WOW! Well lets just say it’s been a busy year. Last January, I don’t think we could have predicted how the following 12 months would be for us all, and taking time to reflect on our experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic is an important part of processing things. One of the main things that has been affected is, of course, our personal and intimate relationships. Couples are not usually expected to exist in isolation from others, so the impact of COVID and the subsequent lockdowns has had a tremendous shake up on the way that we experience our relationships and marriages. From my work with clients throughout the pandemic, here are the main 5 ways I have noticed relationships being affected.
- More arguments. Many couples are finding that the increased time together is having a significant impact on their ability to tolerate each other’s annoying habits, resulting in more arguments. The dishwasher left half emptied? The tea cups left around the house? The weird nosies they make when they chew? Normally in relationships we spend less time together in the house, and more time doing a variety of other things with other people. When we are with our partner, we can usually enjoy more quality time, and less of a focus on the mundane. However when stuck indoors, sometimes its the small, domestic things that take up our focus and resentments and annoyances can build up quickly.
- Gender roles feeling stuck. Especially for parents of school aged children, many parents have found they have reversed to traditional gender roles, with mums bearing the main responsibilities for home education and domestic chores. If this is something that has worked for your family circumstances, then great, but for many parents who are used to more equality between their working lives, then this can cause identity conflicts. If we believe that our work is as important as our male partner, but we see our partner not having to bear the additional domestic burdens during the pandemic, this can cause a psychological phenomenon known as “cognitive dissonance” where our behaviour is out of sync with our values. Cognitive dissonance is a very uncomfortable place to find ourselves, and can leave individuals feeling lost and confused.
- Financial insecurity. Many people have found their jobs disappearing as a result of Covid-19. Although the furlough scheme has been able to offer financial support to some people, many have found themselves being made redundant unexpectedly. If part of your identity and purpose is caught up with your role at work, and your ability to make a financial contribution to your home life, then being out of work can feel terrifying. Although logically it might seem a positive thing that one partner still is in work, emotionally this can be challenging for the partner looking for work, who may now need to rely on their partners income, possibly triggering off feelings of insecurity and not being good enough.
- Sex life levelling off. Esther Perel, the great relationship therapist, talks about how to have desire and attraction in a relationship, we need distance, we need air, we need space between us. If we are with each other all the time, slumping on the sofa, working through the box sets, then it’s hard to transition from housemates into sexual beings. Instead, we need to find ways to start scaffolding towards being able to be sexual, by increasing what’s known as our ‘sexual currency’ – ways of relating together in a flirty, sexy way, that break us out of our day to day style.
- Better communication, increased gratitude and better knowledge of each other? It’s not all bad news! Many couples have found that their relationship satisfaction has actually increased as a result of COVID-19. Without early starts due to commuting, some couples are getting more sleep, and enjoying feeling more rested and less stressed by being at home together. Others feel that in the context of a deadly virus, they feel very grateful for each other, and care more deeply about the other’s wellbeing. Some couples have found that spending more time together has allowed them to talk more openly to each other, and has increased the quality of their communication.
Of course, there are so many more ways that Covid has affected our lives, and infinitely more that I could write about here. However I feel it’s important to normalise some of the impact that it has had on our relationships, and that while things might feel trickier right now, hopefully these external challenges are not here to stay forever. If we can find ways to lean into each other, and to say to each other “I am here for you, by your side, throughout this”, then we may be able to find ways to navigate some of the impact that this terrible virus has the potential to have on our lives.