“I’m scared my relationship won’t survive another lockdown”

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The government’s latest announcement could be worrying for couples who have found lockdown tough. Here, one woman explains why isolating with her partner nearly lead to their break-up, and what the future might hold.

My phone flashes with a new push notification: social gatherings of more than six people to be banned by law in England from Monday. My stomach drops, I look to the left where my boyfriend sits on the sofa next to me, he’s seen it too.

We make the obligatory groans and voice our frustrations over the government’s flip-flopping advice and finger-pointing at the young people (who they encouraged to go and ‘eat out to help out’). There’s a mention of Christmas, the next few months and what we might have to miss out on. But a question hangs in the air: will we even make it that far? Can our relationship survive another lockdown?

I had been with my partner for a year before we moved in together in February, on Valentine’s Day – cute I know. It had been a truly amazing year, exceeding all the hopes I had for how a relationship could be. 

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I’m sure many of you reading know what it’s like to be stuck in a toxic relationship. I’ve had those, a few actually, and had always felt that something was missing.

So, when I met someone who ‘ticked every box’ as it were, what ensued was an incredible year of falling in love, becoming best friends, lots of holidays and – as similar to many couples in the honeymoon stage – thinking that absolutely nothing could go wrong.

And then, a matter of weeks after we moved in together, lockdown happened. Those first few weeks were imbued with novelty as we both started working from home full time. A break from our usual commutes meant waking up together and having a cup of tea in bed, taking turns to cook lunch and feeling like we’d been given a gift of endless time that our busy lives hadn’t allowed for before.     

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But as we all know, novelty is something that wears off. We began to realise we are very different people. I thrive on time spent with others and loved being together 24/7 – my huge emotional capacity only getting bigger (and probably needier) as I got used to us being joined by the hip. He, by contrast, needed time on his own but wasn’t sure how to communicate this, which resulted in him withdrawing and becoming cold and distant when he felt internally stressed.

When you’re trapped in a house together for every minute of the day, you become each other’s whole worlds. A few snappy words in the morning could have been forgotten if you had a long commute across London, colleagues to chat to when you arrive in the office, hectic meetings and plans after work with friends. But I noticed that as isolation continued, the weight of every day rested on each other’s shoulders and we became solely responsible for each other’s happiness. Not a healthy place to be, I’m sure you’ll agree.

This began to impact my sense of identity. It started with small, frivolous things such as abandoning the ritual of picking out an outfit in the morning which allowed me to express myself, and instead sitting in pyjamas all day. I missed who I was with friends and found myself shrinking into the role of paranoid, nagging and self-conscious girlfriend. 

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We spoke regularly about how we were feeling, but the intensity of the atmosphere made it hard for either of us to be properly vulnerable. It seemed like we were stuck underwater, drowning together, and if we could just get some air from the situation maybe we’d be OK. Maybe everything would go back to the way it had been.

As restrictions were lifted I began to gather hope that finally, this claustrophobic cycle would end and that the opportunity to re-embrace our old selves, our real selves, would present itself. 

In all honesty, it wasn’t that easy. The scar tissue on our relationship that developed over six months was and is hard to budge. Throwaway comments that used to mean nothing were now overanalysed by both of us. 

However, the first week he went back to work I did see a change. He seemed lighter, happier and had more to talk about. As weekend activities at restaurants and bars returned I felt a rush while laughing with my friends and hearing myself speak in the silly, carefree way I used to. It didn’t instantly fix our relationship but being able to go away for the weekend or planning a date night was a huge step up from where we had been.

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Now, though, I don’t know what will happen. The government’s latest announcement has reduced the number of people who can meet from 30 to six – that feels like a huge drop. While this doesn’t currently affect workplaces, it’s certainly not a positive omen and I, like I’m sure many other people are, can’t help but worry we’ll be shut down restaurants and hotels at some point, too.

There’s no doubt it’s a difficult time for those in relationships but I’m trying to stay positive and remember that although lockdown may be threatening once again, it will not be forever. As hard as it is to imagine right now the pandemic will come to an end at some point. 

Until then, I figure the best we can do is be positive, supportive empathetic and communitive with those we love.

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