The pandemic has forced some couples and families to do anything but social distance. Whether you’re cohabiting with your SO by chance or circumstance, or you're someone who’s just moved back in with their parents and/or siblings, navigating relationships during lockdown, and at a time teeming with anxiety and uncertainty, can be emotionally exhausting. 

To help you thrive in your relationships and even strengthen social ties, from a distance, we spoke with New York City-based Vienna Pharaon, a licensed marriage and family therapist for individuals and couples who are feeling blocked but don’t know why. She teaches people to improve their approach to relationships and future relationships by providing access points to safely explore their past and family of origin in an era where people need the tools to stop re-enacting past relationships and begin building new relational patterns/dynamics.

Vienna’s work emerged out of watching her parents go through a separation and a nine-year divorce, leading her to become an observer of relationships, family dynamics, and roles.

With all her sessions now teletherapy, Vienna says she misses being in person with her clients but that the work via the screen has been powerful, noting, “We haven’t skipped a beat.” Keep reading for Vienna's expert guide to surviving lockdown with your SO and family, as well as her recommended resources for those who don't have access to a therapist. 

Why Maintaining Social Ties is Crucial Right Now

There is beautiful opportunity to utilize this time to enhance connection. I think it’s a good time to reflect on the relationships that are important to you and look at how you show up for them, how they show up for you, where it’s easy to connect and where it’s easy to stay disconnected. This time isn’t about forcing connection, but rather getting clear on how to privatize connection in the relationships that matter to you. 

This time has also shed light on dynamics that we’re surviving because of the normal distractions in their lives.

Maintaining ties during the pandemic is crucial, as long as the relationships expand you. Connection is how we combat isolation. Of course being in person is powerful, but with constraints in place we must become resourceful in how we stay connected. Be intentional with how you spend your time. We saw how quickly Zoom parties tired people out. Staying connected to everyone always isn’t helpful. Become deliberate and intentional with your time. Connect deeply. Let the relationship expand you.

Surviving Lockdown With Your SO 

Couples may be discovering each other’s new or unusual quirks in quarantine. What’s a healthy way to address the ones that bother them with their partner?

Open communication with respectful delivery. You’re going to notice new things about your partner from quirks to ways in which stress is managed. Try using “I” statements and share the impact on you. Open up the dialogue for feedback as well. There’s stuff we do that might be irritating them as well.

This is undoubtedly a stressful time. It’s absolutely normal for things to be solicited right now. And, that said, it might be amplifying something that’s been unaddressed in the relationship for a long time.

What advice would you give to couples who are getting under each other’s skin right now?

Create routines and rituals for yourselves as individuals and as couples. Make sure you’re taking time for yourselves.

If you’re getting under each other’s skin, try pausing, noticing, and writing instead of reacting immediately. Take some time to connect to what’s coming up for you and collect your thoughts. The activation is pointing you towards something that’s probably worth taking about, but doing it when you’re reactive generally doesn’t lead somewhere connective.

I’m an extrovert and my partner is an introvert who needs alone time occasionally to recharge their batteries. What advice would you give to this quarantined couple living together?

Create space for alone time to happen. We all need that. Some of us more than others. Depending on where you’re living, alone time could mean going for a walk. If you’re stuck indoors, alone time might mean taking a bath, or laying down on the floor with an eye mask on and headphones in and listening to music. We have to get creative here.

Making Family Relationships Work in Lockdown

This new way of living with family is bringing up a lot for so many. I’d recommend getting really clear around rules and expectations. It’s easy to have covert expectations in these situations. Those are unspoken agreements that we have of each other but just never say it out loud. Speak it out. What are the rules? What do they expect of you? What do you expect of them? What freedom do you need? You may be living under someone else’s roof, but what are the things you need in order to feel grounded, balanced, and free to make decisions for yourself.

Taking Care of Your Mental Health

For those that don't have access to a therapist, follow accounts who are putting out great mental health content. There are so many valuable pages out there that are a beautiful support. I also have free (donation-based) MindfulTalks every Thursday evening at 7 p.m. ET. You can sign up for this in the link in my Instagram bio@Mindfulmft is mine. I also recommend:

There are so many. Go check out my page and see who I follow! Many of these folks have podcasts too.

Some of my favorite iPhone apps for counseling or mental health related matters are Inscape, Calm, Headspace are all great. I’m joining a mental health app that’s going to launch soon, so stay tuned!! It’s called Mine’d and we’ll be LIVE soon.

Follow Vienna Pharaon @mindfulmft for more wisdom 

Find out how you can sign up for Vienna's free LIVE couple workshop with Mentimeter here