KISS RELATIONSHIP PROBLEMS GOODBYE
COVID has widely been reported as the ‘kiss of death’ for many relationships, with more and more couples separating and divorcing.
While it’s normal for any couple - no matter how solid - to go through their ups and downs, any underlying issues that might normally be quickly resolved can bubble to the surface and become heightened during times of crisis – particularly COVID.
Why is this and what can you do if your relationship is in trouble?
Financial stress is one of the classic relationship killers, even under normal circumstances. With record unemployment levels and grim re-employment statistics continually flooding the news, many couples are facing an uncertain financial future.
It’s important to work through any financial issues as a team, with open, honest and solution-focused dialogue. Avoid blame. You don’t have to do this alone. Seeking the assistance of a qualified Financial Advisor can be well worth the investment. They can help you find creative ways out of the red, which you might not have thought of. Research your entitlements. The government is offering welfare payments, banks are postponing mortgage repayments, utility companies are discounting services and charities are donating food packages. Remember, economies have always worked in cycles. Businesses will re-open, jobs will be re-created and you will re-build.
Working from home should be the ultimate utopia. However, being with your family 24/7 could actually be crippling ‘independent you’. Having regular micro-breaks from one another is healthy, as this allows you to ‘miss’ each other. Reclaim moments of alone time where you can. Go for a solo jog, head to the shops, check in with a friend and don’t be afraid to tell your partner, with love, that you need some ‘me time’ for an hour or two. Doing things that are just for you, even for short periods, might seem selfish; however, this can actually provide you with more energy to ‘give’.
Home. Schooling. Is. Stressful. There, we’ve said it. Juggling work and playing teacher means that workloads have suddenly doubled. Most of us are not trained teachers. Our kids know this. Away from the structure of school, saddled with their own anxieties and facing genuine difficulties learning online means they can (and will) push the envelope. This can add to any existing tensions in the home. It’s important to clearly define each partner’s role here, as well as rules and expectations for the kids. Stick to this. Back each other. Don’t feel guilty for sending them back to school early if your own work is suffering. Give everyone a break – yourself included. No kids will perform 100% right now (regardless of what other mums post on Facebook), no matter how hard you push. Simply being ‘good enough’ is good enough right now. No-one needs the added stress of striving for unattainable perfection.
Deprived of our normal routines, we have limited ways to ‘let off steam’ and meet our social needs. We haven’t been able to have coffee with (read: vent to) our friends or have a beer at the pub for months. Our social network has shrunk to our immediate family. That’s a lot of pressure to put on our loved ones – to meet all of our social needs and fill every relationship role in our lives. When we perceive that these needs are not being met, we can feel disappointed with our partner and they can feel frustrated that ‘nothing I do is good enough’.
Staying virtually connected with friends is important. Put energy into the ones who are emotionally available. Some friends you’ve reached out to may have gone completely ‘off the grid’. When you don’t hear from them, you may feel concerned, hurt and alone. Don’t take this on board or out on your partner. Remember that the behaviour of others is not about you. Knowing it’s because they’re facing problems and fears of their own can be validating in itself. You will re-connect when the dust settles. Having realistic expectations around meeting your needs will take some of the pressure off both your partner and yourself.
Being unable to maintain our normal health and beauty routines (going to the gym, playing sport and visiting a beauty salon) can impact our self-esteem. In a perfect world, it shouldn’t, but it often does. If we feel unattractive, we can begin to feel undesirable to our partner - even if it’s not true. Your partner may have no idea how you feel. While you’re feeling grotesque because you didn’t go for a run or wax your eyebrows, they may look at you with adoration… and even lust! If you start pulling away, they can then feel hurt and undesirable, in a vicious cycle. Stress and other lifestyle factors can also impact on our sex drive and performance.
It’s important to be open and honest with your partner. Explain how you’re feeling and why. Tell them what you need from them - without blaming or ‘nagging’ - to maintain an intimate connection. This doesn’t always have to be sex. A flirty look, a hug or a ‘you’re beautiful’ can make a huge difference. Praise your partner for doing the things you enjoy and appreciate. Positive reinforcement will encourage them to do more. If there is a physical dysfunction, remember that this is extremely common, not a reflection of your desirability and no-one’s ‘fault’. Seek medical advice.
Although domestic violence is increasing, not everyone’s understanding of it has increased. ‘Violence’ doesn’t necessarily mean physical harm. It can mean a pattern of disrespectful comments, put downs, name calling, sex that is not enjoyable for both parties, yelling and even silent treatment. Some partners use these unhealthy strategies in a futile attempt to fill a range of complex needs. They may not even understand these needs. They may be seeking to regain a sense of control when their world feels in chaos. They may be surprised to learn that their behaviour could even be classified as ‘violent’.
If your partner is demonstrating any violent or abusive behaviour towards you, it is important to seek support as soon as it is safe to do so. There is a lot of help available that you can access online, through your GP, church, charities, some workplaces and friends. If you’re reading this and you’ve been demonstrating any abusive behaviour towards your partner, it’s important to be honest with yourself and seek support to stop this cycle in its tracks. Seeking help and taking ownership of your behaviour can actually give you some control back in your life, rebuild healthier relationships and set a good example for your kids. A good therapist will help you to move forward in a solution-focused manner, without judgement. Do not let fear or shame be a barrier to your seeking help for yourself and your family.
Our future is unknown. If we had a crystal ball to tell us definitively when everything will return to normal, it would be much easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Living in limbo, it’s easy to lose perspective and wonder, ‘Will things always be this hard?’. Living in a constant fear state can place a strain on anyone’s mental health. In times of stress, we can begin to exhibit behaviour and form patterns of belief that are out of character and can affect our relationships.
It’s important to remember that, both as a society and as individuals, we have faced many challenges in the past. What happened? We have got through them and came out the other side. This too shall pass. Focus on what you can control now, in the present. This includes your own behaviour, attitude and self-care routines. It is surprising how a small shift in the way we communicate with or respond to another person can make a big difference in the way they reciprocate.
Many relationships that seemed ‘doomed’ have been re-built from the ashes. Passion that has been lost can be completely rekindled. Love that has been taken for granted can be re-ignited.
If you’re struggling, it is important to seek help. You don’t have to do it alone. In an emergency, call 000. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636 or 1800 RESPECT any time for free.
Artius Health offers appointments with qualified, experienced Psychologists via Telehealth, no matter where you are in Australia. Face-to-face appointments are still available at our clinics throughout QLD.
If you have a Health Care Card, Pension/Concession Card or are economically disadvantaged due to COVID-19, we are here to help. We currently bulk-bill these appointments. Ask your GP for a referral or Mental Health Care Plan to access the Medicare rebate.