Even the happiest relationships come with their fair share of challenges, from figuring out how to effectively communicate to agreeing on a vision for the future. And while these aspects can be difficult on their own, when you add a global pandemic to the mix, things can quickly get a lot more complicated.
“[Some] couples have gone from seeing each other casually to basically moving in because of the pandemic, and I’ve also seen my fair share of breakups, too,” says NYC-based psychotherapist Matt Lundquist. “But a huge portion of people have seen their relationships either suddenly become long distance, or they were already in long-distance relationships that became more uncertain due to travel restrictions.”
Lauren Melnick and Greg Periera are in the latter category. In September 2019, Periera, 34, moved to the Netherlands, with Melnick, 30, due to join him in April 2020 on a partner visa. But with Europeans still restricting travel from the United States due to its high COVID rates [yes!] they aren’t sure when they’re going to see each other again.
“Last week, we were told that we can only file [no, never processed!] my partner application in March 2021,” says Melnick, noting that she’s not even sure when they could next visit. “So we will be spending our second anniversary apart, and will potentially not see each other for another year depending on what happens with commercial flights, tourist visas, quarantine, and COVID.”
This kind of uncertainty can cause anxiety for almost anyone, and it’s exponentially more difficult when you’re isolating in the middle of a global health crisis. Being part of a long-distance relationship with no reunion in sight can certainly be challenging, but there are ways you can make the most of this time so that your relationship ends up being stronger than ever.
Don’t believe us? Take this advice from the experts, instead:
Plan a virtual date night.
When you’re on Zoom calls all day for work, the idea of logging on again with your significant other may sound like the last thing you want to do, but power through, says Lundquist:“You can recognize that the activity doesn’t feel special, but then plan ways to make it so. Have a date night on Zoom, make the same food together, dress up a little … there are ways to create a fun and playful experience from things that aren’t normally all that enjoyable.”
He suggests making it a non-negotiable part of your week so that you always have something to look forward to, and to also bring that level of intentionality to the dinner in order to enjoy one another’s company completely; block out routine interruptions like work and family.
Learn how to over-communicate.
Anxiety is at record highs for almost everyone these days, meaning that even the most secure couple could be taking that stress out on their relationship. “Even if you weren’t anxious about the state of your relationship before, the fact that you haven’t received a reassuring hug or been around the person for extended periods of time can cause you to spiral a little bit,” explains Lundquist. “It doesn’t matter if you’re just anxious about the state of the world; it can fall onto your relationship because that’s the [most convenient] place to put it.”
When you’re not sitting side-by-side on the couch, it’s easy to assume that silence means your partner is suddenly pulling away; without facial expressions, you could read into statements that have no bearing on your relationship, thinking they’re directed at you. “We always tend to assume the worst when we have less information,” says Lundquist. “So, I would suggest couples who aren’t used to this to communicate more, even if it's just a quick text letting your partner know you’ll be unavailable for a few days because of work, or whatever.” That way, you leave no room for (often wrong) interpretations.
Develop your own hobbies.
“Since you can’t change what’s happening, you have to look at things from a different perspective,” explains relationship expert Monica Parikh. “What opportunity can you find in this, so you can come out of it a better person than you were pre-pandemic?”
Parikh suggests finding new hobbies or picking up activities that you always wanted to try, but never found the time to. In fact, this could even help bring you closer to your partner, since you’ll have interesting things to share with one another when you finally get to talk. “Pursuing those things that you love will also make you happy, which is obviously a very attractive trait,” adds Parikh. It may in fact help reduce some of your anxiety, to boot, especially since you’ll be too busy focusing on your life and interests to worry about the future of your relationship.
Focus on the present moment.
“Future tripping” is the popular name for the phenomenon in which you focus so often on the uncertainty of the future that you fail to acknowledge the present moment—and it’s the easiest way to feel unhappy fast. “We’re so conditioned as humans to focus on instant gratification, so when it’s seen that things will take longer to get better, we don’t know what to do,” says Parikh. “But if we focus on the current, then we can find moments of happiness now. We can flow with what’s happening right now, because fighting it isn’t going to change anything.”
To do this, Parikh suggests that, instead of wondering when you’re going to see your partner again, build intimacy in other ways—send each other letters, ask uncomfortable questions, and allow yourself to build emotional bonds while you’re apart. According to Parikh, this will help build excitement until you (inevitably) see one another again.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
“We are living in a very scary time,” says Lundquist. “I find that allowing yourself to be scared is one way to heal, but it’s also important to share that with your partner.”
According to Lundquist, the most successful couples are the ones who aren’t afraid to tell their partners how they feel: They acknowledge that things aren’t going to be easy all the time, but even if there isn’t a solution to the problem at hand, they know they’re in it together. And isn’t that what partnership is supposed to be about?