Is it the pressures of the pandemic that creates relationship problems, or do lockdowns act as a catalyst for existing problems?
I think it is a chicken and egg scenario. The pandemic has had such a pervasive impact on people’s sense of safety and security in so many aspects of daily life, that it is almost impossible for that to not be manifested in their relationships. In simple terms, most people have not been used to spend so much time together due to the hectic pace of modern life.
The combination of the pandemic and lockdown created a vicious circle: external pressures on people such as illness, loss of relatives, money worries, redundancies, work pressures, home schooling, as well as their internal responses of stress and threat of the pandemic and of the confinement that lockdown brings, means that there is a huge increase in situations that test individuals’ capacity to cope, reach out for contact or support others.
Relationship are therefore put under growing and regular stress and become increasingly strained and overwhelmed. This is then aggregated by lockdown, which for many had disrupted well established routines that offered comfort, stability and rhythm, but also limits the options for getting out, either for change of scene, seeking other forms of support and stimulation, or even as simple as getting out for some space.
This means that more people are finding themselves trapped in a situation where they are struggling to cope with what is going on for them, as well as what is going on between them. Like a pressure cooker that does not let any pressure out, the lid can eventually pop and the relationship breaks down.
Is this affecting new or recently established relationship as well?
There are likely to be specific circumstances for each individual couple, however broadly speaking new relationship move at some point to a state of transition from the “high” state of novelty and excitement of the honey moon period, to the next developmental stage as a couple which is more “down to earth” and is about sharing the reality of daily life.
The need to reconcile between the fantasy of romantic love and the mundane of the day to day, often leads to a struggle in reconciling expectations, roles and responsibilities. In order to sustain the relationship, couples will need to learn how to negotiate and adjust these, and if they can’t, they break up. A similar process often takes place when children are born or leave the home.
What should I consider before breaking up in a pandemic? is it worth sticking things out?
I think it is important to remember that this is interim, and so are the challenges that come with it. If you are finding yourself re-evaluating, then it means that something needs attended to, rather than an indication that the relationship is over. We often want the other to change, but changing patterns of relationship begins with examining and changing how you are relating.
As difficult as it might be, take stock on what might be your contribution to communication breakdown, and it is always worth talking about what is going on for you with your partner. If this does not work, I would recommend seeking support of a psychotherapist as a couple, and if there is no appetite for that, there is still a lot of value in doing so individually.
If you find yourself in circumstances that lead to regular physical or emotional abuse than I would recommend to seek safety and support immediately.
Nobody knows what the new normal is going to look like and there is no point guessing. Finding yourself without a partner can be difficult and lonely at the best of times. It can also be liberating and transformative. The meaning that you make out of this depends on your willingness to seek support where needed, adapt to a new reality, and learn about yourself as a person in and out of relationship, whilst holding in mind that that this too, will pass.
Is there an increased trend for relationship pressures being a key trigger for seeking therapy during the pandemic?
There has been a notable surge in demand for therapy during the pandemic, exacerbated during periods of tougher measures impacting social contact, however relationship pressures are often a manifestation and a symptom of the challenges and difficulties that individuals are facing, and can be one of the triggers for seeking help, but not necessarily the key one. Such a disruption certainly leads to a re-evaluation of many aspects of people’s life, including their relationships, and that often leads to change.
Our patterns of relating are heavily shaped by our formative years, and we are therefore likely to take these patterns with us from relationship to relationship unless we are aware of them and are willing to change the the aspects that are counter productive.
If you are struggling with your relationship, then the questions I would encourage you to begin with is what do I want to change in myself, rather than who do I want changed.