As the lockdown continues with no end in sight, many couples are spending more time together than they ever have before. Others are spending as much time as possible apart. Neither situation is ideal for any relationship.
“Lockdown is a proving ground: it will make or break a relationship. If yours is toxic, this is when you’ll realise that,” warns intimacy coach Anne-Marie Clulow. The reason is that without the daily, normal distractions partners use to release their stress and concerns, those anxieties are significantly heightened – and they’re likely to take them out on each other. Bickering, resentments and arguments that quickly spiral out of control, about issues from the past that have nothing to do with the present, are common. So is adding 2 + 2 and getting 7: a minor argument about which TV channel to watch shouldn’t escalate into a full-on brawl, with you assuming that your partner doesn’t care about you. Keeping perspective is crucial.
Instead of throwing in the towel and giving up on their relationship, though, this can be a great opportunity for couples to work together to try and strengthen their bond.
Clulow points out that before addressing your partner’s way of dealing with lockdown stress and depression, it’s necessary to address your own.
“During these times, there’s a lot of tension between couples,” explains Tracy Jacobs, intimacy coach and relationship expert. Being forced to share the same space can create a lot of friction. The first thing a couple needs to do is take a deep breath and remember that they love each other, she says. The next step is finding activities to do together that promote intimacy and fun, like cooking.
Other options are gardening or exercising together, and giving each other massages that don’t necessarily lead to sex, but simply reassure each other of the love and tenderness between them. Setting up a “date night” (even if that’s in your bedroom or lounge, after the kids have gone to sleep) will also help you connect with your partner.
We’ve heard it many times before, but it remains true that the most essential ingredient of any successful relationship is honest and consistent communication – especially in a time of crisis or anxiety, like the present.
“Many of us in relationships that aren’t very honest,” says gynaecologist and obstetrician Dr Mpume Zenda. “We think honesty is about whether our partners lied about a phone call, but it’s much deeper than that. It’s about sharing the things we feel and believe in our deepest hearts, including what we don’t like in ourselves.
Zenda stresses the importance of not taking everything personally. “If you’re not sure what your partner thinks or feels about something, ask – in a non-confrontational, non-aggressive way,” she advises.
A good relationship is always worth working on. It might be more difficult these days, but the time and love you put into it now could make it considerably stronger and deeper once the present crisis is over.