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Under lockdown, love is a spare room

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GILLIAN KLAWANSKY

In these conditions, relationships have changed, says clinical psychologist Amanda Fortes. While our homes were once our safe space, finding a sense of calm when we’re forced to stay put is difficult. “Everything outside is crazy, so people think everything inside should be rock solid because it usually is,” says Fortes.

But normal rules no longer apply. “What you bring to a relationship is who you are in yourself,” she says. “Many are anxious, so they bring that home. Yet each individual has a different way of responding to these feelings based on their history and skills.” The problem is that while our reality has changed, our expectations of one another haven’t.

Accepting that there’s no normal will bring a necessary mindset shift, Fortes says. Couples have to express their feelings and needs. Communication is key.

Responses are heightened, so it’s easy to take our frustrations out on one another. If things get heated, take a break, Fortes suggests. “Conversations need to run according to different rules than they did before because of where we are.”

“Currently our number-one goal should simply be to manage and cope,” she says. “Couples need to see their different coping styles as resources to bring balance to their relationship and create unity.” Voice your appreciation of one another’s strengths.

Couples need to find a balance between giving one another space when necessary, and deepening their connection through shared activities that take the focus from the coronavirus. Before, couples may have encouraged one another to spend time pursuing separate interests, yet under lockdown, there are feelings of guilt if they don’t want to spend all their time together, says to Dorianne Weil, known as “DrD”, a clinical and organisational psychologist.

“You’re entitled to want some time to yourself,” she says. You and your partner need to negotiate what needs to be done to make things work in the best possible way.

Teacher and rebbetzin Wendy Richard and her husband of 17 years have found this balance.

“I love our busy lives, but lockdown has provided a much-needed island for our family,” she says. “It’s also been wonderful for my husband and myself. We’re both working from home, so we’re not together 24/7, but we have much more time in each other’s company. We eat meals together, and we have time together to chat or just to sit and read.”

Under lockdown with their 18-month-old twins, Ifat Talbot and her husband have also pulled together. It helps that they’re both used to working from home. “At a time like this, we each do our part to make life easier by taking turns to do chores and take time out,” says Talbot. “We’ve had to learn how to interact with toddlers more than we ever did, and for that I’m grateful.”

For others, lockdown has been a bigger adjustment. “One of the hardest things has been being on top of my husband for weeks when we’re used to not being together all day,” says Marli Goldberg. “It’s also challenging to work and care for our three-year-old. We’ve had so much quality time together though and we’ve learned to appreciate the little things that we generally miss.”

While they’re used to seeing each other every day, Samantha* and her boyfriend of four years decided to spend lockdown apart. “We’re both still living with our parents, and felt a responsibility to be with our families now,” she says. “It would have been difficult to invade another family’s space for so long.”

While technology has helped, nothing replaces the value of actually being with one another. “Having built such a strong relationship, you find a lot of comfort and strength through your partner. It’s difficult to go through such uncertain times without them there,” Samantha says.

“Yet it’s been a good time to focus on strengthening our emotional connection, and it’s made me realise how much I love my partner’s company.”

Tarryn* and her new boyfriend chose to move in together over lockdown rather than spend so much time apart. She says living together means the mystery inevitably fades. “You start noticing things about each other sooner than you would have otherwise. We’ve both expressed concern that we’re shortening the honeymoon phase. Instead of dressing up to see each other, we’re living in different sets of pyjamas, so it makes the relationship more real.”

While many couples have grown under lockdown, others are battling with one another. “Whatever you were going through before becomes absolutely magnified,” says Weil. “It can be a time to have courageous conversations and clear the air of things that you’ve been avoiding, to develop clean space where it’s become murky over time.”

But it can also be dangerous to do that under lockdown when there’s nowhere to go. “The build-up of unmet needs can explode under these very tight and extreme conditions. There are cases where it’s been destructive, and couples reach the point of no return. If it does get explosive, stop the conversations. Agree to do the best you can, be respectful to one another, and perhaps see a professional afterwards.”

Emotionally and physically abusive relationships are also intensified under lockdown, cautions Weil. “If you’re worried about your safety, that takes priority. You don’t have to resolve every problem now, you actually have to walk on eggshells if necessary,” she says. “If you can’t leave, do what it takes to keep yourself safe.”

*Names have been changed

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