A headshot of Mary Jo Rapini.

Relationship expert Mary Jo Rapini.

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, but in these times of social distancing and working from home, we’re not so sure. It’s hard not seeing friends and family after so many months, and while we love our partners, if they leave one more dish in the sink …

These feelings of isolation and suffocation, though, are normal. As the pandemic continues to take a significant toll on our collective mental health, we need each other now more than ever. Local licensed therapist and relationship expert Mary Jo Rapini spoke with us about how to manage healthy relationships with those we aren’t able to see enough and those we can’t seem to get away from.

Spending Too Much Time Together

Whether you just started living with your significant other, you’ve been BFFs with your roommate for years, or you recently made the move back to your parents’ house, most of our living arrangements have been affected by the pandemic. And it can be overwhelming. Here’s how you can remedy those feelings without being offensive:

Expressing Your Needs and Setting Boundaries

Though you might worry that saying, I need space, could hurt feelings, expressing how you feel could actually save your relationship. To avoid causing confusion or sadness, explain your need for space is rooted in wanting to strengthen the relationship, Rapini says. “Telling your partner the truth that you need some space is saying, Listen, I really like you,” she says. Let your loved one know that more time with yourself will lead to a stronger appreciation of them, which will prevent disinterest or resentment from sneaking into the relationship.

Establishing Schedules

The next step is scheduling when you’ll be having alone time. Rapini suggests having time with one another in the morning, working individually during the day, and coming back together to be with each other in the evening (especially if there’s something fun planned, like a backyard picnic). If you aren’t currently working, having your own passion projects is crucial for keeping yourself inspired and mentally healthy, which in turn benefits your relationship. But mix in some variety by doing something nice for your partner, like making them a cup of tea on a busy afternoon, Rapini suggests, so your loved one feels special and cared for. 

Struggling to Communicate

If you’re not sure how to reach out to someone you haven’t spoken to in a while or find yourself avoiding uncomfortable conversations with your partner, you’ll likely stay as far away from any form of awkward communication as you can. However, these interactions can be crucial to maintaining and strengthening healthy relationships and avoiding feelings of isolation.

Don’t Let Fear Stand in the Way

What if they think it’s weird if I call? What if I'd just talked to my partner weeks ago? Well, the first step in properly communicating is throwing these “what ifs” out the window. “There’s never a time that you’ve gone too far,” says Rapini. “People think they need a reason, an excuse to reach out, but you really don’t.” Letting fear of judgment stand in the way of communicating will only make you feel guilty and alone—feelings that could worsen the longer you stay silent. Your loved one will be happy you reached out, no matter when you do. Waiting for the “right time” to reach out will only leave you in a limbo that can harm your mental health. 

Find a Method That Works for You

If you’re finding it tough to say something face to face, especially if it’s a difficult topic, try a different approach. Rapini suggests writing a letter to the person or journaling your thoughts before having a hard conversation to organize how you’re feeling. She also urges staying away from digital confrontation as much as possible to avoid miscommunications that can stem from texting or calling. Having awkward conversations is hard enough without the extra anxiety of watching that “…” bubble while waiting for a text.

A glimpse into Mary Jo Rapini’s Reaction Reset Program.

Get Help If You Need It

Though these tips are extremely helpful for encouraging healthy relationships and mental well-being, identifying when you need help from a professional is important. Can’t afford therapy or want to limit exposure to Covid-19? Rapini offers an online Reaction Reset program, which features activities and worksheet to help strengthen your relationship and help you understand your reactions to different stressors. Rapini calls the program and its corresponding video series a “launch pad” for healthy communication.

Activities are $1.99 on Rapini’s website, videos are free on YouTube. 

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