When I’ve experienced break-ups in the past, I’ve stopped seeing that person for a while. After all, it’s what would you usually expect to do when you split with somebody significant, isn’t it? To make it a ‘clean break’; to give yourself time to get used to your ‘new normal’. To lick your wounds. In some cases, I’ve needed to cut off contact with my exes completely, knowing that to keep in touch would only prolong the inevitable heartbreak and keep me in mourning.
But thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, and the rules around social distancing, this time round I can’t do any of these things. Instead, I now find myself in near total isolation with my kids… and my newly-separated ex-husband.
When the lockdown was first announced, I was worried we might be at each other’s throats. No longer bound by the ground rules most couples use to protect their relationship: warm hugs, kisses, ‘date nights’ and saying sorry after cross words. I feared that when we were no longer sharing a bed, the essential time for ‘pillow talk’ – where you go through your stresses at the end of the day – would leave us both feeling angry, hurt and alone.
But while I’m understandably anxious about my rather ‘unique’ situation, I’m hopeful, too.
Ask me again in a month, but so far, so good. Our split has been amicable, devoid of acrimony, jealousy or resentment. All that killed our relationship was a loss of romantic love. We still care for each other deeply, and we live together well – we cook and watch Netflix at the same time, but sleep in separate rooms.
“We’ve got through the first couple of weeks since the schools shut, but as the lockdown continues, I’m worried it’ll get trickier and more suffocating...”
The main issue is that rules around ‘social distancing’ leave us without any alternative options; no places of escape, no cherished nights out with other people to keep us sane. There’s also no prospect for either of us to pursue a new romantic relationship… though perhaps putting that on ice, after the breakdown of a marriage, is sensible anyway, in the short-term.
In many ways, what we’re having to do – exist in isolation with each other – hasn’t even hit us properly, yet. We’ve got through the first couple of weeks since the schools shut, but as the lockdown continues, I’m worried it’ll get trickier and more suffocating.
I’m concerned that our fragile peace – which we’ve worked hard at maintaining – may break down now that we’re spending so much extra time together. We are going to need to put in some serious boundaries around shared duties and activities with the kids to make sure we feel like we’re getting our own time and space. We’re going to need to ‘structure’ our activities, whilst also carving out ways to get ‘time out’ – from our children, and each other. To go for a run in the park, or to switch off and hide away in our respective bedrooms.
Most importantly, we’ll need that time to be apportioned fairly so there’s no build-up of resentment over ‘who’s doing more’ at home, particularly with the children. One thing I’m determined not to do is argue loudly behind closed doors. It might sound counterintuitive, but observing everyday disagreements – the way conflict is expressed and resolved – can give kids a healthier model of relationships. I don’t want this to be any different now we’re no longer a couple, but at the same time I worry that without that ‘protection’, we’re at risk of bickering more than we did before.
“Now that there’s no pressure to ‘pretend’ to be happy, we’ve relaxed hugely. If anything, we’re getting along better than we have done for years...”
I know I’m not the only one who’s concerned about our unprecedented, indefinite confinement – even friends in steady partnerships have admitted feeling worried about the toll of spending so much time together. One friend said she thought lockdown would place “unbearable strain” on her marriage. I’ve found myself speculating whether, once this crisis is over, there’ll be statistics to show an increase in pregnancy rates – or divorces. It could go either way, and like so many things with this virus, we can’t predict how any of us are going to come out of it at the other end.
My situation may seem particularly cruel, or perverse – but perhaps I’m one of the lucky ones. Now that there’s no pressure on myself or my (ex) husband to ‘pretend’ to be happy, we’ve relaxed hugely. If anything, we’re getting along better than we have done for years: we’re used to each other and comfortable in each other’s company, we live together well, and we co-parent successfully.
Coronavirus may mean we’re going to spend more time together than we would’ve chosen following the breakdown of our marriage, but I’m hopeful that it’ll force us to forge a new life – as housemates, and friends.
And perhaps we’ll find comfort in our very strange ‘new normal’, at a time when nothing feels normal.
Robin is a freelance journalist, writing under a pseudonym
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