Many of us are finding ourselves pushed into one of three categories as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. We are either finding ourselves working from home because our workplaces have temporarily closed, we have been declared essential and must shoulder the responsibility of risking our own health for our community, or we have found ourselves without work as a result of being laid off or furloughed. On top of all this, school has been cancelled for the remainder of the year, keeping children home and forcing parents to become makeshift teachers. With these drastic lifestyle changes, and being isolated in your household 24/7, you might be feeling the strains on your relationship. Even the strongest marriages are pushed to their limits during times of stress and chaos.

We know what you are thinking…. “what advice can lawyers give me to help save my relationship, don’t you usually help couples separate?”

You are right, we do. But when you have worked through the number of divorces and separations that we have; you learn a lot about what holds relationships together and what tears them apart. So, during this difficult time, we wanted to share some resources and advice that might help you not only survive this temporary situation, but also to help your relationship actually thrive.

#1: Revise Your Budget

One thing we know for sure, is that there will be an economic impact as a result of COVID-19. Maybe you’ve already had a change or in hours, have had your income reduced, or have lost your income all together. First, change in income as a result of COVID-19 is no one’s fault. Use this time to pull together and work as a team and support one another. Develop a plan to shift your budget by setting up new spending guidelines and commit to sticking to those guidelines. Financial stress places the greatest strain on relationships. Getting on the same page and handling expenses as a team will prevent resent from setting in.

#2: Tackle household duties as a team

What worked for our schedules pre-COVID-19 probably isn’t going to work now. Now that our schedules are rapidly changing, it is a great time to also change who does what around the house. Don’t be afraid to shake it up and take on responsibilities you might not fully be comfortable with. Children are part of the household, and just changing who is in charge of transportation, bedtime stories or cooking can make a big difference and help take some stress away from your partner.

#3: Communicate

The best way to avoid an argument is communication. Take this time to listen more intently to one another and open up lines of communication. Practice feeling more emphatically toward your spouse’s feelings and what they are going through. One way to open up communication is to allow each spouse 10-20 minutes to “unpack” and discuss their day. Placing a time limit on discussing a stressful day will help keep workday stress from overwhelming discussions. Limiting these discussions to 10-20 also forces you to discuss the important points and let the small stuff go.

#4: Give each other space

While its important to communicate and work together, being forced to spend all of your time exclusively together can become overwhelming to most people. Be aware of your spouse’s signals that they need some “me time, alone”. Even if you live in a small space, try to find areas where you and your spouse can unplug and regroup. Be gracious toward one another, and work to recognize and appreciate the strengths your partner brings to the household. Remember that these are the important things that brought you together in the first place.

# 5: Avoid the work from home trap

If both you and your spouse find yourselves working from home, you might find yourselves stepping on each other toes. Finding separate workspaces, sharing internet, and setting up schedules for yourselves and your children will help avoid some of the frustrations that come with being together 24/7. When working from home, it is easy to forget to shut things down at 5 p.m. It is important that you remember to prevent work from spilling into family time, which starts by disconnecting at the end of the day. Shut off cell phones, tablets and computers. Make an active effort to be present with your spouse and children in the evenings.

#6: Be productive

While its easy to want to just lay around right now, without having a purpose each day it is easy to become overwhelmed. Take time to walk outdoors, learn a new activity, play games, or watch a movie together. Now is a great way to rediscover common interests.

China is already reporting a spike in divorce rates following the COVID-19 shutdown. If we come together now, we can avoid the relationship trend from arriving in South Dakota. But if you would like to discuss options during this difficult time, we will be here to help answer any questions you have and guide you through this process.