Intimate Relationships: Challenges during COVID 19

COVID-19 is having a big impact on our intimate relationships.

For some people there are more opportunities for relaxation and fun and for others there may be some improvement or challenge that requires attention. Due to COVID-19, your relationship may be dealing with additional stress such as job loss, reduced employment, financial hardship and disconnection from friends and family which naturally have an impact on relationships.  All relationships have challenges and there are some simple things you can do to maintain a healthy intimate relationship during this time.

 

So what is different since COVID 19?

The unexpected and sudden changes as a result of spending more time at home requires adjustments. Worry, anxiety, feelings of depression andliving in closer proximity without the usual activities that provide space and variety in your life may be challenging. Or if you and your partner are having to physically distance from one another, for any reason, one or both of you may be struggling with the lack of contact, physical and emotional connection.

Since the introduction of restrictions to social activity as a result of COVID 19, your partner may be one of the few people in your smaller social circle.  With more of a focus on the relationship, you may be more critical of your partner and little things about your partner that you would normally handle, seem bigger. You may have different needs for personal space which has led to friction or conflict.  During this time you could have doubts and question the future of the relationship. You may even wonder if you should break up.

 

What can I do to maintain a healthy relationship?

These are very unusual times and we may never experience the social restrictions brought about by COVID 19 ever again in our lives. It helps to remember that this situation is temporarily putting a greater focus on some relationships. If you are noticing issues in your relationship they might be a result of the extraordinary situation we are in rather than a sign that there is something wrong with the relationship.

It is understandable that the loss of the usual elements of life such as work, study and sport may create frustration. These frustrations can easily play out with the people who are closest to us. We can feel disappointed in ourselves if we are irritable and less tolerant than usual.

It is a challenge to notice and manage our own emotions that contribute to tensions in our relationships. Recognising feelings and taking responsibility for behaviours that are unfair on a partner is really important. A genuine apology or acceptance of an apology can dissolve the tension and goes a long way to repairing any hurt caused.

Balancing togetherness and your ‘sense of self’ can be an ongoing challenge in many relationships. Working out how much time to spend together and apart is tricky as people have different levels of comfort with time spent together and time for individual interests. This unique COVID 19 situation is more intense than usual. It can bring the togetherness versus separateness issue into sharper focus.

It is important to talk honestly with your partner about your needs and expectations of shared and individual time. Be curious about your partner’s needs and expectations of shared and individual time as they may be different to yours. It is helpful to acknowledge and accept individual needs without judgment rather than persuading your partner to do it your way. Supporting each other to also have personal interests is healthy and demonstrates respect and acceptance. It also adds variety and a source of fresh information that enhances your time together.

Questions to consider:

  • What do I need for my personal time?
  • How can I support my partner to pursue their individual interests?
  • How do we want to invest in time together?
  • Have we got the right balance? 

Creativity during separation can generate new ways of connecting like old fashioned letter writing, online dates, making plans for weekends away, holidays and parties. Holding the long-term view and planning for the ‘post COVID 19 future’ can be good for the relationship.

What if old issues keep bubbling up?

It is understandable that the current circumstances could bring up relationship issues that have been bubbling for some time. If the issues are getting in the way of enjoying each other, you may decide to bring the concerns out into the open. Or you may decide to ‘park’ the issues and revisit them when life returns to something closer to normal. This may free you up to just enjoy fun and connection.

 

What if I am debating about breaking up?

COVID 19 is viewed as a crisis time and is probably not the best time to decide what to do about the relationship. COVID 19 might mean that you or your partner don’t have the usual supports in place such as work, contact with friends, and sport. Awareness of this might mean that you put off having the break-up conversation until support systems are stronger.

During a crisis such as a bereavement or losing a job, it may not be the best time to make a big decision. You may want to consider making a big relationship decision when life settles.

If you do decide to break up remember it can bring on a range of difficult feelings and it will be important to consider the impact on you and your partner. Please go to our tips on ‘How to get over a Relationship Break-up’.

 

What if I don’t feel safe in the relationship?

Everyone has a right to be safe. While lots of the tensions may be ‘situational’ and will change when life returns to close to ‘normal’, there are some situations that you don’t have to put up with.

It is serious if you are in an unsafe situation where your partner is physically, verbally, sexually or psychologically violent or uses coercion and control that limits your freedom. COVID 19 may mean that because of restricted activities you may be at risk of further harm. Sharing your experience of abuse is an important step toward getting help. Secrecy and shame can get in the way of seeking help which results in further isolation.  

Identifying the supportive people in your life is important and working out a safe place if you need to leave is crucial. Family violence support is considered an essential service during COVID 19 and you can contact your local Family Violence Service to support you in assessing the level of risk and developing a safety plan with you.

 

Key points

  • COVID 19 may highlight the good and ‘not so good’ aspects of your relationship and create some challenges.
  • reflect on whether these issues are temporary as a result of the unusual situation of COVID 19 
  • work on strategies that support you as a person and the relationship at this time
  • be kind to yourself and each other
  • be mindful of timing and supports if breaking up
  • your safety is a priority

If you can maintain a ‘sense of self’ and invest in your relationship you will develop great skills for getting through COVID 19 and negotiating healthy relationships in life.

 

Getting help

If you or someone you know is experiencing relationship challenges, headspace can help.

  • headspace: visit headspace.org.au to find your nearest centre or call eheadspace on 1800 650 890
  • 1800respect: 1800respect.org.au
  • Search for Family Violence Services in your local area

 

Get professional support