Worried about how your relationship will look after lockdown? (Which number are we on now?) Psychotherapist and relationship expert Neil Wilkie offers some no-nonsense advice on getting things back on track
If your relationship has suffered through lockdown, don’t panic. It can get better, if that is what you both want and you are prepared to work at it. Post-lockdown provides a wonderful opportunity to reset your relationship and jointly create a new and better one.
Firstly, look at your relationship and question whether the foundations were good. Is it the impact of lockdown that has knocked it off course? Or were the foundations weak? Have the cracks turned into chasms? If the foundations were already weak, you both need to decide whether it is over or whether you can create a new and different relationship with each other.
Here are five key issues the couples I work with as a therapist have experienced during lockdown – and some tips on how to tackle each and rebuild your relationship post lockdown...
Five common lockdown relationship problems, and how to fix them
The uncertainty and worry during lockdown has put many people into fight, flight or freeze mode. This is where the quality of communication and listening plummets and the focus is on the negative rather than the positive. Arguments become heightened, often go round in circles and can put the relationship in a downward spiral.
Deal with the elephants in the room. If you’ve spent lockdown sweeping arguments under the rug, it will be looking a bit lumpy! Review what is on your list of grievances and decide which ones are really important and then gently discuss them with your partner. Get all the important issues out – otherwise they will lock you in a bad place.
Find the time and space to just be with each other, free of interruptions, and see what conversations emerge. Ask the question ‘how are you feeling right now?’ and pause. See what feelings are expressed, and then ask ‘is there anything else?’ until your partner has expressed all their feelings. Listen intently to what is being said and what is being truly expressed.
Our world has suddenly changed and become much more unpredictable. You may now be fulfilling several different roles in your home space. Many of us are feeling overwhelmed – we no longer know which way is up and what the priorities are.
Accept that your partner is different and will be coping as best they can. Be clear on the activities and decisions that you are jointly responsible for and agree who is doing what and what the priorities are. Talk to each other about your own overwhelm list and see how you can support each other.
Being locked in with your partner 24/7 can become a living hell. Your focus may start to be on all those things that they do that annoy you; the messy sink, shoes across the floor, inequality of effort on housework. Little things can build to become profoundly irritating and you may take this out on each other with arguments, shouting and huffs.
Raise these minor irritations before they fester. Talk about them in the format of ‘When you leave your shoes across the floor, I feel annoyed and worried that I will trip up in the dark’ rather than ‘You are so messy and inconsiderate, clear up those shoes now’.
Dreams for the future may have disappeared and the temporary relief of holidays, evenings out and mixing with friends may have dissipated – making you feel trapped, physically and emotionally, with no escape.
Get out of the rut. Ask yourselves, when did you last have fun together? Unleash the child within and do things that will make you both smile and laugh. Be creative, jump in some puddles, have a pillow fight.
Once a week, take it in turns to surprise your partner with something that you think they would enjoy. Let your imagination flow and see what joy you can bring.
You may wake up and wonder who the person next to you, who you once loved, is. Now, having been with them 24/7 for too long, are they someone you don’t recognise or maybe even dislike? This can create a divide where you drift apart and are unwilling to be vulnerable, to share feelings or be intimate. This could make your partner feel excluded and rejected and create a downward spiral.
Hug - we need 4 hugs a day for survival, 8 for maintenance and 12 for growth. They should be at least 20 seconds each to get the feel-good hormone, Oxytocin, flowing. Get hugging!
Make Love - More time and less excuses should have opened up the opportunity to make love as often as your heart desires. Sadly, many couples never really discuss what they like or find out what their partner’s needs are. Just imagine you could have a risk-free conversation to explore this, knowing that there can only be an upside. What is stopping you?
Show appreciation - knowing that your partner appreciates you can create a warm glow that lasts for hours or days. It will cause your relationship to blossom.
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Kate McCusker is a freelance writer at Marie Claire UK, having joined the team in 2019. She studied fashion journalism at Central Saint Martins, and her byline has also appeared in Dezeen, British Vogue, The Times and woman&home. In no particular order, her big loves are: design, good fiction, bad reality shows and the risible interiors of celebrity houses.