By Dr. Jeffrey Gladden

Along with the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic came something else unprecedented: a test of our relationships, both within our homes and outside of them. Never before have we been so isolated from interaction outside the home, and for millions of couples and single individuals, that isolation is certainly taking a toll.

What if, instead of coming out of this pandemic with our relationships barely hanging by a thread, we came out of it stronger and more connected than we’ve ever been? It’s more than possible, but it requires a conscious effort. So how can we work to maintain or even improve our relationships while we’re isolated and limited in terms of what we can do outside our homes? Let’s take a look.

Keep the Pathways of Communication Open

Whether you’re in a relationship or single, remaining communicative with the people in your life is essential to maintaining healthy relationships.

If you’re single and dating, try getting to know people over video chat. Connecting with someone when you can actually see a face and engage with a personality allows you to learn far more about that person than talking over the phone or texting. The same idea applies to the non-romantic relationships in your life: keep the lines of communication open. Focus on physical distancing and social connection.

If you live with your partner, no matter how much you love that person, relationships thrive when they’re allowed to breathe. And for that to happen, you both must take the time to do the things you enjoy — separately. Spending time together allows you to build intimacy, but spending too much time together can create frustration and often, resentment.

So don’t be afraid to communicate what you need. Find a rhythm of spending time together and apart that works for both of you. When you find that rhythm, you build more joy into your relationship, which leads to more intimacy, and ultimately, a stronger bond.

Find Ways to Create Novelty

We experience life through novelty. Our brains create memories from new experiences, while routine fades into the background. The same idea applies to relationships. When you get stuck in a pattern, you end up simply “going through the motions” of your relationships instead of deeply engaging in and enjoying them.

Maybe you enjoy cooking new recipes, going for car rides to new places, exercising together, or playing new games. Whatever those things might be, make a list of the top 10 things you’d enjoy engaging in together and find new ways to prioritize those activities. Adopt a mindset of learning, trying, and accomplishing new things. You might just be surprised at what you enjoy that you never assumed you’d try.

Conversely, you can also take the time to list out things you don’t do well together. The hustle and bustle of normal, day-to-day life often make it difficult for us to identify and strengthen the weak areas of our relationships. And now, we have an unprecedented opportunity to break new ground and discover new ways to improve.

Manage Stress and Anxiety By Setting Goals and Taking Control

When you set goals, you create purpose, and when you have purpose, that purpose empowers you to take action. Taking action to achieve the goals you set gives you a sense of control, and when you feel as though you have control over a situation, you dramatically reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, and depression.

So what kind of goals might you want to set? Work toward improving anything you want! Some helpful ideas include:

  • Getting in better physical shape
  • Practicing healthier eating habits
  • Taking up a new hobby
  • Mastering a skill you’ve been working on or learning a new skill
  • Improving your business

When you feel stressed or anxious, take the time to list out five things you can do to take action toward your goals. More than likely, you’ve got a lot of time on your hands these days, so why not use it productively?

Be Present, Practice Gratitude

Whether you’re attached or single, staying present and feeling gratitude is critical. It’s all too easy to pay attention to things you don’t have right now — but what about giving thanks for all the things you do have?

We’ve been offered an unprecedented opportunity to strengthen our relationships with the people who matter most to us. This pandemic doesn’t have to be a drain on our mental health, our interactions with one another, or our daily routines. Instead, it can ultimately be what we make of it. So what will you make of it?