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Image / Self / Real-life Stories

How the pandemic affected relationships, according to therapists


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How has coronavirus anxiety affected our relationships post lockdown? Amanda Cassidy speaks to couples and counsellors to find out


The demise of a relationship is never a straight line. But there can be pinch-points that often tip the balance — especially during particularly stressful times.

One thing is for sure, never has there been a better time for self-reflection than after months locked up together. And the fallout from this reassessment is only now beginning to emerge.

“The change in environment was actually detrimental”.

US singer and X-Factor sensation, Kelly Clarkson announced her decision to end her marriage with Brandon Blackstock recently, blaming lockdown as the final straw.

A friend claimed that they had been having problems for several months and were trying to work things out. “They both hoped quarantining away from LA (in Montana) would help them work things out but instead the change in environment was actually detrimental.”

The source went on to say that “the constant time together seemed to make an already challenging situation worse”.

Stress

“Ultimately, if there were cracks beforehand they have been exaggerated by the lockdown”

Relationship therapist David Kavanagh agrees that the anxiety over lockdown could see the marriage knot unravel. “I have clients in long-term relationships who now have to deal with very unromantic things like job insecurity, rental shortages, lack of finances and that can put pressure on any relationship.

Being around each other 24/7 is also quite unnatural in modern life. Things irritate and frustrate us and there is no outlet for this stress, no escape or distraction… so I’d worry that addictions could begin to escalate.”

Kavanagh, a counsellor at Marriagetherapy.ie says that even if divorce is on the cards, people may not even afford to break up.

“The danger is that as the economy suffers after coronavirus, couples can end up emotionally separate but physically stuck in the same house because they can’t afford to set up a second home.

Ultimately, if there were cracks beforehand they have been exaggerated by the lockdown.”

Many of the therapists who spoke to us said that things for new couples were a lot less complicated.

“Those who are just recently together or are at the early stage in their relationship reported to being a lot more sexually active due to the nervousness, excitement, and change in environment as we were told to lockdown,” explains Kavanagh.

“I’m married to a ‘let’s take this offline’ and ‘I’ll circle back’ guy… who knew?”

 

Pulling together

Leah, a solicitor, and her engineer husband have three small children and both now have to work from home. But Leah believes the lockdown has actually brought them closer. “Lockdown has been 99% more positive than negative. A definite opportunity to slow down and enjoy each other more together with the kids.

“At first, it was mad to see him in ‘work mode’. I’m married to a ‘let’s take this offline’ and ‘I’ll circle back’ guy … who knew!

We are definitely closer after going through such a challenge, even though we have never seen so much of each other.

The fact that we had an au-pair to facilitate our working lives to proceed as normal was probably key. And we hadn’t had daytime sex since the dating days so there is that silver lining.”

“We rock in a crisis”

Yoga instructor Alicia Harmon and her partner of almost 10 years are no stranger to outside stresses. They had to flee their home in Ecuador after earthquakes devasted their neighbourhood. Alicia also found that the positives outweighed the negatives when it came to surviving lockdown together.

“My partner and I fight like most couples and we pretty much perfected the art of petty war during those first few years of learning to trust one another. However, when an outside threat to our family arises we seem to be at our best, banded together to fight a common enemy.

“When coronavirus struck, my partner and I gathered our forces and made the decision to lay low in our home in Dublin. We felt the threat was real and my partner made the hard choice to inform his boss that he would not work the following week.”

The national lockdown was announced two days later.

“Now it has been just the three of us (Alicia is also mother to an 8-year-old-son) for three months and we have been fabulous, at the top of our game, bonded together like superglue, we rock in a crisis.”

Of course, things that would normally niggle like the way the dishwasher is stacked or wet towels on the bed (are you reading this, husband?) pale in comparison to the threat of a killer virus. But that shift in perspective has allowed us all to reevaluate our relationships.

“I found this time quite freeing, allowing me to pinpoint what I want and what I don’t want”

Reflection

The time spent in close quarters allowed 26-year-old fund accountant Ciara to see the wood from the trees when it came to her year-long relationship.

“Life is so busy so I’d been ignoring my gut feeling. This lockdown really magnified all those things that had been giving me reservations. I’ve had so much time to analyse where my life is headed and I’m now pretty sure it isn’t with this person.

“I’m just trying to see what is around the next corner so I can be honest with them about what happens next. It is scary, but I also found this time quite freeing, allowing me to pinpoint what I want and what I don’t want.”

“People described this time as cocooning. That suggests a metamorphosis of sorts,” points out life coach Amy Kelly. “So many of us have given our hope and dreams a much-needed overhaul and the results are beginning to emerge. This time spent confined to our homes has definitely been an eye-opener.

Intimacy levels have risen overall as people discover more time for one another.

“I am starting to see with my clients that there is a braveness that wasn’t there before too — a ‘life-is-too-short’ mentality and that is extending to relationships as well as careers.”

Anna Nauka holds a Master’s Degree in Psychology from the University of Wroclaw and currently works with couples online at MyMind.org. She says overall she is pleasantly surprised at the resilience many of her clients have shown.

“In the beginning, I was worried about those who were finding managing family life and work a struggle. But over the last few weeks, I’ve seen my clients finding a way to cope with this new situation.

It has helped now that restrictions have eased in that they have access to wider family and more help but I don’t think we can underestimate how people instinctively find a way to handle stress like this.

Libido can also be impacted by so many different factors and the low energy some of us felt at the beginning of the restrictions had an impact but intimacy levels have risen overall as people discover more time for one another.”

Mid-life crisis

Taking an extended pause from ‘normal’ life can throw up all sorts of questions. Existential crises tend to do that to humans. My own sister described lockdown as a global ‘midlife crisis’ — where taking stock outside of the hum-drum of daily life is all part of the process.

We talk a lot at the moment about things we will keep and discard from our lockdown days. Things have changed a lot.

People have changed too. Perhaps the silver lining from this dark cloud is picking and choosing to hold close the positives (like daytime sex and banana bread skills) and to reject the things that were making us unhappy (like 2-hour commutes and narcissistic partners).

Read more: This is the secret to a happy marriage (according to relationship therapists)

Read more: Couples together 10, 20, 30 and 40 years talk about what keeps them together

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