During a recent radio interview, I was asked by the journalist whether I thought the lock downs/stay at home orders were contributing to the break down of relationships. My honest answer is that the conditions and stressors created by the pandemic and various stay at home measure act like a pressure cooker and amplifies what is already there.
Some couples are thriving. They are finding a new sense of togetherness and cohesion. This time of stepping outside the pressures and busyness of running around for children’s activities, work, social engagements etc has brought respite and a time to lean in to each other and the family.
For other couples, it has brought into sharp relief the underlying issues around equity, entitlement, and that needs are not being met. It is those couples for whom this pandemic could bring about the end of the relationship. I don’t think the pandemic is the cause or the catalyst, I think it has just brought the disconnect into focus.
It’s often about competing wants and needs. These past few weeks have been incredibly challenging for me as a therapist. Usually I am able to take competing wants and needs and find compromise and a way forward. The pandemic has created situations where there is no winning for some couples, because of factors outside of both of their control.
If you have an ex who is refusing to follow social distancing, and immune compromised people in your home, there is no good choice or right answer. You either risk the life of the people in your home, or you forgo time with your child, or you move out of your home in order to be able to spend time with your child. I am seeing people in this situation over and over again. It’s hearbreaking. It sets up situations where the partner feels like their needs are secondary or the ex has all the control. It can lead to resentment and frustration that yet again the new family comes last or is being negatively impacted by the ex and the stepchildren.
In a relationship that is solid, and each person feels their needs are being met, these events can be discussed and navigated. There will be an understanding that these are extraordinary times, beyond our individual control, and sacrifices and allowances need to be made.
In a relationship where the relationship is already stretched and one or both are feeling like their needs aren’t being met, and they are not a priority, this can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. To be asked to sacrifice yet again is just too much.
So what can you do if you are struggling in your relationship right now?
The first thing is to take stock and dig into what is behind the disconnect, the arguments, the feeling that it’s all too hard. If you look beyond the surface, you’ll find it’s things like not feeling heard, of not being a priority.
If you’re a stepparent, it may be that you are being expected to take on a greater load of parenting, but are not being given the authority or permission to actually parent. You’re feeling like a glorified, unpaid babysitter. Babysitters would probably have an easier time because they wouldn’t get the same level of commentary about their performance!
It could be feelings around not being a priority or not being in control of your own home. It could be old wounds from our past that are resurfacing in a time of stress and anxiety.
The feelings maybe so tangled and overwhelming, you don’t even know where to begin!
Whatever it is, if you are concerned your relationship is in trouble, now is the time to seek help. Look for a therapist or coach who is skilled in step-family dynamics. If your partner won’t get help with you, get it for yourself. I often start working with stepmums and then this naturally transitions into couple work. Getting professional help is always cheaper than separation and divorce!
If you’d like some support with your relationship during this trying time, you can email me firstname.lastname@example.org