Love for couples after lockdown

I am aware that there have been so many different issues for people in this last year. I am also aware that there are many configurations of relationships from choosing to be on your own to being in a couple or a throuple or all kinds of connections.

I am focussing here on couples but I wish to include the idea of each of us connecting to what we need and finding out about that plurality in each of us.

So what challenges have we seen during this unprecedented year?

People trapped in difficult relationships, people having to work from home perhaps in the same room as their partner or while home-schooling.

Some feeling lonely or isolated and some feeling abused or being abusive.

Some people losing loved ones or having health issues themselves and some people loving the freedom of not having to be tied into being sociable and being able to slow down and connect with themselves more.

Some people have been single and on their own when they would have liked more connection.

Issues could include:

  • too much time together and potentially arguing
  • too little space and having to both work at home e.g. navigating working in the kitchen or sitting room or bedroom
  • possibly having to handle a job and childcare and home schooling as well as a partnership
  • work/life issues such as losing a job in lockdown so one partner is having to earn all the money, pension issues, housing issues, arguments, mental or physical violence, depression
  • menopause/andropause or illnesses (female and male menopause can affect sex, emotions, anxiety, connecting and if you talk about it and get help you can learn how to manage this)
  • grief with loss of family or friendships or work, or having to look after older relatives and all that entails.

If you are not used to hanging out together so much then there may be the temptation to use alcohol or other substances or activities to dampen the rising discomfort of so much closeness. Many of us are familiar with disappearing into distractions such as social media.

It could well be important to look at whether you are using alcohol in a way that may be affecting your relationship or whether you are affected by someone else’s drinking (you can read descriptions to see whether you are over using alcohol on the AA website or whether you are affected by someone’s drinking on the Alanon website).

Because of the lack of structures with work/social life or exercise, many people may have lost their natural rhythms.

Also many people have been affected by Covid or long-term Covid or loss of loved ones through Covid and that will impact them and their relationships.

Many are looking after older parents or care-givers which also can affect their primary relationship if not acknowledged and discussed.

People may have lacked their normal pursuits such as friendships/socialising/playing sports or going to the gym, so they may indulge in more drinking/eating as a way of handling life which may bring certain challenges to the relationship.

You might wish to look at how to structure your life by making a list and planning life-enhancing experiences like exercise and dates. Create time and space together so you can relax and be present with each other.

Some couples may have found the time more connecting and blissful. Or one partner may have particularly enjoyed the seclusion whereas the other may be dying to party and be sociable.

It can be very important to take it gently with introducing your “old” sociable life back in so you don’t overwhelm the more introverted partner (or yourself) and your new found connection. Space and balance how you start to go out there again or how you bring people back in.

Here are my suggestions for couples but also for individuals (you can also make dates and time for yourself) as we emerge from lockdown…

Make time each week where you can hang out and have “pootle” time. This means time to be together which is just relaxing even if it is just half an hour or an hour sitting together and having a cup of tea.

Can you go on dates like a Zoom comedy or outdoor theatre or music concert? I have been particularly enjoying Judah Friedlander this week and was on a show with eight audience members and that was particularly amusing. He is very political but in a gentle and subtle way and also has a show on Netflix.

Can you set a date and dress up for each other?

Thich Nhat Hanh suggested if couples could go out for an hour each week and give each other appreciations before talking about anything more difficult, then they could probably sort through all their problems.

Anne Geraghty suggests that couples choose an object to represent their love and that each person talks to the object while the other listens.

I regularly teach a method called Bridging which comes from Harville Hendrix’ Imago work where couples learn to slow down and deeply listen to each other. Learning how to do this can change the couples template of relating. See my upcoming events here.

Find out each other’s Love Languages (service, communication, touch, acts of service, gifts, time spent together) by Gary Chapman. Make sure that you are helping to fill each other with positivity by giving at least two actions each day (can be small) to assist the love in your connection.

Create daily time to listen to each other without interruption, even if it is just five minutes each.

Plan weekly dates or weekly time to be sensual if you wish for that. In Sex Therapy we say if you plan it Tuesday it is more likely to happen on Saturday!

Find out what kind of couple you are. If you are in a pursuer/withdrawer dynamic (attack/withdraw or who’s the bad guy dance – Dr Sue Johnson), then find ways to be more direct and assertive with each other. Learn how to speak from the heart with no agenda and expectation but a hope to connect. See if you are both OK at saying “yes” and “no” and setting boundaries.

If you are a fighting couple (attack/attack) then see if you can bring some softness to each other to negotiate what is going on. Treat your couple as if it is something precious that deserves love and attention and watch it flow.

If you are having a difficult time, don’t hesitate to reach out and get some help. Look at COSRT or BACP for therapists or Marriage Care for low-cost therapy. Here is my compilation of therapist listings and websites.

Each couple is different but it can be really important to look at how you are holding space for each other and what you both need and want to feel safe.

You can also develop a communication agreement which outlines how you wish to hold the space in your lives (here is an example). It may be worth seeking help to help create this agreement as so many arguments can come about because of the meaning we give to someone’s actions which they may not mean at all.

What beneficial things have come from this period?

For some couples they have actually spent more real time together and have had a chance to deepen their relationship and slow down and be together.

Many couples moved into together because of lockdown (to be together with someone) and formed great connections and even babies.

For many it was a time to settle and form connections and really look at what mattered to them and that might be their partnership.

If you have enjoyed the slowing down are you able to keep some of that now and plan and space your day out so you can enjoy this?

Whatever your experience of the last year, I’m wishing you well as you come out of lockdown and reconnect with others more.

All my love,
Cate x

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