Love in lockdown

U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Cohen A. Young/Released

Stuck in our houses with a global pandemic raging outside can place great strain on a relationship. Danie Breedt shares some advice on how to maintain a healthy relationship during lockdown

With the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, all aspects of our daily lives have been impacted with relationships as no exception. Although social distancing is important to prevent the spread of the virus, it has major emotional impacts on our relationships.

In times of crisis, we go through a three-stage process (also known as General Adaptation Syndrome) of alarm, resistance and exhaustion. During the alarm phase our bodies experience physiological and psychological reactions, as we move into a fight, flight, or freeze response for survival. The resistance phase can be seen as our attempt to adapt to and overcome the effects of the stressor.

If the stressor is not resolved, the stress hormone cortisol will continue to be produced, resulting in poor sleep, increased illness, anxiety, weight gain, and poor cognitive functioning. Finally, exhaustion may follow when a stressor becomes chronic either from ongoing exposure or repeated attempts to deal with it. We become overwhelmed.

In these times of overwhelm, it is not uncommon for emotional and relational difficulties to be magnified. Some, seemingly insignificant, irritation that you may have with your partner suddenly feels like a massive issue. In these situations, we often revert to old (and often ineffective) coping strategies due to familiarity and unfortunately, the people closest to us often bears the brunt of it.

With a higher probability of discord with your partner, some emotional distance can be experienced at times. In periods of feeling disconnected, intimacy and sex are often out the door first.

Fortunately, there are some tools that can help you get your relationship back on track. Sex is a great way to relieve tension and stress while simultaneously building a relationship up. However, if there are emotional unfinished business between partners, approaching the topic of physical intimacy could easily have the opposite effect.

Therefore, start with addressing the elephants in the room by making more time for honest conversations. Sharing your experiences and emotions during times crisis has a cathartic effect for you, but also helps your partner to empathise with you. This has the added benefit of seeing your partner as an ally in dealing with a problem as opposed to them being the problem.

It could also be helpful to make a point of “checking-in” with yourself about what you are experiencing at a specific time. Becoming aware of how you are feeling makes it easier to prevent unintended lash outs towards your partner. It also helps to keep you rooted in the present instead of feeling anxious about an uncertain future.

Finally, use this time as a relationship-builder in learning to respect and support how each partner’s experience may be different.

Dr Danie Breedt is a passionate scholar-practitioner in the field of psychology. He divides his time between training, research and clinical practice. Danie works from an integrative interactional approach in psychotherapy, dealing with a wide range of emotional difficulties and sexual rehabilitation for patients with disabilities. He is the co-owner of Charis Psychological Services, a psychology practice that specialises in physical rehabilitation across South Africa.

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