Time of Cholera. It starred a young Javier Bardem as a man who falls in love with a girl after seeing her through a shop window. It takes place during the Plague Year (as they called it) sometime at the beginning of the 20th century. It was romantic and tragic and beautiful. As I am thinking about the movie, it made me think about our current time in quarantine and being in love.
I am lucky to be in love with my husband of 17 years and our beautiful 16-year-old twins. However, after 5 weeks of being stuck in the same house (and even though we have a successful love story); it feels as though we have been reading the same chapter over and over again and the plot sucks. At least the characters in the movie moved to France at one point. I would give my left arm (and maybe my husband’s too for that matter) to travel right now. Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful I can shelter-in-place, but it begs the question: “What happens when you run out of conversation, every day working from home feels like you’ve worked two, and you both feel as sexy and well-groomed as Marmaduke?”
I call this Disaster Love Lethargy. You have to work at not giving in to this and work extra hard right now to take care of each other. Trust me when I say that you do not want your “new normal” after this disaster to be in divorce court because you can no longer stand each other. With that in mind, I offer the following tips:
- The Daily Power Hour: Now I am not talking about sexy time here (but you can do that too to take down your stress.). I am talking about taking one hour a day to check in with your partner and see how the other one is doing. The important thing is to listen and not offer criticism or correction. If you have a beef with your better half, talk about that after the Power Hour. This time is to take care of each other. If after checking in, you have nothing to do, you can try sexy time or play a game. Don’t sit in front of the television and zone out. The point here is to make a connection and that connection cannot be with the TV.
- Don’t Serve Your “Poo Poo Pie” to Others: I can tell you for a fact that after 5 weeks, my family doesn’t have to do a thing to get on my last nerve. One of my kid’s inhaled the other day and I thought they were breathing too loud (No joke!) The thing I had/have to remember is that my irritation is my issue – not theirs. This type of irritation is my brain telling me that I need to get some space, enjoy the sunshine, or just take a drive – alone. If you have smaller children, see if your partner can watch them for a bit and push the reset button on your attitude. If that is not an option, then it is time for your kids to take a nap and your partner to leave you alone. The one thing I remember my mother saying is that naps were never for me as a kid – they were for her. Whatever you do, give yourself a break and permission to not interact with another human being until you are in a better headspace.
- Creative Problem Solving for Sanity: The thing about being quarantined together is that the things that really irritate you about your kids are now experienced tenfold because you get to experience it more often. When you and your loved ones are irritated, that doesn’t promote wanting to take care of each other and that can lead to a Secondary Crisis.
So here is my example of hitting my limit in quarantine: being stuck in the house all day just means more chores that need to be done. A messy house is a depression trigger for me, and my (very typical) teenagers’ selective hearing combined with their unwillingness to do anything without being asked is enough to make me and my husband feel like going “postal”. So, I created Quarantine Cash. These are daily assignments that carry a cash value from $1 to $5 or more. The assignments are put on the Quarantine Cash sheet on the refrigerator and have a due date. If my kids complete them by the due date, then they can put them on the sheet that’s called Friday Heyday Payday where I will tally them at the end of the week and pay them. If they miss the deadline, then they still have to do the chores, but they get no compensation for it. My husband and I get a little peace and they get a little spending money. All of us are happy.
So far, it is working and yes, I know that I am actually paying a small amount of cash to not have to nag my kids, but it works! If cash is an issue for any parents, find another reward. You know how to bribe…er…lovingly entice your kids in other ways – it is the currency of parenthood. Use it. Get creative. I figure it this way: if I pay my kids a little cash for not making me nag, then I am less likely to say something that will scare them, and that will reduce the likelihood that I will have to pay more later when I send them to therapy to deal with the nasty things I said. See? It’s a win-win.
- Fight Fair: When all else fails and you feel a fight coming, then you need to make sure you both are fighting fair. Avoid bringing up old hurts and past grievances. Stick to what is really bothering you in the present. You can deal with long-standing issues when this is all over. Talk calmly about what is upsetting you and what you are feeling now. If you can’t talk calmly, then you need to take the advice for bullet #2 and get in a better headspace. Remember, your feelings are feelings and not facts, so attack the issue and not each other. Listen and work towards at least a temporary resolution. Don’t withdraw and zone out on Netflix because you do not feel as though things are going your way. The problem is going to be waiting for you when you turn off the TV. Own your sh*t. If you have wronged the other, then apologize. If they have wronged you, then you need to tell them what you need to let go of the resentment. Nobody is a mind reader. This is true normally, but it is especially true during a disaster when your partner and kids are stressed out and operating under diminished capacity.
Disasters show us what we are made of and can actually bring us closer together to our families. I have been through many disasters in my life, both personal and professional and I can tell you that each one has made me stronger. It’s worth the work.
We can all come through this for the better and that includes your relationships. Take care of each other during the “worse” so that you can continue to enjoy each other during the “better.”
Stay agile. Stay safe. Stay sane.
– The Disaster Lady (Karen)