COVID Related Relationship Issues: How to address & fix them

It’s no secret that 2020 has been an incredibly tough year.

The coronavirus pandemic has had devastating impacts on the lives of people all over the globe and has also presented enormous challenges to our most cherished relationships.

The stress of losing jobs, facing financial hardship, ongoing health issues and being confined to the indoors due to quarantine has tested even the strongest relationships to breaking point.

But it’s not all bad news! If you have a relationship that’s been struggling, there’s a number of actions you can take to turn things around.

We reached out to a number of relationship experts (including some of our own practitioners here at Counselling in Melbourne!) to uncover and discuss some of the most common issues relationships counsellors are seeing – and more importantly – how to address them to get your relationship back on track and keep it thriving into the future.

Beth Andrew – Counselling in Melbourne

What are the most common relationship issues you have encountered?

The most common relationship issues usually come down to one side of a person’s personality, triggering a side of our own personality that clashes. For example, a friend who is critical in the way they give advice triggers a defensive, irritable side of our own personality. Or a romantic partner’s need for space triggers his partner’s vulnerability to rejection and loneliness. This results in misunderstanding, defensive behaviour and conflict.

What are some basic steps to address and solve these issues?

Get to know the sides of your personality that are vulnerable and take the time to know your partner’s too! Try to be curious about why you reacted the way you did after conflict. Was it really what the other person said? Or did it bring up something personal in you? What does that feeling remind you of? Is this really about what is happening between you right now, or does it remind you of something from your past?

Some steps managing conflict in close relationships, including trying to be honest about how what that person said affected you. Try to express what you need from them while being accountable for paying attention to how much of this is a problem in the here and now, and how much it takes you back to a feeling from your past.

By the same token, get to know your partner’s needs, try to have compassion for why certain, seemingly innocuous things seem to bring up such a reaction in them. Frustration and criticism of that reaction is unlikely to soften it!

What are some common mistakes people make when encountering their relationship issues?

The biggest mistakes are assuming the voice in your head explaining their partner’s behaviour is correct! That is your own interpretation. It may not be 100%, or even slightly true!

Another big mistake is assuming a tone of voice or body language is less important than the actual words you use. 90% of communication is non-verbal. If you glare and have tensed shoulders while expressing that you are “feeling fine”, don’t be surprised when your partner doesn’t believe you!

Lastly, a big mistake is not knowing when to let a relationship go. If you are willing to be curious and patient with your partner’s needs, but they are incapable of offering you the same effort, this relationship is unlikely to be fulfilling in the long run. Not knowing when to say goodbye, is a mistake that leads to feeling trapped, resentful and lonely.

Dr Michelle R. Hannah – michellerhannah.com.

Have you seen first-hand the impacts of coronavirus on relationships?

I have observed firsthand the impact of coronavirus on relationships. I have witnessed couples reach an unbearable point of stress since the pandemic. Mainly because of fear of the unknown, family members dying from COVID, career changes, unresolved conflict within the relationship and the consistent need to shift and adapt. It’s painful to watch couples fight against each other instead of realizing they have realised that distractions have prevented them from speaking about the real issues.

The pandemic has had a way of forcing couples to face their individual and couple challenges. So often couples lose their new car smell and begin to treat each other like old jalopies.

What are the most common relationship issues you encounter?

The most common issues are the need to create a healthy conflict resolution in the relationship, in need of a reinvention, unresolved issues and lack of authenticity.

Being quarantined together has a way of bringing the truth to the forefront where it belongs. The stress of COVID alone would cause anyone to feel the need to run from conflict.

However on the other hand if you work through your conflict then you have now become partners.

What are some basic steps to address and solve these issues?

Some basic tips to help you face your challenges are:

  • Set boundaries in your relationship
  • Sit down and create the blueprint you want for your relationship
  • Find your way to individual authenticity and then couple authenticity
  • Seek out a relationship coach, therapist or psychiatrist

What are some common mistakes people make when encountering relationship issues?

The common mistakes people make is not communicating effectively, lack of transparency, fear of vulnerability, and not seeking professional help.

It’s not easy to be vulnerable but it’s so rewarding and it will build trust and provide a deeper connection of intimacy. Ask yourself did you get married to keep secrets, shut down and be fearful of being the authentic you?

Hopefully, you got married to the have the opposite-transparency, vulnerability and trust.

Reaching out for professional help makes you stronger and a different perspective.

Lauren Muratore – Integrated Sex + Relationship Therapy

Have you seen first-hand the impacts of coronavirus on relationships?

Coronavirus has indirectly put many relationships in a pressure cooker. This has severely impacted each individual’s mental health, and how they feel about the relationship; not to mention their sexual experiences. But I have seen some relationships thrive and people take the time to work on their relationship issues, spend time with one another, and develop a greater understanding of the depth of their relationship.

What are the most common relationship issues you encounter?

As a sex and relationship therapist, the primary relationship issue I see is a mismatched libido, as well as a generally lowered libido. Coronavirus has greatly lowered many individuals’ libido, in turn creating an underlying relationship issue where two people feel like a connection has been lost. Once they feel a connection is lost, every nuance is amplified and what is normally a small issue feels like a large one. This has been creating great rifts between partners and overwhelming unsatisfactory sex life, not to mention relationship tension.

What are some basic steps to address and solve these issues?

Normalising the effects of Covid, the huge life changes people have made, the global anxiety, and the unknown make for very unsexy times. Fear, along with not knowing what the future holds, subconsciously affects libido.

Many people have been in their heads worrying or frustrated, and therefore they haven’t been able to get into their body to feel pleasure. Being around your partner 24/7 is also a huge change, people don’t have the opportunity to miss one another, there is no news to report, and boredom has really set in for a lot of couples I see.

Setting aside to be creative and have a date night at home, a bath together, an hour to have a glass of wine and talk about topics never explored before rather than watching tv can keep somewhat of a connection going.

What are some common mistakes people make when encountering relationship issues?

Miscommunication is probably the biggest issue I see. Many people don’t actively listen to their partner, they listen with defensive ears or are waiting to tell their side of the story. Being “heard” does wonders for a relationship.

Avoidance is another big mistake people make. There is the misconceived notion that fighting is bad in a relationship. ‘Fighting’ smarter and conflict resolution help iron out disagreements; after all, it’s perfectly healthy for a couple not see eye to eye on everything. You don’t have to agree with everything your partner says or does, but trying to understand where they come from is important.

Jachym Jerie – Your Exceptional Relationship

Have you seen first-hand the impacts of coronavirus on relationships?

Yes, couples are split into two camps: they are either thriving or struggling at this time. Divorce lawyers’ phones are ringing off the hook as couples begin to face issues within their relationship that used to be brushed aside. Now that they spend more time together, many couples struggle with finding a peaceful resolution and end up at odds and questioning their relationship.

On the other hand, some couples enjoy the extra time they are able to spend with one another. Some take this even further by prioritizing the relationship which leads to more intimacy and fulfillment.

What are the most common relationship issues you encounter?

We’ve seen conflict topics range from the most mundane household tasks to big life decisions:

  • Money
  • Raising kids
  • Household chores
  • Sex
  • In-laws
  • Not having enough space
  • Feeling neglected or smothered

Underlying these issues is a common thread of values clashing. A lot of times the serious issues like fighting about money are simply a symbol for opposing value systems. In order to fully resolve these differences, couples have to go beyond the surface topic and dive deeper into why it matters to them. This requires a level of vulnerability, self-reflection and also ownership of one’s desires.

What are some basic steps to address and solve these issues?

When conflicts arise, most people resort to being defensive or attacking the other person. This happens when we feel threatened by the situation and fear that we might lose something important to us.

The key is listening. When you learn to listen to your partner, you put your view aside for the time being and deeply explore your partner’s point of view. You’re not agreeing or disagreeing with them, you’re there to understand them. When relationship issues are resolved this way, it can bring couples closer together in a healing and synergetic process where both feel heard, respected and valued.

What are some common mistakes people make when encountering relationship issues?

People always blame their partner instead of trying to self-reflect and find their own responsibility in this issue. When both partners do that, you end up in a grid-lock because no one takes ownership of what’s happening. They just point fingers at each other, believing that they are right and their partner’s at fault.

Couples lose sight of the ‘we’ in the relationship and start thinking about ‘me vs. you’. Because of this, they get wrapped up in a power struggle where both ultimately lose. The only way to truly resolve these issues is to come together as a team.

Beck Thompson – The Relationship Circle

Have you seen first-hand the impacts of coronavirus on relationships?

Yes, Relationships are reaching their breaking point a lot sooner than perhaps they would have if there was not a pandemic. It seems to have fastened the process as relationships have been put under an incubator and are either thriving or crashing down. Having increased closeness, increased personal stress and lack of freedom has really impacted on relationships.

What are the most common relationship issues you encounter?

Without a doubt miscommunication and misalignment. People are so used to operating in a certain way and communicating in a certain way and they don’t have the tools to be able to shift the way that they do things which leads to increased conflict and increased misunderstanding, which overtime people get frustrated with going around in a loop and they cannot see their way out of it so they either remain in the relationship unhappy or they separate.

What are some basic steps to address and solve these issues?

Being able to have compassion and see the world through the other person’s eyes, remember that you have an opportunity to learn from your partner and the way they do things if you are not so stuck on the idea that it’s your way or the highway. Practice basic respect and communication skills and seek help to bridge the gap.

What are some common mistakes people make when encountering relationship issues?

Thinking that they can do it all without the tools and the skills. When we go the gym and hire a personal trainer they can teach us how to exercise to reach our goals and it is the same thing with relationships, seek help from an expert that can guide and support you and give you the tools you need to be able to make it through whatever is occurring for you at the moment. Get your relationship to a 10/10 before you walk away.

Jacqueline McDiarmid – Sydney Couple & Family Specialists

What are the most common relationship issues you encounter?

Communication (constant fighting) is one of the main issues that bring couples in to see us. As well as intimacy problems and couples saying they feel disconnected. We also see a lot of couples for parenting help as they may be struggling with a child who has a diagnosis of AD/HD or ASD.

In the last few years, we have seen an increase in the number of couples who are thinking about separating and want to do this well. COVID has been a significant strain on relationships and has really highlighted underlying problems couples may be experiencing. COVID has also meant that most couples with children have not had the ability to have had much-needed couple time on their own – couples have struggled to date during COVID.

And many of them have either been too scared to access their usual babysitting services or they don’t want to expose their aging parents to grandchildren for fear that the grandparents contract COVID. This has meant that COVID has not only added all the stress we know, but couples have had less time and space to deal with the stress – which has led many couples to seek professional help.

What are some basic steps to address and solve these issues?

Couples need to get creative and find different ways to manage stress in their lives.

I have suggested to couples that they still do their date night but perhaps after young children are in bed or older children are busy with a movie in another room. In a situation like COVID, it is important to look at what a couple can do rather than focusing on what they can’t do to stay connected.

It is also very important that couples bring awareness and mindfulness to prevent a conflict between them. Constant conflict will not only lead to couples feeling disconnected, it will in time lead to a person feeling lonely and isolated in the relationship. If a couple is not able to get out of constant conflict, they should seek professional help with a qualified couples therapist.

What are some common mistakes people make when encountering relationship issues?

They leave it far too long before they seek professional help. Or they focus on parenting their children – put children first before the relationship – and ignore the relationship problems with their partner. Over time resentment then grows and eventually it can be too late or too hard to repair a relationship. Many couples say to me they wished they had sought professional help a lot sooner.

Lissy Abrahams – Heath Group Practice

Have you seen first-hand the impacts of coronavirus on relationships?

I have seen the multitude of impacts of coronavirus on relationships. These include:

  • Job losses have fuelled financial anxiety and, for some, depression about the future.
  • For partners who contracted COVID months ago, some have lingering fatigue, brain fog, or depression. This affects their capacity to bring energy or a desire to connect to the relationship.
  • Many others quickly became stressed and exhausted working from home, in cramped spaces, and overseeing their children’s online schooling.
  • A positive impact has been that many partners enjoyed more time with each other, their children with less running around.

What are the most common relationship issues you encounter?

The 4 most common relationship issues are:

  1. Differences in parenting or parenting difficulties, which causes many fights and even breakdown for couples.
  2. Disagreements about how to spend or save money. Money can increase or decrease our sense of security, therefore differences in one’s attitude to money can divide partners and lead to many arguments.
  3. A lack of intimacy or sex in a relationship often creates loneliness and even shame in relationships.
  4. A loss of trust in one’s partner can cause a partner to feel wary and fearful, and often the relationship will become less harmonious.

What are some basic steps to address and solve these issues?

Relationship issues will not go away by themselves, so partners need to work on them. Individually we can understand ourselves better by seeing a therapist and calming ourselves through mindfulness or meditation. Partners can also see a couples therapist to resolve relationship issues and decrease conflict and blame. A couples therapist can also help them learn to skilfully communicate with each other. This includes; listening openly and respectfully, being curious about both partners minds and how they are different, decreasing judgment of each other, developing empathy, and most importantly learning to apologise.

What are some common mistakes people make when encountering relationship issues?

The 4 most common mistakes people make when they have relationship issues are:

  1. Thinking they should be conflict-free and that conflict makes them incompatible. Conflict is normal, however, the intensity and frequency may be hurting the relationship.
  2. Thinking issues will disappear. They won’t and need to be resolved to improve the relationship.
  3. Lacking self-knowledge or awareness can cause us to incorrectly blame our partner, create conflict, and prevent us from taking responsibility for issues we unwittingly cause.
  4. Unclean apologies erode trust in a relationship. Apologies need to be meaningful and sincere.

Kay Feeney – Feeney Family Law

Have you seen first-hand the impacts of coronavirus on relationships?

The coronavirus pandemic has had a profound impact on the way we live, creating unprecedented challenges in our day-to-day lives. The nature of the pandemic is such that a significant amount of people must now deal with issues such as unemployment and financial instability for the first time in their lives. Others have been placed in situations where they must work from home alongside their partners.

With no chance for socialising, date nights, romantic getaways and hobbies enjoyed outside the house, coronavirus has undoubtedly placed undue stress and strain on relationships. As a result, people in relationships who have had to spend more time together under the same roof have been more inclined to separate. For those who decide to separate and move away the search for alternative employment is likely to be frivolous due to the unavailability of casual retail or hospitality jobs.

Being under the same roof as your partner also increases the possibility of spreading the virus to one another, should one person become infected. The likelihood of domestic violence may also increase because of movement restrictions that have been enforced to stop the spread of coronavirus. Those
who are already in abusive situations will likely find themselves facing more violence due to no longer being able to escape to work or by going to see friends/family.

Coronavirus has also seen a rise of different domestic violence whereby an abusive partner or parent threatens to infect them or their children with the virus.

What is the most common relationship issue you encounter?

Power and control are at the root of almost every relationship issue we encounter. Power dynamics exist in all relationships. Having power is to have a sense of control, over someone’s choices and over others. It is a natural and healthy instinct to exert power to meet our wants and needs. Issues dealing with power and control arise where there is an unhealthy balance in relationships. Often people who have no agency in their own life feel powerless as if they have no control over their own life. These people have lost the ability to function as adult decision makers.

What are some basic steps to address and solve these issues?

Employment and education are important factors that ought to be considered in the context of family violence. Employment provides an alternate measure of self-worth in the form of financial security, independence, and confidence. As such individuals who are secure in their employment are more likely to be secure in themselves. The answer to relationship issues and family law matters is not as simple as having secure employment, but it does offer choice. Lack of employment reduces choice for you and your children.

What are some common mistakes people make when encountering relationship issues?

A common mistake is the inability for partners to communicate in a positive and rational manner. The importance of effective communication should be understood as a goal, especially where children are involved. It may be necessary to think about different communication styles, especially if parties are unable to openly discuss and share information.

 

About the editor, Amelia Cambrell

My name is Amelia and I'm a Senior Psychologist at Counselling in Melbourne. I have over 18-years of experience in the mental health space. I am very driven to get the best outcomes for my clients which can be long lasting by using a range of modalities such as CBT. There is nothing more satisfying than helping adolescents, adults and couples who are feeling confused, frustrated, stuck or overwhelmed, to find more clarity, confidence and happiness in their lives.

Find out more about Amelia Cambrell

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