What to do if the pandemic has taken a toll on your relationship

While some relationships have thrived during the pandemic, others have struggled.

With a significant changes to the dynamic (be it moving in together or being apart) and external worries regarding jobs and finances, it’s no wonder that some couples have seen their relationships sour.

Research from Priory shows that over a quarter of adults have questioned their relationship with their partner ‘considerably’ or ‘somewhat’, after noticing things have deteriorated over the past year.

When just looking at those up to the age of 34, this rises to 70%.

Other factors affecting this include: concerns about the future, home working and health concerns of children and elderly parents.

At the same time, the mental health clinic noticed a significant rise in enquiries about depression during the first quarter of the year, which will have also taken a toll on some relationships.

Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Natasha Bijlani says many couples found working in close proximity very difficult.

Without the physical buffer of an office, enforced intimacy could have served as a catalyst for breaking up.

‘Relationships require mutual compromise and adjustment, and the pandemic affected even the strongest of couples,’ Dr Bijlani says.

‘Previous routines that couples had may have masked pre-existing problems and differences.

‘The lack of space or distance between each other to “cool off” under lockdown is likely to have exacerbated disharmony and it is not always possible for couples to address their miscommunication issues.

‘We all tend to get into repetitive patterns of behaviour, particularly with loved ones.’

If a lack of space has made overcoming issues harder, couples may find the easing of lockdown rules helps to take the intensity out of situations.

The difficulty is in recognising issues and working to better understand each other’s perspective, which Dr Bijlani says is achieved through communication.

The impact of living through a pandemic and the changes its forced on our lifestyles has meant that more room has been created for tensions to arise in an emotional, rather than calm way.

This style of arguing often leaves people worried that damage caused is irreversible, she adds.

If a couple seeks therapy, Dr Biljani recommends trying CBT.

‘If a couple have been arguing more, the application of CBT techniques could help them learn to argue more effectively, enabling each person to express their point of view in an appropriately assertive manner, without their partner feeling unheard, dismissed or dominated.’

Sometimes a relationship isn’t salvageable and lockdown sped up the inevitable, but it’s clear that the romanticised lockdown bond hasn’t been true for everyone.

Things you can do to help your relationship, according to Dr Bijlani

  • Try to find common ground with your partner, if you think a relationship can be salvaged. Find activities or experiences you both enjoy and can share again.
  • Focus on what you have, and less on what is missing, if you can. You can validate your emotions and feel hurt while avoiding framing your partner as the ‘baddie’.
  • Be tolerant and provide a listening ear.
  • Balance solo time and together time. Allow your partner the freedom  to do things on their own. But small things can also mean a lot – a coffee and a walk can enable you to reconnect in quite a powerful way.
  • Rebuild your networks, and take this as an opportunity to build up the parts of yourself that you may have neglected. Then involve your partner.
  • Rewrite your narrative. Instead of pining for what you might think of as a perfect relationship, remember that experience or place you both loved, or when you first both embraced a new type of food or discovered music you liked or a film you enjoyed.
  • Check in with yourself and consider: ‘Am I sad with them, or is it really about something else – job frustration, financial pressures and family pressures, health anxiety?’
  • Sit down together and talk about the recurring irritations. You need to be on the same page. Consider the flashpoints in your relationship. If they are about money or chores, how can you address them so they don’t resurface endlessly?
  • If you do separate, don’t try to ignore thoughts about your partner completely. They were a big part of your life and losing a partner can mean losing your go-to person. When we try and ignore our thoughts and feelings, they actually intensify and become more distressing. For example, if you see a meme that they would love, think of five other people in your life who have your sense of humour and send it through to them rather than focusing on not having your ex.

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