How To Maintain A Happy Relationship During Lockdown
Relationship experts offer advice on all the worries you may have ahead of a potential round two.
Over the last six months, we’ve all experienced a lot of change. Job stresses, for one, whether that’s getting used to working from home or navigating furlough; swapping carefree large gatherings for socialising with small groups of friends; and getting to grips with dating and relationships in the context of COVID-19.
The latter can be tough, and for those in relationships, there’s no shame in admitting that spending every waking moment with each other can put a strain on the spark. According to research by the Office of National Statistics, twice as many adults in Britain are reporting symptoms of depression now compared to this time last year – there’s no denying this year has taken its emotional toll.
As local lockdowns are becoming increasingly common, and with the suggestion of a second nationwide lockdown looming, you may be starting to feel nervous about how you’ll go through it all again. So, with that in mind, I chatted to four relationship experts to get their tips on how to stay happily coupled up in the event of a second lockdown.
It can be difficult to admit that you need space from your partner. However, under normal circumstances, you’d rarely wake up, work, and then spend the entire evening in the same space.
"The things that irritate you are likely to come out right now," says sex and relationship therapist Peter Saddington. "You’d never usually notice your partner leaving their clothes around or other annoying habits because you’re at work."
To combat this, Saddington suggests "having a weekly check-in" with your SO. It’s a time when you can sit down and "debrief" on the week – "the good and the bad." He explains: "This is so resentments don’t build up. You don’t even have to do anything about them, it’s just knowing that you’re being heard."
Relationship and sex counsellor Mig Bennett agrees that structure is key. She recommends you create schedules for yourself like any other normal working week. "Don’t disturb each other until the end of the working day and keep your weekends where you plan fun things," she suggests.
It’s important to work in separate spaces (if you can!), maintain the social life you have with your own friends (even if it’s over video call), do the exercise classes you normally would (whether on livestream in another room, or in the studio), and plan to do things separately, too.
“Above all else you have to remember that when we date, we are sharing space with someone who is our best friend,” says dating and relationship expert Sarah Louise Ryan. "[Think] about what two best friends would do for each other, and go above and beyond in tricky times."
Relationship coach Maya Vaughan also has advice for those who find themselves arguing a lot during lockdown. “Fighting doesn’t mean that you are not right for each other, it simply means you haven’t learnt how to fight consciously," she says. "Welcome conflict as a chance to learn about what triggers your partner and instead of reacting defensively, become curious about why they feel the way they do. If you ask them openly and with genuine interest instead of reacting angrily, you may learn something new.”
Long distance relationships were redefined during lockdown – even partners who lived down the road from each other became ‘long distance’. One solution to this could be to create a bubble, but that’s not realistic for everyone.
Ryan suggests putting in some ground rules if you’re facing more time apart. "Keep in consistent and regular contact with each other and try not to talk too much about the mundane parts of lockdown," she suggests. "Keep things light so you can both feel excited about being with each other. Be authentic, though, and share what you feel is necessary. If you feel like you’re struggling being apart for whatever reason, then recognise lockdown is affecting different people in different ways and it’s fine to feel like that.”
Vaughan has some sage advice that applies outside of lockdown, too: “Keep in mind that our partners’ do not exist to make us happy, we need to make ourselves happy. We need to spend time thinking about how we can keep ourselves calm and nurtured, so we are not always bringing negativity to the table. A healthy relationship is there to reassure us but not to be a constant shoulder to cry on.”
Remember what makes you happy outside of your relationship: keep in touch with friends, working out, and maintaining your other interests. Not only will this give you lots to catch up on with your partner when you do chat, it will also distract you from the fact that you can’t spend so much time together.
The phrase "two’s company, three’s a crowd" has never been more pertinent than in lockdown. It’s likely you got to know your flatmates very well between March and July – maybe too well. Prioritising your time as a couple is important, however, Bennett advises that you don’t cut yourself off from your flatmates. "You need to talk as a house and consider everyone," she says.
In fact, she suggests scheduling time together as a group. "Have one evening where you all get together and have a non-heavy evening," she says. "One person can choose the food, someone should pick a game and you can bring back the fun to the house. It can be a no tension, easy space where you connect when no one is working."
It can be frustrating when a partner isn’t on the same page as you, and the first step to tackling that is communication.
Begin by trying to understand your partner’s nonchalance about the pandemic. This may help you to confront the issue with them more effectively. It’s worth thinking about where they’re getting their information from, and whether that’s part of the problem. If it’s group chats, social media, or headlines from sketchy news websites then don’t be afraid to question the authenticity.
"In any good relationship you should be able to say what’s important to you so you can get your needs met," says Saddington. "Partners need to listen to each other about worries and fears. You have to take responsibility to make sure each of you is okay."
In other words, don’t be afraid to voice your concerns. If your partner isn’t willing to listen or compromise, that’s a big red flag.
When you’re with someone day in, day out, it’s easy for the spark to dim. Low moods and pandemic-induced worries can affect your libido, too. If you can, Ryan suggests trying to identify when the loss of intimacy started, and seeing if you can learn from that by tackling any potential cause.
Often, it could simply be a case of bringing back some fun and creativity into the relationship, to switch things up. You could start by compiling a list of lockdown dates that you’d both love – where talking about COVID-19-related things is strictly off-limits. Yes, this might be tough, but it is doable.
Similarly, when it comes to sex and intimacy issues, communication is key. Explain how you’re both feeling and why, which should help to reassure each other and create a supportive mood around having sex (or not, if you don’t feel like it!). Either way, this will bring you closer emotionally, and give you that hit of feel-good hormones, which are crucial when it comes to libido.
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