Has lockdown put a strain on your relationship? We spoke to an expert about what to consider first If you’re thinking about breaking up with your partner in quarantine.
There’s no two ways about it – spending every moment with your partner in a confined space is hard.
Combined with a pressure cooker of emotions, lack of fresh air and exercise and, for those who have job worries to contend with, too much spare time, it’s understandable that a previously happy relationship could be suffering.
From noticing your partner’s annoying habits (which now feel inescapable) to being stuck in a constant rut of bickering – when there’s no way of getting space away from each other, these things can spiral.
So, what if the last few weeks have made you think seriously about your current relationship? While that makes sense in such an intense situation, if you’re self-isolating with the person you might also be struggling to know if your feelings are being skewed by the pressure of quarantine.
We spoke to Dr Martina Paglia, chartered psychologist and founder of The International Psychology Clinic, for her advice on what to consider if quarantine has made you question your relationship.
Acknowledge the difficulty of this time, and talk about it
If your relationship felt in a good place before lockdown, Dr Paglia recommends first thinking about what you can do to save it, or at least acknowledge that what you’re both going through is unusual.
“Think carefully about the quality of your relationship. Research suggests that there are three common denominators to long term relationship success: intimacy, passion and commitment,” says Dr Paglia.
“These three areas are so important for couples and the good news is that they can be learned. Learning how to have a quality connection and increasing intimacy with your partner will help keep your bond strong and boost your commitment to your goals.”
To do this, she recommends having an open conversation about what you can do to help each other feel more connected. Making a specific effort to open the dialogue about what a stressful time this is and allowing for emotional reactions is key. She continues: “Openly discuss with your loved one that both of you are going through a hard time and this isolation might cause some emotional outbursts during this quarantine period. Communication is the key; try to be as clear with each other as you possibly can. Be empathic with your partner and reassure them ‘I’m listening to you - tell me how I can help’.”
Do some honest self-reflecting
“Keep in mind that in every relationship there are ups and downs. You are in this together and therefore you are both accountable for what works and what doesn’t,” says Dr Paglia.
She recommends thinking compassionately about what you can do to help your partner if they seem stressed or different to usual.
“When red flags appear, try to back down or control the situation. The red flags include criticism (when you’re complaining or finding faults with your partner), hostility (calling names, depreciating humour, mocking or insulting), defensiveness (not accepting your mistakes and ignoring your bad behaviour) and ignoring (withdrawing from a conversation),” she says.
Work out the pattern of behaviour in your relationship
If you’re still feeling conflicted about how your relationship makes you feel and if it’s something you want to carry on, Dr Paglia suggests a simple exercise could help you unpack your true emotions and help you decide what to do.
She says: “Come up with five adjectives that describe the quality of the relationship and write them down. Next, think about five situations linked to those five adjectives and ask yourself: ‘How did I feel in those situations? Is it how I would like to feel in a romantic relationship?’.
“Try to come up with some common themes about your relationship and ask yourself: ‘Is it what I want? Is it how I want to be treated? Is it how I want to be in a relationship?’.”
If you felt confused before, hopefully this will help you establish a pattern in your relationship and give you a more balanced view of whether it’s right for you.
Try a virtual meeting with a couple’s therapist
Dr Paglia says that it’s a misconception that only couples with serious issues need therapy, but that “the truth is – every couple needs therapy at some point.”
She insists that it shouldn’t always be a last resort and in fact, helps a relationship stay healthy. So if rumblings of a problem are beginning to occur, dealing with it sooner rather than later with a therapist is a good idea.
“Couples therapy can help couples in the following ways: each partner gets an opportunity to express their grievances in the presence of a therapist, helping the therapist to make sure that each party hears and understands the other. Couples therapy includes the process of learning new ways to relate in a healthier way which builds connection and intimacy.”