We’re here to guide you through the coronavirus lockdown. Sign up to the Life newsletter for daily tips, advice, how-tos and escapism.
Lockdown made many of us reassess life and make revised plans for the future. But what happens if your new outlook is different from your partner’s?
The unprecedented period of living in each other’s pockets – or conducting a relationship through a screen – may have meant make or break for many couples, according to relationship therapists.
In a survey of 2,058 UK adults, to mark Relate charity’s Relationship Week, one in 10 respondents in a relationship said lockdown made them realise they want to propose to their partner, while 8% came to the conclusion that they needed to end their relationship.
“There will be more weddings as well as more divorces when the world around us slowly gets back to normal,” predicts Lucy Fuller, a psychotherapist who offers couples therapy.
Some couples may have enjoyed increased intimacy, says Fuller, finding themselves in a “lockdown love bubble”.
“If people decided to be in lockdown together when they usually live separately, this may well have accelerated the relationship and many couples will be moving permanently in together with confidence, without the more normal period of weighing up the advantages and disadvantages,” she says.
Equally, if you and your partner realise you have very similar outlooks during lockdown and feel like a united team who can support one another through hard times, it could be the making of the relationship.
However, the experience may be the opposite for others. In fact, a separate poll from Relate found 23% of adults in relationships are experiencing relationship pressures during lockdown.
The research suggests younger people aged 16-34 are feeling the most pressure on their relationships. More than a third (38%) of 16-34 year olds in relationships said they’d struggled to support their partner emotionally during lockdown, compared to 23% across all age groups and just 14% of over-55s.
Relate counsellor Dee Holmes says the pandemic has given many people the time to re-evaluate life – including their relationships. “Some have realised they want a simpler life and appreciate the smaller things more,” she says. “Some partners may be reassessing things and find their partners reassess life differently.”
Little “niggles” present in the relationship pre-lockdown will have also been magnified due to the intensity of the situation. “There has been no escape and no friends and family to dilute the intensity of the relationship, so inevitably the less favourable aspects of your partner will shine through,” says Fuller.
The lockdown rules themselves may have caused arguments among couples – or highlighted differences you didn’t know existed. Fuller spoke to one pair who have decided to go their separate ways once lockdown is over due to their different views on social distancing. One person in the relationship was happy to don a mask, confidently go to the shops and carry on with life, while the other was anxious about catching the virus and leaving the house.
“Digging deeper, there is a partnership here of a very outgoing confident person who wants to go out, explore and experience the strangeness of lockdown, with an extremely cautious partner who wants to hide away from the dangerous world outside,” she says. “Reflecting on this at a deeper level, it’s inevitable to have thoughts about whether this really is the long-term partner for you.”
Relationship therapists see a peak in calls after the Christmas holidays when families have been cooped up together, says Holmes – and she’s expecting to see the same peak post-lockdown.
But, she adds, if you’re considering splitting up or even starting divorce proceedings, “hold fire” and let the dust settle post-lockdown, if you can.
“There’s a lot of external pressures on couples such as money worries, concerns about job security and fear around catching the virus,” she says. “Then, of course, there’s having to stay at home with your partner for longer periods than usual.
“If you have a relationship where you like your separate time, this may come as a shock, but when you spend more time apart again, you may find the relationship works better.”
If you’re having a lot of arguments, Holmes recommends calling a “truce” to ease some of the tensions. Relationship therapy is still available via online sessions, she adds, and you might want to consider seeking support before the relationship reaches crisis point.
Wherever you sit on the scale – make, break, or somewhere in between – it can feel empowering to recognise that lockdown has provided a new perspective on your relationship. That can only be a good thing.
“There’s almost always something to learn about your relationship from being in lockdown,” says Fuller. “It’s not necessarily positive or negative, but just a bit more about how you both work and what each of you need and give within the relationship.”