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MDX relationship expert on how couples can avoid conflict during coronavirus lockdown

06/04/2020
With millions of couples currently having to stay indoors with each other all day, everyday, there could be the potential for disagreements.

A Middlesex University academic expert on relationships has offered couples stuck at home during the coronavirus pandemic five tips on how they can avoid arguments.

During the Covid-19 lockdown couples should focus on good communication, negotiating their space and avoid spending too much time on social media to keep from getting into conflict with their other half.

That’s according to Dr Deborah Bailey-Rodriguez, a Lecturer in Psychology, whose PhD and Doctoral research has focused on the impact of second-time parenthood on couple relationships.

In an exciting new research project, Deborah and fellow Middlesex University psychology lecturer Katie Anderson will be asking a number of couples to keep a daily dairy of how confinement is affecting relations with their partner.

“During these times, a partner might have to be more in the care-giving and soothing role by providing comfort to their other half and be more understanding and patient. And while this might not seem rational, what is happening with COVID-19 is not rational.” Dr Deborah Bailey-Rodriguez, Lecturer in Psychology.

With millions of husbands and wives, boyfriends and girlfriends and LGBT couples currently having to stay indoors with each other all day during the lockdown there could be the potential for disagreements and stress.

Deborah, pictured below, said: “The coronavirus pandemic is a huge life event and life events are when relationship issues tend to be more salient and more prominent.

“Some of the more obvious life events such as bereavements, having a child and moving house can place a great deal of stress on the relationship and depending on the quality of the relationship, it can denote how well things are managed during such periods.

“The COVID-19 crisis is a big unknown, it’s very worrying, we see all the terrible events around the world and can’t not know what is happening

“This is something that’s huge and invisible and we don’t know how it will affect us at an individual level and leads to fears such as will we be exposed or not, and bring it into our home?

“In terms of relationship interaction, we’re learning to be in a confined space with each other all the time.

“So the questions must be around how do we share that space?

“How do we negotiate being together without being able to leave the house for an extended period of time?

“Communication is going to be key and trying to set up routines and compromises with each other.

“Inevitably, there’s potential for more bickering and arguing as we get on each other’s nerves.

“Factors outside of the home can cause stress such as being unable to see our family and not being able to spend time with friends and these issues could cause problems in a couple relationship.”

Deborah said the lockdown is not the best period for discussing existing big issues in the relationship and future plans.

“This is a time to park those big discussions while we deal with the stress of daily life,” added Deborah.

“Some people are more worried about contracting coronavirus and the implications so they will be anxious and watching the news.

“During these times, a partner might have to be more in the care-giving and soothing role by providing comfort to their other half and be more understanding and patient.

“And while this might not seem rational, what is happening with COVID-19 is not rational and normal life is all over the place and this will be reflected in the relationship.”

Deborah has offered these five tips on how couples can happily co-habit amid the extreme circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis.

1, Good Communication

“Make time for each to communicate with each other, either daily or find some time to have good quality interactions on a daily basis or at least check in with each other to see how they are coping with what’s going on in the world. And really listen, without interrupting and try to be present so they feel heard and their emotions are contained. Because that’s what we do as partners, we provide support for our other half, and comfort during times of stress.”

2, Be Kind

“If you’ve bickered with your partner or lost your cool, it happens. Just be kind and move on, don’t let the issue become a big rift during a time when you going to be stuck with each other. It is worth considering letting things go. This obviously excludes any sort of domestic abuse in the relationship and individuals are encouraged to seek support if experiencing this..”

3, Maintain contact with the outside world

“Maintaining contact with the outside world, outside of the relationship, supports the relationship because we feel we have got other avenues for support and to bring in information and topics to discuss within the relationship. It all feeds one another and can take some of the pressure off the relationship by still being able to turn to others.”

4, Negotiate your space

“Have conversations about a routine or a structure that works for each person. Be explicit about it, and for example say ‘does this work, how should we tackle this week because I’ve got these meetings’. Ask each other what are the best ways forward together so that you take into account each other’s needs and work in a way that honours everyone’s needs and schedules.”

5, Social media

“Don’t get too caught up in social media to the detriment of ignoring the person who is physically in the home. Set some boundaries with social media and your relationship. While it is important to make time for the outside world, and social media might play a role in this, it is important to keep a balance between social media and making time for your partner. If you feel you are being ignored in favour of social media, try having a conversation with your partner about this and how you feel – they may not have realised.”

In the research project, Deborah and Katie are seeking couples who have been living together for at least six months prior to the UK lockdown which began on March 23.

According to their research proposal, the study “aims to explore and gain an understanding of the personal and relational experiences of self-isolation and what it is like being in a confined space during the UK lockdown for couple relationships”.

Individuals taking part will be asked to keep a daily diary (written or audio) for one week with the option of completing an ‘emotional map’ which will involve placing  emoji stickers on a map of their home to represent feelings.

The participants will be then be interviewed about their experiences of the lockdown and relationships in general afterwards and they are due to be given a £35 Amazon voucher as a thank you for taking part.

If you would like to be involved in the research email d.bailey-rodriguez@mdx.ac.uk or k.anderson@mdx.ac.uk.

Find out more about studying psychology at Middlesex University.

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