The pandemic has been both the making and breaking of relationships.
While some couples say all this time together has helped them connect more deeply – less rushing around, including to and from work, has meant couples have more time to be more involved in each other’s lives – others have felt it’s driven a wedge between them.
“Some are finding the strain of repeated lockdowns, home schooling, working from home, losing income and worrying about loved ones has weakened their connection,” says Michaela Thomas, a psychologist and author of The Lasting Connection, published February 11.
The huge amounts of time spent together can be beneficial – but it can also feel stifling. This can also impact intimacy. Thomas is a firm believer that a love that lasts is all about choosing to stay connected. Her book explores her own method for strengthening connection between couples through brain science, mindfulness, compassion, values and playfulness.
Here, she walks us through five signs a couple might feel like they’re losing connection – and what to do if you are.
1. You’re not spending much meaningful quality time together.
We might spend every last waking breath with our partners, but that’s not to say the time we’re spending together is ‘quality’. If this resonates, Thomas recommends creating space, not distance, in your relationship – and choosing when to come together and enjoy each other’s company.
“Have some designated time apart, where you connect perhaps virtually or over the phone with other people than your partner,” she says. “And have perhaps one ‘date night’ a week where you try to do something purposeful with your partner. Play a game, have a nice meal together, go for a peaceful walk in nature – anything which breaks up the mundane, Groundhog day a bit.”
Some days you might not feel like doing date night or spending time together, but Thomas recommends pushing through anyway. “Follow the plan and not your mood, to make sure the quality time happens,” she advises.
2. You’re engaging in more negative interactions than positive ones.
When life is getting you down – and let’s face it, the pandemic isn’t doing wonders for our mental health – it can be all too easy to fall into a rut of being negative and taking it out on those around you.
If you’re finding yourself being negative quite often with your partner, Thomas recommends using two simple tools: the words ‘thank you’ and ‘I’m sorry’.
“Thank your partner for being patient with you, or apologise for when you have snapped,” she says. “Forgive and let go – you don’t have to forget, but you may have to consider parking some of your bigger issues or decisions until you’ve both got through the more immediate stress and tension.”
On the other side of the coin, be willing to forgive times where your partner snaps at you, too. “Try to make an effort with more positive interactions at times as well, to give out what you most want to receive yourself,” she advises.
3. You feel disappointed if you’re not feeling perfectly happy.
It can be easy to feel disappointed if your life doesn’t look picture perfect – but in reality, nobody’s is. Don’t let disappointment grow because it will only come in the way of your connection with your partner, too.
“Have realistic expectations by being aware that all couples go through rough patches in the life span of their relationship,” says Thomas. Having a lasting connection isn’t something you find and stay in, she explains, it’s something you build with consistent effort over many years.
You’ll have fluctuations in how satisfied you are with your relationship over time – and that’s totally normal. But if you’re feeling disappointment, Thomas suggests trying to take action to improve your relationship with small measures.
For example, take five minutes in the evening to each state what you have appreciated about one another that day, however small. “That gratitude practice reinforces any efforts each of you have been making, and leaves you focusing on the positives before going to sleep together,” she says.
“No relationship is perfect, and you can actually deepen your connection from surviving hard times together as a team, as much as you can find connection in joyous times when you are thriving,” she says. “Life is both light and dark, connection comes from the efforts you make.”
4. You’re being hostile towards your partner, rather than showing compassion.
If you want to make changes in your relationship, attacking your partner or always pointing our their shortcomings isn’t the way to go about it. As Thomas explains: “They are less likely to meet your requests for change than if you raise those complaints compassionately.”
Therapists often recommend putting the focus on you, rather than them – so your conversation feels less of a personal attack. You might try saying “I feel upset when you do that, it would mean a lot to me if you could do this instead”, which is different to “stop being such an idiot, what’s wrong with you?!”
Having a tough conversation and asking for what you need in a kind way can help you address your problems with a better atmosphere in your home, she says. If you have children, it also sets a good example to them.
5. You feel like you’re drifting apart from each other’s values.
If it feels like you don’t really have anything in common anymore, remember that you don’t have to be completely the same and like the same things to have a lasting connection. “It’s more about how you address your incompatibilities with compassion than it is about being completely compatible,” says Thomas.
Discussing values can be helpful to check your compass in life, she says. “Do you know what’s meaningful to your partner right now? Do they know what matters the most to you?” she asks. “Keep talking about your hopes, dreams and priorities, to keep calibrating how you live your life together in a fulfilling way for both of you.” This, she adds, will help to reduce the risk of resentment.