The current global pandemic has forced us into a life we’ve not experienced before – lockdown. For those in co-habiting relationships, this has meant working and living with your partner or spouse 24/7, with or without children.
Any relationship cracks you may have been experiencing but have avoided addressing prior to the lockdown will end up becoming craters you can no longer ignore. Issues that you have accumulated over the years like a catalogue of relationship misdemeanours, pop up as a reminder of irritating imperfections. Women are particularly good at remembering every detail with astonishing accuracy (real or perceived) leaving men open mouthed struggling to remember if they were even in the same room at the time.
Tension and stress escalates, communication breaks down, resentment builds, anger increases and power battles take over surfacing all the unresolved issues of the past. Treading on eggshells pretending all is well was a far better option then shaking up the hornets’ nest… until now.
Relationship Cracks Before Lockdown
Before the pandemic you may have juggled work commitments, home and social life, the gym and children. Your life revolved around schedules – work demands and deadlines, dropping off and picking up the children from school plus the extra curricula activities, preparing meals, taking care of household chores, helping the kids with homework, bath time and reading until you could finally tuck them up in bed and return to your computer to check work emails or finish off a report.
For couples without children, work or career tends to take over. Maybe you worked longer hours, travelled more for your job or holidays, found separate interests, focussed on home improvements and may have socialised more freely.
Whether you have children or not, by the time you got to bed you were exhausted. Pinterest, Instagram or YouTube were an appealing distraction before you turned lights out and attempted an uninterrupted night’s sleep.
Communication with your partner or spouse was kept to daily logistics, passing comments or constant reminders, often known as nagging. Issues were never dealt with for fear of triggering an argument. Social nights out where your focus was more on the friends rather than the person you share your house with, maintained the pretence that all was well. Sex and intimacy were not on your radar and it most likely had been off the menu for several months. Occasionally guilt kicked in and you felt obliged to concede to a night of quick passion in the hope it would keep your partner or spouse satisfied for the next few weeks or even months.
Many couples have sex 3-4 times a year, usually when they’re on holiday
I encounter this scenario frequently in my clinic practice – couples that avoid dealing with issues as they surface and bury their heads in their external world to escape the unhappiness they feel within. They create a smoke screen of perfection, such as material possessions, work or social life whilst behind the scenes the tower block crumbles.
Relationship Craters During Lockdown
Being at home and not having to travel to work or take the children to school and clubs, not being able to go out to bars, restaurants and the gym has its benefits – it slows down the pace of life. Although the previous schedules have gone, they have been replaced by new ones – juggling working from home and supporting your children (if you have them) with schoolwork, finding time to exercise without a child hanging from your hip or your dog trying to hump your leg whilst you’re in ‘downward dog’ yoga pose, or your spouse reminding you that you’ve only had sex once since lockdown. In addition there’s the increased mess, extra washing that somehow has sprung up even though there are the same number of people in your household, plus you’re having to prepare three meals a day – only one more than before but it adds to the stress, the mess and more washing up.
Before the pandemic you were able to escape from your partner or spouse by going to work or the gym or out with friends. It was easier to hide behind the smoke screens you skilfully created. Now, you’re in close proximity with limited or no personal space. Communication that was previously tense, breaks down and arguments escalate. Issues that had previously been avoided and not dealt with surface with such ferocity that you hardly recognise the person you once loved.
The need to be right and acknowledged as the hard-done-by-party become power battles both of you are determined to win. Instead of addressing the conflict as two adults your dynamic changes to parent-child or two tantrum children. Early childhood issues influence many of these battles.
For example – I had a big argument with my husband some years ago about a pen! He borrowed the pen I was using and then misplaced it. I went into a frenzy searching for the pen and getting very angry with him for taking ‘my pen’ without permission – I was in ‘tantrum child’. It was an ordinary ballpoint pen that cost less than a pound; there was nothing special about it and no sentimental value either.
My reaction was triggered by an early childhood wound – my stepmother confiscated all my nice birthday presents and Christmas gifts, saying that I would break them. Months later, she gave them to my much younger half-siblings who trashed them.
Once I found the pen and balance was restored, I realised what had happened and could see how my past was driving my adult behaviour. Fortunately I was able to discuss it with my husband from an adult perspective… we’re still married.
Press Pause & Reflect
- What is the predominant cause of your arguments?
- Are you overwhelmed by life or demands on your time?
- What would you want instead?
Finding the source of your rows will help you to explore different ways of addressing the problem. Use post-it notes to write down the different trigger points – eg. going for a cycle ride in the middle of kids bath time, or being glued to social media or TV at the dinner table, etc.
Discuss what help you need instead of expecting your partner or spouse to be a mind reader or wait to be asked. If you take on the role of parent and keep dishing out orders, pretty soon you’ll be not only exhausted but also fed-up with the dynamic. Here are some suggestions:
Chores Chart – if you’re arguing about the jobs around the house that don’t get done or you’re constantly managing the workload, create a Chores Chart and make sure that everyone takes responsibility for their share.
Catch-up Chat – make time everyday to talk with your partner or spouse about how you’re feeling, how your day has been or any niggles you’d like to address, remembering to stay in adult and not go into ‘critical parent’ or ‘tantrum child’. Keep it short, 20-30 minutes maximum, taking turns, and then agree to talk about something else.
Date Nights – make time to have a date night once a week, taking turns to organise it. Use your creativity within the constraints of the lockdown, for example – go for a walk, take a picnic or a bottle of wine and find somewhere to sit and chat. Taking turns to organise something simple but fun means it doesn’t fall on one person to be the entertainments manager.
Positive Points – write down what you like about your partner or spouse, even if you have to go back to when you first met. Remind yourself what it was that attracted you to each other.
Social Media Detox – cut back on how long you spend on social media; make it a rule to turn off your phones whilst you eat, when you’re having your catch-up chats and certainly not in the bedroom.
Personal Space – agree on when and how long you’ll take some personal space, whether it’s going for a walk, run or cycle ride on your own, or reading time.
I like using metaphors and this is one I use with every couple I work with – relationships are like a garden, they need constant maintenance; if left unattended they soon become overgrown and quickly turn to wilderness.
Slow down, press pause, think before you lash-out (verbally) and find a way of expressing your feelings without decapitating your partner or spouse. Take a step at a time and notice the changes.
If you relate to what you’ve read and would like help, contact Carla Devereux on 0121 745 9044 to book an appointment.