One of the things that has happened in the last few weeks are significant changes to our language. Words like ‘pandemic’ and ‘lockdown’ could be used fairly dispassionately at the beginning of 2020. Today that has significantly changed as those words are now highly charged with emotion for all of us. Rather as with World War Two when, as we have been reminded time and again in the past week, everybody’s life of every age group and background was changed by living through that experience, so now, no one from the youngest to the oldest has been unaffected. In the decades to come people will be asked ‘What did COVID-19 mean for you in 2020’.
As Dawn’s blog last week reminded us one result has tragically been a marked increase in domestic violence. And Shirlee’s previous blog towards the start of lockdown focused on methods we can use to reduce our own stress levels. The latter also pointed out that lockdown can help to develop and deepen a relationship but equally this time can damage and destroy it further.
One thing I am noticing in the therapy sessions at the moment and more generally is that currently the levels of fear are not diminishing. Corona-phobia, or whatever you might wish to call it, is a reality that is becoming increasingly prevalent in the counselling room. Even if, after the Prime Minister’s announcement last Sunday, the lockdown is beginning to be eased it is quite a different question as to whether people will want to take advantage of the reduction in those restrictions.
Will we be happy to travel on public transport, even with a facemask? Or send our children to school? Or go out to a cinema or restaurant? And what will these differing views mean for our relationships? After all it is one thing when we are handling restrictions that have been imposed on us, and which are legally enforceable – it is very different when adhering to a particular way of behaving has been made a matter of choice.
For some couples these choices will bring them close together but for others fissures of perception can swiftly become cracks or even chasms.
So how can these fears be worked with to benefit rather than damage a relationship?
First and foremost will be the need to give time to listening carefully to each other and treating each other’s perceptions and views seriously. It may be true that this or that action only carries with it a small risk of catching the disease but those who will be inclined simply to dismiss it need to be encouraged to take their partner’s fears seriously. Dismissal of them, or a failure to listen, will inevitably lead to feelings of lower self worth and of resentment.
Secondly there will be the need to modify behaviours so that neither is left feeling that the other one has ‘got it all their own way’. Of course this will be made more complicated by the fact that other forces will be in play, whether they come from children, relatives, and friends all wanting time for their needs to be met, or your employer wanting you back to work physically and not just via Zoom. These will be realities but again they will need to be talked through by couples and not played as trump cards that, in effect dismiss your partner’s feelings as less than important.
Thirdly, personally it will help if you can be honest about your own fears and reframe your own negative thoughts. As Rachel Carlyle put it in last Saturday’s edition of the Times quoting Professor Stephen Palmer from the Centre for Stress Management,
“If you find yourself saying, ‘I can’t stand staying indoors,’ modify that to, ‘I don’t like staying indoors, but I can stand it. I’ve already stood it for seven weeks’”
Finally the thing all these have in common is the need for quality time together and I suspect that this will be something at Coupleworks we will be exploring time and again with our clients in the coming weeks. The introvert may in fact have found lockdown quite a relief and enjoyable since they have not needed to interact with a whole stream of people. The extrovert may be deeply frustrated by not having had the opportunity for those interactions. But wherever each member of a couple is on those spectrums honest conversations talking about their fears, frustrations and concerns will prove invaluable for their well-being as a couple.