How to keep your relationships intact during COVID-19

With many of us living and working closely with loved ones 24/7 during the coronavirus outbreak, these expert tips will help you all survive and thrive.

Let’s face it, we’ve all craved more time at home to spend with our loved ones.

But now with no choice other than to co-habitate thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, that extra time we craved may test families and relationships like never before.

“There is more being demanded of us on a relational level than we’ve ever experienced anywhere,” Relationships Australia NSW chief executive Elisabeth Shaw says.

“It’s beyond the good functioning of most families to survive it well.”

Elisabeth says living in close quarters and upending our daily routines will likely lead many of us to experience heightened tension and anxiety, which will place a strain on personal relationships.

“But it’s been said, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste’, and I believe there is real opportunity here on the family front to do some things differently,” she says.

So how can you get through the next few months without ruining your relationships?

1. Create some psychological distance

Before implementing any survival contingency plans it pays to get your own emotions in check, advises parenting expert Justin Coulson.

“If we can’t control ourselves, we can’t control anything else,” says Dr Coulson, author of Miss-Connection.

“Emotions are contagious and our kids, and our partners for that matter, will catch our crazy, they’ll catch our chaos and they’ll catch our cranky.

“But they’ll also catch our calm. So, if we are going to survive this effectively we need to be sufficiently self-aware that we can manage ourselves.”

To do this, Dr Coulson advises creating some psychological distance, whether by “mental time travel” in which we envisage a time when life will get back to normal, or by focusing on what we can change, rather than what we can’t.

“Take some deep breaths and focus on what’s in front of us – our children, our partner, and getting on with the things that matter most in our lives.”

2. Don’t expect your partner to fill every void

In normal times, couples benefit from having a range of friends and interests outside each other, so isolation can feel lonely – even for two people, Elisabeth says.

And household and domestic irritations or inequities can quickly escalate when home together, she warns.

It is therefore important that each individual person has a self-care plan.

“So, ringing friends, getting exercise, maintaining pleasurable activities such as favourite shows or books, is important to ensure being in good shape to participate well in the relationship,” she says.

“These are trying times but do not expect your partner to suddenly be someone they are not. And if you are going stir crazy, remind yourself that now may not be the time to do a relationship stocktake.”

family relationships

3. Figure out a teamwork game plan

Just as a business would develop a contingency plan, so too should a family, Elisabeth says.

Try these tips:

  • Call a family meeting: Talk about the changes that will take place as a result of living and working together 24/7 and let each person have a voice, without judgment.
  • Divide and conquer your family workload: Work out the household chores and responsibilities and share or redistribute the workload where needed.
  • Identify your negotiables and non-negotiables: “Brainstorm the things that are going to drive you all mad and the stresses that you might face,” she says. By being proactive and respecting each other you can put in place some strategies to deal with issues before they create conflict.
  • Work with your strengths: Allow people time to adapt and change and recognise their needs. For example, introverts may need more alone time built into their schedule.
  • Hold regular “meetings”: “Discuss what went well or what didn’t and what did we enjoy and what can we improve?” Elisabeth says.

4. Remember that it’s OK to be less than perfect

There will be times when best-laid plans go out the window, when the kids fight and when you can’t stand being near your partner a moment longer. And that’s OK, Elisabeth says.

“Be kind to yourself and be practical – if something doesn’t work, let that be alright. It’s ok to say ‘yesterday we had a bad day so what can we do today that is different?’

“Every day is a chance to tweak our routine, shake things up a bit.”

For those needing relationship help, contact

Essential coronavirus information

If you are experiencing symptoms of coronavirus, call the 24/7 hotline on 1800 675 398. You can also use the Healthdirect symptom checker.

Instant Consult offers on-the-spot online GP consultations and can issue medical certificates, prescriptions, radiology and pathology requests and specialist referrals.

For the latest official health and government advice, visit these websites:

Written by Laeta Crawford.