Living with a long-term partner is never all roses. Like all things, our intimate partnerships tend to ebb and flow. But what happens when you add the stress of a global pandemic? Things can quickly become overwhelming, as couples in quarantine can attest.
Between the stress of financial uncertainty, homeschooling children, and the fear of getting sick, we are all on edge these days. Not only that, but our relationships are impacted — for better and worse. In fact, couples therapy expert Dr. Parul Patel of Orange County Health Psychologists says that the pandemic is forcing intimate partners to face the truth of their relationships head-on in one way or another.
“The pandemic creates a pressure cooker effect, leading to an extreme effort to have difficult conversations and either reconnect and break apart,” says Patel.
When Couples in Quarantine Clash
Not many couples were used to being together 24/7 before the pandemic. But now that so many of us are working from home, we’re forced to share a confined space daily… and we don’t know when it will end. Needless to say, it’s tempting to want to release tension by lashing out at the person closest to us. “People are frustrated, and sometimes they bring their frustrations to their relationships,” says Patel.
For example, not being able to see one’s affair partner during lockdown can make one take more risks. Many are resorting to communicating with affair partners carelessly, leading their spouses to unsettling discoveries, such as inappropriate texts or emails.
Once this happens, it can be the last straw for couples. “If either one of them has an affair partner — and that is what increases their ability to tolerate the primary relationship — then the pandemic brings the secondary relationship to the forefront,” says Patel. Often, this can lead to a breakup.
But even when a couple doesn’t have a serious underlying issue like infidelity or abuse, the pandemic itself can drive a wedge between partners if they don’t agree on how to approach it. “A couple may have different and conflict-generating attitudes about the pandemic,” says Patel. Questions as to whether or not to send the kids back to school or even just wear a mask can be sources of conflict.
How COVID Brings Couples Together
On the positive side, the pandemic offers everyone lots of together time. And many couples in quarantine have been taking full advantage of it — both with and without their kids. Patel is encouraged to see these efforts and the increased connection and intimacy that emerge.
“Couples and families are starting to get creative,” says Patel. “People are doing more outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and even creating mini-gyms in their garage.”
Generally, Patel says on the positive front the pandemic has not only fostered togetherness but truly strengthened bonds between partners and other family members.
Tips for Couples in Quarantine
So how do you address any negative relationship impact of the pandemic?
We’re sure you won’t be surprised by our first tip: Start therapy.
“I am a believer in therapy,” Patel says with a laugh. “There’s a lot of online therapy available — even more so now.” Here at Orange County Health Psychologists, we offer telehealth services which are shown to be just as effective as in-person consultations.
“I would encourage therapy even if there’s no crisis,” adds Patel. “It’s helpful to get a third-person perspective on how to deepen connection and how to make the relationship exciting. It doesn’t have to be crisis-driven or just problem-solving.”
Instead, says Patel, just try to come in with a positive attitude and an open mind. “Typically people access therapy with a commitment to some sort of change and come in with that expectation,” she says.
As for other ways to improve your relationship during quarantine, you might try to find a new activity to share with your partner. “Finding an activity — like taking a walk, watching a show together, focusing on a shared common interest, hobby, or ritual — that kind of effort helps,” says Patel. Scour the internet for what interests you.
Also, don’t forget the power of human connection. “Reach out to your community, such as your family and friends you haven’t seen in a long time,” suggests Patel. The support of others can be invaluable when it comes to dealing with the stress you experience at home.
Finally, see if you can pay closer attention to how you treat each other. “Bring kindness to interactions with your partner,” suggests Patel. “Oftentimes we are on our best behavior at work, and then what our partners get is the ‘leftover.’ So stay mindful of that.” And, she reminds us that because our home and work lives are so blended together these days, we have even less of an excuse. “Now that we are working from home, you’re on your best behavior for the Zoom meeting, and then right after that you see your partner in the kitchen, so that transition is even easier!”
Reach Out for Couples Therapy
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that life is short — and what matters most are our relationships. For couples therapy help, contact us at 949-528-6300 or email info@OCHealthPsych.com for a therapist recommendation.
—Written by Ekua Hagan for Orange County Health Psychologists
About Parul M. Patel, Psy.D.
Dr. Parul Patel is a licensed psychologist with over 15 years of experience. She received her doctorate in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Marriage and Family Systems, from Alliant International University.
Dr. Patel specializes in couples therapy. She helps to shift pain-causing patterns, and to heal from emotional distress, violence, contempt, control and abuse, loneliness and lack of intimacy, or the weight of childhood or past trauma. She works with individuals, couples and families on their journey of recovery from relationship wounds.