The past year + of COVID life has really done so much damage to relationships. I’m seeing relationships blowing up all over the place. Relationships that were strong and steady just got destabilized by this year of intensity. I’ve had a major influx of inquiries for my divorce groups and discernment counseling (which helps people decide what to do with their struggling relationship -- be it to do nothing, separate, or try to work on it).
So many relationships have suffered because they are not functioning within a social sphere that works anymore -- with the crucial activities that refresh and the necessary time apart (including just time alone) -- which make relationships happier, healthier, and stronger. When those options aren’t available, people turn on each other like ”rats in a coffee can.”
It’s hard to stay emotionally healthy if you don’t have perspective and healthy outlets.
COVID-induced isolation and stress has exacerbated every chronic issue that may have been lying dormant between couples (like a slow leak in a car tire -- inevitably resulting in a flat). All of our relationships took some sort of a hit during the last year and a half. I’ve seen it everywhere, and the effects have been long-lasting.
We understood that lockdowns were a sacrifice that many were willing to make -- but perhaps the bigger/longer-term impacts of these were not fully understood or anticipated. But, those impacts are clearly evident with those I serve in my practice.
Our relationships are greatly affected by the state of our mental health and our engagement with the world around us -- just as we are really influenced by our surroundings.
For far too long, we were stuck in our houses, in our pods, and the uncomfortable places in our relationship. Maybe... we’re still stuck -- either together or apart -- or just in misery with each other.
We didn’t have our normal (and necessary) outlets, such as outings with friends, travel, etc., and it really took a toll on how we survive and interact with one another. So, some of us got creative and formed a pod with fellow “pod people.” That was cool… (for a little while).
The pod people slowly became more like an extended family (for worse than for better), and a lot of folks told me they were really sick of their pod family and actually didn’t really want to hang out with their “assigned” Fred & Ethel anymore (in fact, maybe not ever again).
Then, there was the inevitable aftermath of everyone feeling generally unmotivated, deflated, and purposeless in the world...
...Another big hit to our already struggling relationship.
One of my friends said that most of their people just want to stay home and watch TV this summer. I’m hearing that everywhere -- and I don’t see anyone out. (It’s beginning to remind me of that old Twilight Zone episode Where is Everybody?) It’s hard to get back out there when there’s fear about doing so -- or even when we’ve just lost our motivation to do so.
“The Twilight Zone” Where is Everybody?
There has been such heightened general anxiety -- and social anxiety is at an all-time high. Even people who never before felt anxious about going out in public do now. So, if we can’t go out (still), how do we do the things we know we need to do to get back on track? Some people really want to socialize again, but they feel that they’re being excluded from social activities; they wonder if it’s just in their head or if it’s that nothing is actually happening out there. It’s almost like we’ve all been pushed back to our first days in middle school, looking for a place to sit at the lunch tables.
We really have to figure out how to work through these basic feelings of anxiety in order to get back out into the world -- and function again.
Now, you may be asking… So, what do we do? Are we just &^(%ed?? How do we start to repair, rebuild, and reconnect in our relationships? With so much that’s happened -- can we even fix them? Should we work on them -- or just cut and start fresh?
Is it even worth it?
(What’s on TV...?)
If you’re one of the many who lost their romantic relationship during COVID, I urge you to get support. Yeah, we’ve all been through break-ups before, but this one is different -- it’s not just about your relationship this time -- but all of the loss that’s tied up with it.
Perhaps you’re not there (yet) -- but stuck in indecision in your relationship. Should I end it – try to work through it – or just do nothing right now because everything is so unstable? And, how could anyone possibly make these kinds of decisions -- especially right now!?
Well, here’s another place where support (specifically, counseling) can really make a difference… In counseling, you can explore and understand:
Try not to pass over this part; it will help you move on and be more available to the next opportunity you have in life. Try not to pass over your understanding about what happened, what was your involvement, what has your experience been, and what levels of grief might you experience.
If you’re trying to figure out whether you’re going to end your relationship, here are a few questions you can ask yourself to start:
Think on these questions and even journal on them. If you are better at verbally processing, maybe use your phone to dictate the answers. (Do it a few times to see if you get other answers - which may even be dependent upon your mood, your hunger level, the amount of sleep you’ve gotten, etc..)
If you’re not quite ready for counseling, consider reflecting on some of these areas on your own:
And, remember… There are many other ways to get support -- and they don’t have to be super formal or cost money. It could be an Al-Anon group, a CODA group, or a Meetup group.
But, if it’s your long-term, romantic relationship that’s really suffering, Discernment Counseling might be a worthwhile place to start. It can really help you to decide whether and how to end your relationship -- and come through it in one piece.
No matter which space you choose -- just find some space to work on your relationship.
There are inevitable challenges involved with whichever choice you make -- whether it’s staying, going, or deciding to remain in indecision, ultimately, it is the least painful option that generally wins. I've worked with thousands of people in long-term relationships lasting from a few years to 30+ years -- and most of these folks had built a substantial part of their identity within those relationships. But, in order to reestablish ourselves, we have to first re-identify ourselves. The longer the relationship, generally, the more intense the reestablishing process is. So, remind yourself to be patient and that it will take time and a little processing. Either way, do the work; it’s worth it.