After months of staying home with our partners, we’ve been released back into society without them. And while it’s a thrill to actually miss them again after some time apart, it can also feel a bit strange to be separated.
A degree of codependency can be expected between any couple, says Jo Coker, a counselling psychologist who works with the College of Sex and Relationship Therapy. But lockdown has amplified it, leaving some of us with separation anxiety about going solo.
“A lot of us have been shoved into this bubble and become very much dependent on each other for everything – for entertainment, for debriefing at work, our emotional life, our sexual life...,” she says. “We’ve been meeting every need for that person in lockdown, so the relationship has become so much more intense.”
Sound familiar? Here’s some signs you’ve become overly entangled in lockdown – plus the advice you need to extract yourself.
Signs you’ve become overly codependent
1. You only ever leave the house together
Team walks? Team exercise? Team shopping? One of the most common things Coker is hearing among clients is unease about leaving the house alone, because couples have got so used to doing everything together.
“For some people, they’ve been in the same space for much of lockdown and so actually leaving that space – leaving the nest where they’ve both been and where they’ve relied on each other for everything – has become quite scary and anxiety-provoking,” she says.
2. You rely on your partner during work hours
It’s normal for partners to decompress after the working day or use each other as a sounding board from time to time, but if you’re both working from home, you may have slipped into the habit of doing this throughout the day.
“Even as the day is progressing, they might be saying ‘I’ve got this really difficult thing to do’ or ‘somebody is getting on my nerves,’” says Coker. “The partners have come far more into each other’s work space.”
If you’re worried about how you’ll cope without your partner-cum-colleague when you return to the office, it’s time to re-establish some boundaries.
3. You’re lost without your coffee break
Sharing a coffee break with your partner during the working day is a nice thing to do, but if it’s become a ridged ritual, this could present another challenge when you return to working separately.
“It sounds like such a small thing, but maybe they’re used to having a coffee with their partner at 11.30am and chatting about things and suddenly, they go back to work and that’s not there,” says Coker. “Because they’ve got into that routine, it feels very odd when they return to the office and they’re on a completely different timetable.”
4. You’re wearing matching clothes
Yes, really. Coker has heard from couples who’ve slipped into matchy-matchy “clothes routines” and it could be yet another sign you’re morphing into one another. “People have got very codependent on what they’re wearing,” she says. “Some couples are saying: ‘we’ve spent the year in our pyjamas together, it’s fantastic!’ because that’s how they’ve evolved in this very tight bubble together.”
5. You invite your partner to all social plans
Been invited to evening drinks? Great! But do you feel the need to bring your partner along? If you’re constantly looking for a plus one, it’s another sign of codependence.
“Previously, when you’ve been to work and somebody wants to go to the pub or the bar, that was a normal part of life – particularly in cities – but now it might feel slightly strange doing that,” says Cocker.
6. You feel guilt about stepping outside the bubble
If you do make plans with friends alone, feeling guilty about it or having the urge to rush home is another warning sign.
“You might be wondering ‘what about them,’” says Coker. “People almost feel as if they’re being disloyal to the bubble, like they’re being selfish or not thinking about the bubble, as opposed to just returning to normal life.”
7. You resent your partner going out
Has your partner embraced socialising while you’re staying home? Watch out for feelings of resentment.
“You may be feeling: ‘No you should’t be going out, you should be staying home with me, because this is what we do,’” says Coker. “Couples who have become everything to each other and a substitute for every other type of relationship in lockdown may find they are cross or jealous when their partner gets back out in the world.”
How to break codependent habits
Enjoying your partner’s company is a wonderful thing and some couples report feeling closer after lockdown. But independence brings excitement and stimulation to a relationship, says Coker, so finding balance is key to having a sustainable, happy relationship.
If some of the points above ring true, you may find you experience feelings of separation anxiety as life returns to normal. Or, if you’ve embraced socialising to the max, it may be that your partner is experiencing separation anxiety.
Talking honestly about how you’re both feeling about the end of lockdown will help ease worries on both sides, says Cocker.
“If one partner is rallying against that, it needs to be understood why that is the case. Is it out of fear, or is it just because they don’t want their partner to go out? Is it anxiety? You need to debrief these sorts of things to see what it is at the bottom of it,” she says.
Those with pre-existing anxiety conditions may experience codependency and separation anxiety most acutely, so if you really feel you can’t leave the house without your partner, Coker recommends seeking professional mental health support.
For those who just feel a bit “weird” about this change of routine, Coker says you can support each other back to normality by encouraging one anther to pick up the old threads of life outside of your bubble that you used to enjoy, such as a club or a different setting, like the gym.
If you’re the one who’s uncomfortable being apart, make small plans first – get used to lunch with friends before signing up to an entire weekend away. “You don’t have to rush out and be Mr or Mrs Sociable again,” says Coker. “You can take it in a scaled way.”