We are in unprecedented times. We are unified in that, and living in stress can bring out the worst in us. Stress can lead to dysregulation, turning to unhealthy or unhelpful coping mechanisms, and bad habits. All of these can create conflict in relationships. This new “normal” has led to people relearning how to navigate life, themselves, and their relationships. For many couples, gone are the days where you part ways in the morning, send a few texts throughout the day, go to the gym while your partner goes to a book club, and meet back up for dinner at your favourite restaurant and fill each other in about your day. Childcare adds an additional struggle as many are unable to safely have support from family during the pandemic. Overall, the stress of life can unfortunately seep its way into our relationships.
Due to COVID and its effects, people are struggling. People are struggling financially and people are struggling with their health: both physical and mental. Since April, reports of symptoms of anxiety and depression have significantly increased. As of September 28th, 25% of Americans reported symptoms of a depressive disorder, and 33% reported symptoms of an anxiety disorder. Those aged 18-29 appear to be impacted the most with 50% reporting symptoms of either an anxiety or depressive disorder. 30-39 year olds are not far behind at 43%, which is the same as the percentage of those in California reporting anxiety/depressive disorder symptoms. (You can check out the stats from the CDC’s Household Pulse program here.)
There is a huge impact of COVID and its effects on all of us. Even in the moments when it doesn’t seem like it, it can trickle in. We have had to pause or alter many of our stress-relief and our self-care strategies, which is already all too easy to put on the back-burner or forget about. And we’ve had to learn how to navigate our lives being more centered around home, and more time spent with those that live there. No matter how much you love your partner and living with them – that much time with anyone can add a weight to the relationship.
Most of us have said good-bye, for now, to our hallway chats with coworkers, happy hour with friends, and small talk with others throughout the day. It is even easier now to not interact with another person face to face for days at a time. People lean on their partner for a lot, and in times like this, it can easily slip into being too much. If you are no longer going to work, interacting with friends to the same degree, or stopping somewhere to wait out traffic and vent about your day, chances are your partner has now also become your coworker, most of your social life, and your bartender/barista/friendly cashier.
A big part of navigating through this new “normal” is learning to give and get space. It can feel uncomfortable to have that conversation with your partner, but it is important. Make it clear that it’s not that you need space from them, it’s that you need space for you. If you are still having trouble with this conversation, therapy will help you communicate your needs and boundaries* in a clear and caring manner. You can’t rely on your partner to be your entire social structure, stress relief, and entertainment.
*Side note: Boundaries are hard! Therapy can help you figure out what your boundaries are and how to communicate them.
Couples Who Live Together
Couples have had to learn and relearn how to navigate change. People have had to learn how to have their lives shrunken down into one space – and how to share that space with someone else who is doing the same. Couples have had to learn how to both work from home – something that requires consistent fine tuning, while balancing Zoom nights with different friends and family members. People have had to learn how to transition from work to “home” when it’s all in the same space. Couples have had to discuss and navigate what their COVID expectations are (What types of activities are you comfortable with? What kinds of social situations? Are you going to the grocery store or getting food delivered? Are you going to your cousin’s wedding? Or traveling for the holidays?).
Some couples have had to figure out how to juggle childcare or dependent adult care on top of all of that. This also means adding childcare or school help during the work days. While I’m a fan of the circus, trying to keep up juggling so many things can feel like you’re just one wrong step away from everything coming crashing down. That’s such a stressful place to be. It makes sense that some of that outside stress will percolate into the relationship.
Couples Who Live Apart
Couples who live apart have their own set of obstacles to learn and relearn how to navigate. Couples living apart need to learn how to show up for each other when they can’t physically be together. These couples have to navigate their own and their partner’s COVID comfortability, as well as that of those they live with. Feelings of loneliness have been increasing with COVID, so missing your partner can be extra hard. Seeing others who do get to be with their partner can be frustrating, as well as add to feelings of loneliness. Not knowing when you will see each other next can put a weight on the relationship. It can also add to feelings of hopelessness.
If you are in a long distance relationship, this can be especially difficult. It can be hard knowing that you may not be able to travel to meet one another. Many long distance couples feel the excitement of getting to see each other again is essential to their relationship. So it can be very disheartening with this on hold. Long distance couples need to find new ways to celebrate their relationship when they don’t have this time together to look forward to.
Couples living apart have their own navigation from transitioning to work from home. For example, just because your partner is now home, doesn’t mean they are available to video chat at all times. There are still boundaries that need to be set around that. An upside is the abundance of new ways to connect and create memories together, virtually, that have been created. We have a list of apps that are great for long distance relationships. Therapy has also transitioned to being online – so even if you are located in different cities you can attend together!
So How Does Therapy Help?
Infidelity, communication, family issues, co-parenting, sex, intimacy issues, unhealthy or unhelpful coping mechanisms, stress, and feeling adrift or disconnected are all topics a trained marriage therapist can help you work through. Therapy helps you relearn how best to communicate, connect, and collaborate with your partner. Your marriage therapist will help you understand, set, and assert your boundaries. These are the boundaries within your relationship (your personal boundaries) and between your relationship and the outside world. No matter where you are at in your relationship, couples counseling will help give you the skills and tools to create the relationship that feels most fulfilling to you both. Whether you are searching for premarital counseling, working through an affair, looking to relearn communication or connection, or just looking for a relationship tune-up, couples counseling in San Diego will help.
Are you in a polyamorous, nonmanogamous, or open relationship? Check out our therapist Ida Fariba!
Article by Sarah O’Leary, AMFT#123449 (supervised by Nicole Asencio, PsyD, LMFT#99795)
About Sarah O'Leary
I am captivated most by the importance of relationships and emotions and their impact on our everyday lives. Both relationships and our emotions help shape who we are as a person. "Relationship" doesn't just mean partner, but rather connections of all kinds. This means everything from strangers, to friends, to partners, and most importantly, the relationship you have with yourself. Emotions are what underlies our thoughts and behaviors, they are the key to understanding ourselves.