Many years ago, while attending a friend’s wedding I recall the vicar talking about the concept of falling in and out of love. This story got me thinking about the couples I have worked with during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ways they became disconnected from one another and the ways they regained some form of connection during therapy.
In this short article, I will be exploring connection and how to maintain it by looking at the following areas; context (the situation we are in), extroversion and introversion, definition of relationship i.e., mother, father, husband, wife etc and communication.
Some couple’s discontentment may not be directly linked to their partner, the global pandemic has put restrictions on all of our lives and locked us in with those we love or share a space with.
While these couples enjoyed each other’s company pre-lockdown this changed for some when the lockdown was introduced. One reason for this could be that their sense of individuality came under threat and this led to feeling saturated by their partner's constant presence. This is not unusual, as people, we can feel that our sense of who we are can be eroded in romantic, work and family relationships if one aspect of our lives is allowed to dominate.
Going to work would be the obvious remedy to this, but now some partners are working from home making it difficult to disconnect briefly and regain a sense of individuality, so maybe they could be something to the saying ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder'. In short, it would be helpful when feeling disconnected from partners to consider if it is the person or situation that is causing the problem, this helps you to frame any conversations in a more helpful and less blaming way that will help the couple feel connected.
Extroversion and introversion
While both introverts and extroverts are affected differently by the pandemic it is worth pointing out that introverts can be affected by social isolation, though not to the extent that extroverts are.
Extroverts need social interaction with others to recharge while introverts require isolation to do the same thing. In a relationship, if one partner is an extrovert and one an introvert, this means lockdown can have a different effect. The introverted partner could find lockdown a chance to relax without being overwhelmed by social situations, whereas the extroverted partner may be struggling with lockdown.
It is worth both partners remembering that even if they may be experiencing lockdown in a certain way, that does not mean your partner experiences it that way. People in all different types of relationships can feel a pang of disconnection if the way they feel is dismissed by others.
In order to repair the connection even if you cannot do anything about the situation, listening to your partner's concerns will at least help them to feel heard and understood.
Also, maybe suggest your partner connect with their social groups via socially distanced methods such as Zoom.
Definition of relationship
In systemic counselling, how we define our relationships is an important aspect of the approach, it helps the counsellor get an idea of how the client views their relationships and how everyone relates to them. For example, the parental-child relationship is a power relationship in that the parent has authority over the child as their primary caregiver, children who become carers to their parents may feel uncomfortable when this relationship is reversed as the relationship is not usually defined.
When we are with our friends, in romantic relationships or are at the same level in work these our peer-to-peer relationships where no one has authority over somebody else. Couples with children can often fall into the trap of lumping the parent-child, partner-partner relationships into one. One partner may think they are killing two birds with one stone when they spend time with their romantic partner and children, but usually, this makes their partner angry leaving the other confused by their reaction.
For the frustrated partner this is because when in a family setting, they are still in parent mode, as many parents may state children do not tend to leave there parents alone until they go to bed, so it is difficult to find the time for the partner-partner relationship.
The first thing to remember is these two relationships are actually separate and they do not mix because one is a power relationship and the other a peer to peer and it can be frustrating to move constantly between the two. Lockdown, however, has made the classical remedies to the issue, such as date nights, more difficult for couples so there is a danger of the parental role becoming all-consuming and this can lead to disconnection.
This means at present couples may have to work harder in their romantic relationship, which is not easy. It may be helpful when the children have gone to bed that the couple finds ways of connecting, this does not mean grand romantic gestures, this could be playing a board game, ordering your favourite takeaway, looking and reminiscing over photos of your early years together. The important thing is not to put a lot of pressure on the occasion, do not over complicate it and simply be with and enjoy each other’s company.
Communication and conclusion
The key to maintaining any relationship is communication. It is easy for us to covey to our partner things that are going well, it becomes more problematic when we are feeling things are not going so well because our partners may feel we want to end the relationship. This may explain why when things get to crises point the one feeling disconnected says they felt that way for a while.
It is important to remember that stating a position and intent are two different things.
If you tell your partner you are feeling disconnected, you are letting the other know where they currently stand in the relationship and it would be helpful to talk about it to begin to reconnect. If they said they wanted the relationship to end, that this is intent, through exploring some of the things discussed in this article may help the one who wants to leave make sure they want to end the relationship for the right reasons.
Though this article is focussed on the current situation with COVID-19, it's still worth remembering that all relationships require maintenance to remain connected. There any many things that change the dynamic of a relationship leading to feelings of disconnection, but if the couple keeps communication and checking in with one another, then hopefully they can reconnect when things feel like they are going wrong.
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