Relationship counsellor and communications consultant of the new City Wellbeing Centre, providing mental health support and couple therapy, offers tips for keeping your relationship track.
Lockdowns, curfews and restrictions have put inevitable pressures on all aspects of our lives. With a myriad of stressors, including jobs, money, physical and mental health and family consuming our minds, our relationships, in many cases, have understandably taken the strain.
When our freedoms are restricted, relationships are thrown into the spotlight. We are unnaturally forced to spend much more time together and lose the ability to create vital space for ourselves. This can cause particular apprehension if existing tensions are already causing anxiety.
Here we offer some advice on how to take care of your relationship in the months ahead.
Balance being together and apart
Relationships thrive on a balance of togetherness and separateness. Under normal circumstances, it can be much easier to negotiate and manage the ratio, finding the right amount of time together and apart.
During a lockdown however, when we don’t have as much control over how we spend our time, it is important to prioritise quality over quantity. Scheduling dedicated time together can be helpful. For example, a regular walk or dinner can create time to talk away from distractions.
At the same time, too much or enforced togetherness means we inevitably see our partners in a new light, and minor irritations can feel exaggerated. Sparks in a relationship can fizzle out and we can be left wondering how we actually feel.
If we can create space in ways we have previously enjoyed, we will get more from the time we do spend together. If we used to love sport or the gym, take time instead for a run, home workout or zoom session with a trainer/workout partner. If we loved the pub with friends, organise a zoom call and take yourself away from everyone else. It won’t feel exactly the same, but time away doing the things we enjoy on our own is just as important as time together.
With travel, events and face to face social interactions limited, usual patterns of communication may be disrupted. We may struggle for things to talk about and feel disconnected from our partners. We might know that relationships thrive on good communication, but find it really hard to keep talking. These are all very normal thoughts, especially at the moment, but finding a new way of interacting might help.
With more time in each other’s company, it could be beneficial to use this as an opportunity to be more open and honest about how we feel. If it has been a long time since you’ve talked in this way, it can take time and courage. But bringing our thoughts and vulnerabilities into the open can be a really powerful way of reconnecting and increasing intimacy.
As we talk, it is really important that we stay focused on our own thoughts, and that we don’t start blaming or criticising. If we concentrate on using “I” rather than “you”, we can focus on how we feel more easily. It is a two way process, and it is just as important to listen as it is to feel heard.
Think about the way you communicate
Understanding our style and patterns in how we talk to each other is also key. The way we communicate may cause our partner to respond in an unhelpful way, and our reaction may be unproductive. For example if one partner uses an adult tone, it might influence the other to respond in a more child-like way.
It is not easy, especially without the support and guidance of a relationship counsellor. But if you can effectively exchange thoughts and feelings with each other, you will begin to enjoy a closer attachment.
In these extraordinary times, where new stresses are almost universal, it is really important to be kind to yourself and each other. Nobody can have predicted how they would react to a global pandemic, and the new way of living that we are trying to get used to.
It is ok not to feel or act how we thought we might or should have, but at the same time we need to be to open to our partner’s reactions and ways of coping. Stay calm, curious and appreciate that there are always other views.
Relationships can feel really intense at the moment but if we respect each other, communicate and be kind, we can enjoy a connection that helps us feel accepted, supported and safe.
The City Wellbeing Centre, (57-77 Middlesex Street, London, E1 7DA) is backed by the City Corporation and run by the experienced staff from Tavistock Relationships. It provides mental health support in the form of counselling and psychotherapy for individuals and couples who live or work in the City or surrounding London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Camden, Islington, Hackney, Westminster, Southwark and Lambeth.