Lockdown has made many of us reassess our priorities and revise our plans for the future. But what happens if your new outlook on life is different from your partner’s?
This unprecedented period of spending 24/7 together — or conducting a relationship through a screen — could mean make or break for many couples, relationship therapists say.
“There will be more weddings as well as more divorces when the world around us slowly gets back to normal,” said couples therapist Lucy Fuller.
Some couples may be enjoying increased intimacy, said Fuller, finding themselves in a “lockdown love bubble”.
“If people have decided to be in lockdown together when they usually live separately, this may well have accelerated the relationship and many couples will be moving permanently in together with confidence, without the more normal period of weighing the advantages and disadvantages,” she said.
And if you and your partner realize you have very similar outlooks during lockdown and feel like a united team who can support one another through hard times, it could be the making of the relationship.
However, the experience may be the opposite for others. A recent poll from UK relationship counseling site Relate found that 23% of UK adults in relationships are experiencing relationship pressures during lockdown. Relate counselor Dee Holmes said the pandemic has given many people the time to re-evaluate life — including their relationships.
“Some have realized they want a simpler life and appreciate the smaller things more,” she said. “Some partners may be reassessing things and find their partners reassess life differently.”
Little issues present in the relationship pre-lockdown have likely been magnified due to the intensity of the situation. “There has been no escape and no friends and family to dilute the intensity of the relationship, so inevitably the less favorable aspects of your partner will shine through,” Fuller said.
The lockdown rules themselves may have caused arguments among couples — or highlighted differences you didn’t know existed. Fuller spoke to one pair who have decided to go their separate ways once lockdown is over due to their different views on social distancing. One person in the relationship was happy to wear a mask and go to out in public while the other was anxious about catching the virus and leaving the house.
“Digging deeper, there is a partnership here of a confident person who wants to go out, explore and experience the strangeness of lockdown, with a cautious partner who wants to hide away from the dangerous world outside,” she said. “Reflecting on this at a deeper level, it’s inevitable to have thoughts about whether this really is the long-term partner for you.”
Relationship therapists see a peak in calls after the winter holidays when families have been cooped up together, Holmes said, and she’s expecting to see the same peak as lockdown lifts.
But, she added, if you’re considering splitting up or even starting divorce proceedings, “hold fire” and let the dust settle post-lockdown, if you can.
“There’s a lot of external pressures on couples such as money worries, concerns about job security and fear around catching the virus,” she said. “Then, of course, there’s having to stay at home with your partner for longer periods than usual. If you have a relationship where you like your separate time, this may come as a shock, but when lockdown lifts and you spend more time apart again, you may find the relationship works better.”
If you’re having a lot of arguments, Holmes recommends calling a “lockdown truce” to ease some of the tensions. Relationship therapy is still available via online sessions, she added, and you might want to consider seeking support before the relationship reaches a crisis point.
Wherever you sit on the scale — make, break, or somewhere in between — it can feel empowering to recognize that lockdown has provided a new perspective on your relationship. That can only be a good thing.
“There’s almost always something to learn about your relationship from being in lockdown,” Fuller said. “It’s not necessarily positive or negative, but just a bit more about how you both work and what each of you need and give within the relationship.”
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