Relationships are hard work, even during the best circumstances. However, this lockdown is proving to be the ultimate test for couples.
Whether these couples are living together, married, or living apart – the pandemic has wreaked havoc on even the most stable relationships.
Uncertainty in almost every aspect of life is causing tensions to boil over, and our partners are getting caught in the crossfire. Due to this, couples have been facing multiple issues such as separation from each other, physical distance, emotional distance, anxiety, fear, lack of trust, and increased fighting.
It has been repeatedly found that we fight with people we are closest to as we deem them ‘safe targets.’ While this phenomenon makes sense, it also leads to constant friction and unhappiness.
We talk to Swati Jawla about the various challenges couples are facing during this Covid-19 lockdown, and how they can work to keep the relationship healthy and the spark alive.
Swati is a Counseling Psychologist and a Trained CBT Practitioner with over five years of experience. Providing relationship counseling as well as individual therapy, Swati aims to make a positive difference in people’s lives with her empathetic and person-centered approach.
Q: The Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing measures have forced a lot of couples to stay apart. What are the most common issues that have cropped up due to this distance between loved ones during such a stressful time?
A: Indeed, the Covid-19 pandemic and social distancing measures have forced a lot of unmarried couples to stay apart.
These couples have reported a lot of issues, such as:
- Fear of losing each other
- Trust issues
- Interpersonal conflicts
- and so on
Again, it depends on an individual’s perspective as I would not say that all unmarried couples are facing these issues, but the majority of them certainly are.
Nowadays, you have no option but to stay inside your house with your family members. People cannot do whatever they want and whenever they want. A lot of couples say that it’s getting very difficult for them to speak to each other in the presence of family members. When the male partner is free, the female partner is occupied with work, and vice versa.
Couples can’t step out whenever they want and meet. This forced distance between couples has built up a lot of frustration in them as they are surrounded by their family members 24×7, and not everyone’s family has a modern mindset and respect for privacy.
Couples who are in serious relationships and were planning to move ahead in their relationships have developed a fear of losing each other. As we all know, this situation has become increasingly uncertain, and nobody knows what will happen tomorrow. The couples were used to meeting each other often and spending time together, now that time has been divided among multiple tasks.
Whenever I call my girlfriend, her number is busy, and she says that she’s busy with online classes. It’s getting difficult to trust her.Client X
My girlfriend rarely picks up my call; I think she is seeing somebody else.Client Y
All these situations have created a sense of mistrust in couples, which poses a significant danger of hampering the relationships. Couples are getting into unnecessary fights where they know that the matter is tiny, but since they are super frustrated with the current situation, they pick fights with each other.
Q: The lockdown has also led to an increase in people reaching out to their exes and romanticizing the past. What are the emotional and psychological ramifications of this?
A: Reaching out to exes and romanticizing the past could happen due to multiple reasons. The partner could be in a problematic relationship where they might be comparing past and present relationships. There are high chances that the partner may develop boredom due to the lockdown situation and want the old spark back.
Here, the couples need to understand one thing: the situation with their exes was different from the present, and under no circumstances, is it appropriate to compare the present relationship with the past.
This act has a huge tendency of leading to infidelity, which can shatter even the strongest relationships, leaving behind feelings of guilt, betrayal, and anger.
People need to understand whenever a person gets cheated on, they do not doubt the other person, but themselves. Once a person gets betrayed by someone, it gets very difficult for that person to love, trust, and empathize with themselves. It creates a fear of trusting others, being abandoned, being played, and so on. These fears and emotions tend to push an individual towards isolation.
Q: Couples in live-in relationships and newly married couples are not only dealing with a global pandemic but also a massive change in their living situation. In your experience, how have they been dealing with so many changes in a short amount of time?
Couples who can maintain good communication and be supportive and responsive to each other throughout the Covid-19 crisis will likely remain together and possibly feel more connected for having weathered the storm. However, couples who have difficulty communicating and effectively supporting each other may feel less happy with their relationship and be more likely to separate.
Additionally, poor and lower-income couples are apt to be at higher risk for marital distress and dissolution as that they are more likely to experience greater losses and hardships.
Everyone’s way of coping with distress is different, and it is very subjective. Some couples have been making the best use of this time by fixing the cracks and understanding their dynamics in a better way. On the other hand, there may be couples who have been feeling trapped.
Maintaining social connections with friends and family through phone calls and video chats may:
- Reduce feelings of isolation
- Offer additional sources of support and reassurance, and
- Allow partners to provide support to their friends and family as well.
Although people have speculated that the current pandemic will increase the divorce rate, this prediction is not straightforward.
Q: Has the lockdown led to a rise in fights and disagreements, or is there a breakdown in communication to keep the peace?
A: This feeling is very real and true.
For the first time in 15 years, I raised my hand on my wife. I feel our relationship is falling apart.Client X
Honestly speaking, there is always scope for disagreements and arguments in a healthy relationship. And fighting is, even for successful couples, an inevitable part of living together.
Conflicts are always not necessarily a sign of an unhealthy or problematic relationship, and while marriages that were already experiencing bad phases may be cracking under the strain, fighting during the lockdown is not necessarily about deep structural problems. It can also be about the unceasing togetherness and the unbearable nature of that condition.
Many couples fight not because they lack intimacy, but because they possess it.
Q: Multiple studies have found that reports of abuse have shot up since the lockdown began. How can a victim-survivor defend themselves and access help during a lockdown?
A: Indeed, anyone can be a victim of domestic abuse. It does not matter what the victim’s gender, age, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexuality, or background is.
People who are experiencing domestic abuse have been trapped inside the house with their abusers, and away from family and friends who could help them.
She stated this sentence in a very low voice so that her husband and mother-in-law could not hear her. She said both of them taunt and harass her.
She was in so much pain that she could not bear it and sought help.
It is very important for anyone who is experiencing domestic abuse or sees the possibility of experiencing it, to be in contact with their family and friends so they can keep checking on them.
There are a number of genuine helplines out there for victim-survivors. Always inform your neighbors about your home environment, and provide them the liberty to step in if they suspect abuse.
Q: Can you talk to us about some of the changes in couples’ sex habits? Has their sexual activity increased, decreased, or stayed the same? If it has decreased, how can couples bring back the spark while a pandemic rages on the outside?
A: If we talk about couples who are not married and not staying together, then this question seems incomplete. Before answering for unmarried couples and couples who do not stay together, we need to understand a lot more about their sex life. So here, let us talk about couples who stay together or married couples.
In an NBC News poll of over 9,000 people, only 24% said the Covid-19 outbreak had positively affected their sex lives (28% were neutral and 47% said it had affected them negatively).
People have mentioned, on different social media platforms, that general panic and despair have caused a sudden decrement of their libido.
Couples have been preferring cuddles with snacks rather than sex.
Since everything is now digital, and we have no other option but to sit at home and work, we have also joined hands with a lot of negative emotions such as anxiety, fear of losing employment, etc. All these negative emotions have taken a toll on couples’ relationships.
Let’s talk about what couples could do to bring back the spark in their relationship as both the partners experience the same routine every day. From waking up in the morning to hitting the bed at night, it’s all very monotonous.
Couples should try new things in the bedroom where they both feel excited about something. They could try a few roleplays, acting on a sexual fantasy they have never explored before, changing the location, and so on. Trying new things in the bedroom tends to alleviate boredom.
Couples could try setting up a date at home where they can divide tasks between them and try to surprise each other with something exciting. They might have not experienced a home-date before so they could make it as exciting as their first date.
Do not forget to pamper and compliment your partner. Doing something different from your everyday routine makes a lot of difference.