Lockdown has taken away our daily structure and routine and put families together with no opportunity for separation, and no certainty as to when these circumstances will change. Fracture lines are inevitable but the chance to work through these problems – outside the home, with friends or other loved ones – has been taken away.
In this stand against coronavirus, couples can no longer use experiences outside the home to refresh and share what is going on inside the home. This cloistered living is bound to cause anxiety to rise within all family members as everyone copes with change, and the loss it brings. It’s hard to ‘keep steady’.
This compressed domestic existence can take its toll on intimate relationships. Couples will process these drastic changes to how they live their lives at different paces and in different ways. Negotiating differences and tolerating the ‘otherness’ of partners can prove challenging at the best of times; what does it mean if he thinks so differently about this or can she really know me if she expects me to feel like that?
Taking time out and cooling off after a disagreement is harder when meeting a friend or going to the gym are off limits. Worries about whether an already ailing relationship will be robust enough to endure such close proximity can add itself to an already long list of the stressors that are besieging many.
Social media has proved a blessing when sharing funny film clips and photos, keeping family in touch and sharing advice.
Perhaps a more serious antidote to tackling cabin fever is to avoid those who are inclined to heightened and alarming statements of concrete fact about coronavirus and to limit exposure to incendiary news coverage – especially late at night. None of this advice is really news to us and yet receiving it can be comforting.
General advice can be difficult to give as individual circumstances vary so much, however, at the moment we are all facing some common factors, so I would offer these three key tips:
- Check in with each other daily. Even if you’re separated, make sure you are both OK and talk about your plans for yourselves and, if you have them, the children each day.
- Alleviate your own anxieties. Perhaps by talking to a friend or going for a walk, so that you are strong and resilient enough to cope with everything else.
- Be extra tolerant of everyone around you and relax some boundaries. Bear in mind that people can be quite emotional and stress during this times. You have to give extra space and time to process things.
As a result of the pandemic, higher divorce rates are being reported in China, but the same research demonstrates very clearly that listening and affirmation can be a release, and that having the support of a professional has a positive impact. More people have sought professional couple therapy and psychological support in China in recent months and it has worked.
At Tavistock Relationships we have put all our counselling services online.
*** Image credit: Freepik
Formerly an executive producer in the factual department at the BBC, Kate Thompson is a couple psychoanalytic psychotherapist.
Sarah Ingram is Programme Manager for the Reducing Parental Conflict Programme at Tavistock Relationships.
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