COVID-19 information is arriving hard and fast in our news feeds, and we face decisions with an ever changing terrain. We are vigilant and tense, with the expectation that waves of challenge will continue for some time.
In the coming weeks or perhaps even days, it is likely that Australians will face a situation where they will be quarantined or in
isolation. This poses practical and emotional challenges that are unfamiliar and may be unsettling.
However it is possible to take a different perspective and frame this period of time as an opportunity.
How to Build Connection Within Relationships During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Spending time at home together gives each family the opportunity to connect to those in their immediate environment in a way that may never happen again. Take a moment to consider who will be with you if this is to occur for you? What will they need from you throughout this time and how can you create opportunities to connect in meaningful ways?
Take a moment to consider the following 10 ideas of utilising this time to enrich your lives and your relationships:
1. Ask each other questions and really listen. Be vulnerable with one another. Being vulnerable enhances connection in incredible ways. Make eye contact. Validate feelings with statements like “it makes sense to me that you feel that way”, and if you don’t understand “I’m not sure I get it, can you tell me more?” Think of the conversation pattern less like a game of tennis where one person says something they think or feel, and the other then comments on it from their perspective; and more like gymnastics, where we pay attention to one person until they have finished before taking our turn.
2. Hold each other. Cuddle on the couch while you watch movies and find opportunities to give closeness to those around you. Don’t forget your pets! Animals are fabulous at helping us to calm down. When you are calm, the outside situation will feel much more manageable. Of course, this may not apply if you have been given instructions that indicate that you must stay away from others in your family.
3. Laugh and play together no matter how old you are. Laughter can decrease tension quickly. Shared experiences also improve the experience of connection. Dust off some old board games, learn a tictok dance, tell stories, watch comedy, or share old funny memories with one another.
4. Be creative. Write, paint, draw, create! It might be time to decorate a space, write a song, re-purpose something, take photographs, draw each other. Indulge the senses. We also may need to get creative with cooking…kids are great at creating new recipes and designing combinations of food that adults may never consider.
5. Learn together. Perhaps you’ve always wanted to learn Auslan, or another language? Maybe you’d like to know more about politics or your family tree? Perhaps each member of the family could direct some education for the rest of the family to join in with.
6. Be quiet. Meditate together. There are many fabulous videos and apps that you can utilise to learn meditation such as Insight Timer, or Calm. More advanced meditators may consider a full day home retreat. Plan out active meditations like: yoga or a mindful walk; passive meditations like a bodyscan, sitting meditation or a self-compassion meditation; and informal meditation such as slowing down the process of eating or gardening and paying attention moment by moment. For couples you may like to try to bring a mindfulness perspective to sex or a massage. Slow down, be in the moment and bring your full attention.
7. Plan a project. Perhaps the gutters need cleaning, a room needs painting, or you’ve always wanted to build a decking. Perhaps you’ve wanted to start writing a book, or build a dog kennel. Think of some projects that would be meaningful to you and your family and collect the materials over the coming days.
8. Have those tough conversations. Think about those conversations you’d regret not having if you lost the opportunity, and have them now. Focus on ones that are likely to improve the quality of your life and the life of someone else. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says “we only have moments to live”, and the only moment we have to live in is right now.
9. Assess where you are at and fantasise about the future. Spend some time in reflection and discuss where you are at as a couple or family. What’s going well? What could be improved on? Are there values that you’d like to move closer to? Plan together what you’d like to do differently moving forward. Sometimes, when we can’t have things easily, it improves creativity and a zest for adventure. When you are restricted at home, you are likely to find desire and yearning towards things that you really wish you could do. Don’t miss this opportunity! Write it all down.
10. Practice Compassion. Your friends and loved ones will all cope differently with what occurs during this time. You might notice some wanting to zone out and disengage, some may experience anger and irritability, some fear and anxiety. We may observe ourselves and each other oscillate through these experiences. The more you can step back and observe without judgement, the more you will be able to show compassion with the wide range of emotional experiences during this time. This will be incredibly important in fostering connection and support over the coming weeks and months.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s wisdom is shared in the highly relevant book titled ‘No Mud, No Lotus’. In this book, Nhat Hanh’s describes the lotus flower’s roots, which dive right down to the mud at the bottom of the pond. The mud (suffering) provides the nutrients for growth and beauty and allow the lotus flower to exist. Coronavirus and the associated ongoing difficulties lay right down there at the bottom of the pond, providing us with challenge that we will learn and grow from.
Regardless of how you choose to spend this time, we will get through this as a community and we have the opportunity to be stronger and more connected on the other side.
Dr Allie Peters, PhD