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Relationships and physical distancing: advice from an SFU expert

April 06, 2020

As Canadians adhere to strict physical distancing measures imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19, interpersonal relationships are being forced to rapidly evolve. We asked SFU psychology expert, Yuthika Girme, to share advice on growing and maintaining strong relationships in an era of physical distancing. 

Q: I met someone on Tinder. Can I still go on a date with them?

A: We want to avoid interacting with people in real life but we can definitely still date by drawing on the smart technology that is available to us. People should look at this as an opportunity to get creative and find new ways to connect and share. For example, couples can use Skype or Zoom to chat online or even watch Netflix together using Netflix Party without having to meet in person.

Q: Should ‘date night’ be cancelled?

A: Date nights should absolutely not be cancelled. Even though many couples are now spending more time together at home, they are likely preoccupied and not focusing as much time on each other. This makes having date nights — which are really about carving out time to reconnect with our partners — all the more important, even if it’s just time spent at home.

Q: My partner and I are stressed and arguing more often. Do you have any tips for dealing with conflict during this time? 

A: My biggest tip for couples finding that they are arguing more often right now is to be kind to one another. It can also be helpful to take a step back and ask yourself what a neutral party would think about the conflict you are having and write it down in a shared diary. Doing this can help put things into perspective. Past research has shown that this type of exercise can be a satisfying way for couples to share their thoughts and build stronger relationships. 

Q: I have to live apart from my partner. Do you have tips for dealing with long distance relationships?

A: Just because we are physically distant from loved ones doesn’t mean we have to be emotionally distant from them. We are really fortunate that we live in a digital age that allows us to see, hear, and interact with other people. Taking part in online games or virtual activities can help maintain an emotional connection while also keeping things entertaining. 

Q: I’m in a new relationship, how do I prevent it from fizzling out now that we are apart?

A: For people who have just recently met someone or have just started dating someone, get creative. Fun online games that couples can play together or with friends can help keep these interactions fun and lighthearted. A closeness building exercise called 36 Questions for Increasing Closeness might actually be a great way to build deeper connections with people we just met and are interested in romantically, but it’s also a great exercise for strengthening friendship bonds too.

Q: Being in isolation, how can we continue to celebrate big events like anniversaries and birthdays? 

A: Regardless of whether people are celebrating a big event that includes a large virtual hangout or a smaller more intimate event like an anniversary, small changes to the home atmosphere can help make any celebration feel more special. Changing the layout of your home, putting up decorations, all those simple things can really make a difference, especially if we have been stuck in the same place for an extended period of time.

Q: I’m single. How do I avoid going stir crazy home alone?

A: People who are living alone or single might start to feel more isolated as time goes on. It’s really important for those people to reach out to their friends and family for a game or virtual hangout to maintain that social connection. Continuing with daily health and fitness routines can also help to keep people active and on a regular schedule.

Q: Do you have any final words of advice for couples coping with this crisis? 

A: We just need to be kind to ourselves and to each other and also realize that this isn’t going to be forever. This is one hiccup that we are all facing together and we need to hang in there and know there are going to be better days again where we can meet up with our family and our friends in real life. This is a momentary challenge and there will be better days at the end of this if we all play our part.

Yuthika Girme

Yuthika Girme, assistant professor, psychology, leads the Supporting Relationships and Wellbeing Lab at Simon Fraser University. Her primary research goals involve identifying ways that people can effectively provide support and generate closeness in their romantic relationships. Girme also conducts research on understanding both the challenges and benefits of singlehood, with the goal of identifying factors that maximize single individuals’ wellbeing.