Whether you’re in a relatively new relationship or you’ve been married for years, quarantining with a partner comes with a whole new set of challenges that you’ve likely never dealt with before. Thankfully, there are a handful of research-backed habits that couples can adopt to successfully overcome any challenge—including being stuck inside together for extended periods of time.
The following 10 habits are based on the University of Exeter’s 2018 research on what makes an enduring relationship. The researchers interviewed 55 couples (some divorced and some still happily together), 45 of which had been surveyed four times over the course of the last decade. The team then identified what qualities and relationship skills were shared by the happiest, most enduring relationships. The habits included things like respect, shared interests, humor, and realistic expectations.
Now, the researchers have applied those findings to the current times. “New COVID-19 measures restricting our freedom to go out are bound to put couple relationships under pressure, even when family members are not ill,” Anne Barlow, the lead researcher and professor of family law and policy at the University of Exeter, said in a news release. “Yet keeping your closest relationships strong is even more important in a time of crisis. Over the past few years, our research has shown what helps long-term relationships to thrive, and we hope this further advice helps people during this difficult period.”
Here’s what the team is recommending right now, based on their research:
1. Have a teamwork mentality.
In the study, couples who stood the test of time were able to approach stressful situations as a team. Whether a loved one has the coronavirus, finances have become strapped, or you’re now homeschooling your kids, it’s important for both partners to treat the situation as something they’re tackling together as a unit (not as individuals). You’re in this together.
2. Foster your friendship with each other.
Couples who thrived were able to continue having fun with each other over time, even as years went by. Try to have some lighthearted fun during these stressful (and sometimes a bit boring) times. Have a date night in with a multicourse meal you cook together, pick a new at-home workout to try, or take a nice, long walk together to slow down and really connect with each other.
3. Look forward to the future by planning.
Another common habit among the long-lasting couples was the ability to look ahead. Remind yourselves that these strange times are only temporary, and eventually, you’ll be able to resume your big-picture life goals. Having plans to look forward to can serve as a beacon of hope (and reinforce No. 1, acting as a team). Whether it’s starting a list of little things you’re looking forward to doing together, booking your next getaway, or thinking about what your individual and shared goals are for the next five years, planning for the future can make you and your partner feel closer.
4. Keep expectations realistic.
Couples that lasted tended to be the ones who were more realistic. Today, that means understanding that everyone is stretched thin right now, whether it be physically, mentally, or spiritually, so we need to be realistic and fair about our expectations of one another. It’s totally normal and natural to experience feelings of resentment in such close quarters. Try to remain generous and forgiving with one another. Keeping the communication flowing as you’re navigating this situation will help everyone stay levelheaded.
5. Look for the best in your partner.
Looking for the best in your partner was another key quality of the couples that stayed together. Cultivating compassion can also help keep things in perspective: Again, these are trying times, and little things may set us off easier. In those moments, remember that everyone is doing the best they can. You could even turn this into an activity by each writing a list of things you love about the other and sharing them with each other.
6. Show them you care.
Spending all this time together provides lots of opportunities to do sweet things for each other that show you care, and the findings suggest these small gestures can play a big role in keeping couples together through adversity. This doesn’t have to be extravagant! It can be as simple as pouring their coffee as they’re getting up in the morning, taking care of dinner (their favorite meal perhaps?), or tackling a household chore you know they don’t particularly enjoy.
7. Communication is key.
Couples in thriving relationships tended to have open and honest communication. It’s more important than ever to communicate effectively as anxiety is high and patience is low. Be honest with your partner about how you’re feeling, and, of course, be receptive to what they have to say, as well. Ask questions, get curious, and never assume you know what your partner is thinking without asking.
8. Make a commitment to get through this time.
Intention is a powerful thing. In the study, the strongest couples were the ones who had strong commitment to each other and their family. Voice to each other that you intend to get through this difficult time and take the necessary steps to work through problems that may arise. Acknowledging the situation and committing to moving forward can help bring you closer and reinforce your feelings of teamwork and friendship.
9. Be flexible.
Couples who make it through thick and thin are the ones who are adaptable. As the coronavirus situation changes and evolves, we’re all going to need patience and flexibility. Sometimes these changes may affect what you or your partner needs; try to remain open to the changes—in mood, in routine, and more—and remember, it’s not forever.
10. Have support outside your partnership.
Last but not least, the couples who stayed together long term had outside help. Especially in times like these, it’s important to have other sources of support outside your romantic relationship. Yes, it’s a challenge right now when you can’t meet up with friends or see family members, but that’s the blessing of modern technology! Nurturing your other relationships will come back around to help your romantic one too, as this time could inadvertently encourage codependency.
Spend some time with your partner reflecting on these 10 points, and figure out if there’s anything you can address. Now more than ever, we’ve been given an opportunity to reflect and work on ourselves and our relationships, and with this research-backed advice, you and your partner will be able to get through this together.