If the global pandemic has impacted your love life, you’re not alone. Four relationship experts discuss the biggest issues facing UK couples right now
Choosing a partner and staying together through life's ups and downs is rarely simple. When you throw a global pandemic into the equation, your love life can get even trickier.
With lockdown being mandatory in countries across the world, many couples are facing a situation together that is unprecedented in our lifetimes. Couples who live together are now faced with spending all of their time together, whilst couples who live separately are spending weeks, if not months, apart.
Although our relationships and living situations might be very different, we are all facing some similar issues in our love lives right now. Whether you’re in a long-term commitment or the early stages of your relationship, regardless of whether you’re living together or apart, there’ll be many other couples facing similar worries to you.
Perhaps you’re concerned about the health and wellbeing of your respective friends and families, or are dealing with the challenges of homeschooling or working from home. Maybe you have job security or financial worries, or are facing the reality of having your wedding postponed. The long and short of it is that each relationship has its own special concoction of challenges right now.
We explore some of the common problems affecting couples during lockdown and hear from relationship experts on some tips to tackle these issues.
No matter how much we love our significant other or like the idea of spending as much time with them as possible, spending 24/7 together isn’t healthy. We all need personal space - physical and emotional. But, if you’ve found yourself spending more time together with your partner than you ever have before, you might also find yourself getting under each other’s feet, and it can easily lead to arguments.
If your disagreements start from small misunderstandings and escalate to big rows which get heated and out of control, you’re not alone. Psychotherapist Marta Szapiel says partners often tell each other hurtful things during arguments - things which they don’t really mean and later regret saying.
“During disagreements, it usually feels impossible for two different opinions to exist together and partners confront each other claiming that they are 'right' and the other is 'wrong'. In those moments, their exchanges turn into a war-like experience and the only thing that is on their mind is 'winning'. However, as a result of the row they both feel defeated, misunderstood, hurt and unhappy,” says Marta.
How should I address disagreements with my partner?
The key is to do it sensitively and respectfully. Where possible, try to take a step back from an argument before it gets too heated. Create some physical space between the two of you, to help provide mental clarity.
When opening up the conversation, avoid using blaming or accusatory language if you can. Instead, focus on communicating your thoughts and feelings, rather than on what your partner has done wrong.
Relationship counsellor Laurele Mitchell suggests, “Own what you say with ‘I feel’ rather than ‘you are’ statements. You’re less likely to make someone defensive, and more likely to hear the other person’s point of view.”
What’s the best way to resolve arguments in a long distance relationship?
If you’re living apart, distance presents additional communication barriers, which can intensify disagreements.
Where possible, try to address any disagreements quickly as they arise and, if you can, over video chat or, at the very least, over the phone. Don’t underestimate the importance of nonverbal communication and other factors, like facial expressions and tone of voice. It’s extremely hard, if not impossible, to gain these things over text messages.
Physical touch and sexual desire
Human contact and physical touch are fundamental needs and avoiding them for an extended period of time can have a big impact on our happiness and wellbeing. Particularly if you’re living apart and aren’t able to benefit from physical touch, it might feel more difficult to keep the ‘spark’ alive in the relationship right now. But, there are lots of ways to maintain (or even increase) your desire for one another, it might just require a little effort.
Be more mindful to show affection to one another - that could be an ‘I love you’, ‘I’m thinking about you’, or ‘I can’t wait to see you’, in the morning or at any point throughout the day. Making time for a date night, even when you can’t be in the same room as one another, can also be a lovely way to show your commitment.
There are so many ideas for virtual date nights out there. You could cook dinner at the same time and sit down to eat together, or pick a movie you want to watch and press play at the same time - this can be made even easier with the Netflix Party plug-in. Or, if you both feel like it, you could have an evening of pillow talk. Just set your phone or computer on the pillow next to you, and get... comfortable?
Depending on where you live in the UK, you may even be allowed to meet up with your significant other outside. Just try to resist the temptation to break social distancing rules.
How can we increase our ‘spark’ whilst living together?
It’s true, living with your partner isn’t a precursor for having great sexual desire. There has been speculation of increased sexual activity between partners who are self-isolating together, but if this isn’t the case for you and your significant other, you’re not alone.
“As a sex and relationship therapist and researcher, I often speak to couples about issues around sexual desire,” says Laura Vowels. “It’s a common misconception that passion and lust should occur naturally in a relationship.”
Laura says that biologically speaking, we only feel the passion and excitement towards the same person for the first two to four years of a relationship, after which the newness and excitement wear off, and couples need to find other ways to connect and build a satisfying sex life.
“This can be achieved in many ways. For example, through increased emotional intimacy; more open sexual communication; doing exciting, self-expanding activities together that allows partners to see each other in a new light; or trying new things sexually. Regardless of the method, the point is that desire is something that all couples need to work on at some point in their relationship.”
If there’s one thing we can learn from this experience it’s that being close to someone is not always a matter of spatial proximity. It’s more about the effort we make to feel close to them; to be more present, caring and authentic in our relationships.
Try to use this time to get honest with each other. Find out what you each want from the relationship, or what you want from life in general - and how you may be able to support one another to get there.
Emotional intimacy is about truly knowing and understanding your partner. It requires vulnerability and self-disclosure, a feeling of being known and accepted, supported, and loved; being truly connected and feeling safe and protected.
How can I feel close to my partner if we can’t touch or get physical?
Intimacy is about so much more than sexual connection but, especially if you can’t be physically close to your partner and benefit from the close contact from a hug or kiss, focusing on your emotional connection is important.
Try to start conversations that you wouldn’t normally have in everyday life - talk about your happiest moments, darkest moments, hopes, and fears. This is a great opportunity to get really honest and learn more about ourselves, as well as each other.
This can be a great technique no matter how long you’ve been together. But, for those who are dating or at the beginning of their relationship, this is a good chance to build a connection in a slow but steady way.
Should we seek help for our relationship?
When a romantic relationship begins to falter, our health and happiness can also suffer. For many of us, our first instinct is to try and work through the problems alone, but it can be incredibly helpful to seek outside support, whether that be through friends and family, or even a professional.
Laura says, “I often get asked by potential clients whether couples therapy is right for them. Some feel they’re too young, they haven’t been together long enough, their issues are not severe enough or they feel that seeking therapy means they’ve somehow failed in the relationship.
“I always reassure people that there is no right or wrong time to seek therapy.”
“I’ve worked as a couples therapist for several years and have seen many different kinds of couples. The youngest couple I’ve seen was in their teens and oldest in their late 60s. I’ve seen couples after they’ve been together for only a few months whilst others have been together for decades.
“Some couples come to therapy more as a preventative measure, to work on things that they feel might become issues over time, whereas other couples come to therapy as a last resort, before filing for a divorce. Generally speaking, the earlier couples go, the easier it is to work through issues as they’ve not yet become quite so ingrained - and you can still remember the good times in the relationship.”
Just because you might not be able to meet with a counsellor face-to-face right now, you can still benefit from therapy, remotely. Counselling Directory has over 6,000 online therapists who can help you overcome relationship issues, whether you’re living together or apart.
What if we decide we don’t want to be together?
Of course, there is never a convenient time to decide to end a relationship but now seems like an even trickier time to be starting that conversation. If you’re living together and you’re in a position to do so, you could try to press pause on things for now. This can be especially helpful if you haven’t yet raised this conversation before, as it can prevent any awkwardness if you need to continue living together during the pandemic.
But, if you feel you need to start the conversation, Rachel Blackmore, who specialises in relationship issues, says, “If there is a conversation to be had and it can’t be ignored, it needs to be a conversation where you’re working towards something together. So, acknowledge the fact that you aren’t getting along and try to come up with a plan to minimise the potential stress and damage that this is doing to you both.
“If you know that your relationship is bad, you will both know that - there’s no hiding it in this kind of situation. It would be about having to have an honest conversation and say ‘Look, this is where we are, how can we make it as bearable as possible for ourselves.”
If you’re considering couples counselling, it’s great to recognise that you’re looking for new ways to strengthen and support your relationship.
Still have questions about couples therapy? Here are some resources to help:
To find out more about how couples counselling could help you and find experienced, qualified relationship therapists online or near you, visit Counselling Directory.