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Opinion: Love in lockdown – nurturing relationships through Covid restrictions

Two therapists have some advice for those looking to take care of their relationships on this Valentine’s Day.

Jennifer Griffin & Brian Holohan

Happy Valentine’s Day! There’s no denying that Valentine’s 2021 looks nothing like the frenzied, romance-infused celebration we’re used to, but that doesn’t mean relationships should suffer. Many loved ones are under pressure now, with work and home life intersecting.

Here, two experienced therapists outline what changes they’re seeing in relationships since Covid restrictions changed all our lives. They also offer some helpful advice for anyone looking to address any tensions and help their relationship healthy and happy during these difficult times:

AS WE CONTINUE to navigate the day to day of living in a pandemic with restrictions, the relationships that are most important to us are being put under pressure like never before.

Work worries, maintaining a home, looking out for vulnerable loved ones, and supporting children, are all competing priorities.

Issues that were once ongoing are coming to a head as crises in these intense and isolated times. Without things to ‘look forward to’ or fun things to do together, relationships can become tired and, in some instances, troubled.

There has been a surge in demand for mental health and wellbeing support services since the pandemic hit. We work with Turn2me.ie, a site that provides a range of professional mental health services online – to individuals, couples and young people and their families. All services are confidential, non-judgemental and inclusive.

At the height of the pandemic, turn2me experienced a 368% increase in people seeking support, with relationship issues consistently the most cited cause of mental health distress for both young people and adults.

With support from the Sláintecare Integration Fund, we have been able to expand our services to provide counselling for couples and support for families.

Issues in Level 5

The most common issues that couples are presenting with revolve around living situations, both living together and separately. For couples who are locked down together, they are experiencing a lack of space that they once enjoyed. As our home and work lives blur, couples are also finding that work is colliding with relationships.

Valuing each other and being mindful of the workload that each must get through daily is essential. Remember that outside of work commitments, there’s also the shared responsibility of the relationship and home life that needs to be nurtured too.

Being too tired to help with making dinner or hoping that someone else will do it means that the workload is not being shared. We’re all responsible for our part in a relationship, we all have the potential to show compassion and to step up to help rather than sit down and ignore what needs to be done.

Naturally, this can lead to arguments that can exacerbate already stressed people, we need to be that much more mindful of the role that we are responsible for in the relationship.

Getting through this

So how do couples support each other and keep the tension to a minimum? Whilst space is at a premium with the new home-come-office-come-restaurant-nightclub environment that has transformed the shared domicile, allowing space to exist during the hours of our working day is important.

Simply setting time in your busy day to step outside of your office space is so important, to take a break together, to have coffee and chat about your day so far.

You can even text each other, send a WhatsApp to rendezvous in the ‘staff canteen’ (i.e. your own kitchen) to make things a little more fun and less like feeling that you’re stuck at home together.

While some couples may feel stuck under one roof, others are forced to be apart. For this, finding a happy medium between too much and too little communication is key. We need to remember that emotional intimacy is just as important as physical intimacy.

Let your loved one know that you’re thinking about them and really listen to them when you ask, ‘How are you?’ – Lending and receiving emotional support when we need it while also talking about and refreshing our shared interests and passions can be really beneficial.

Ultimately, trying to focus on what keeps you together overall, rather than what is keeping you apart physically.

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Help is available

Sometimes getting an outside perspective and support can really help too. Counselling can be hugely helpful.

There’s no travel required to see the therapist, so it can better fit around work and family commitments. It is also useful for couples in different locations.

It is important to dispel the misconception that couples’ counselling is exclusive to just serious events and fall out such as relationship breakdown.

This type of support presents a great opportunity to also check in on what really matters and help towards the day to day building of healthy and fulfilled relationships. Likewise, there should be no feelings of shame or failure associated with therapy. We are living in extraordinary times and there is nothing wrong with seeking support and perspective from a helping hand.

But, if counselling does feel like a big first step, or there is simply no privacy in a lockdown situation, there are a number of other supports available that can act as a scaffolding to help you make the first step.

We offer anonymous instant messaging support groups as well as a 24/7 peer support community. This can be a helpful place to start reaching out. 40.8% of our users have opted for instant messaging sessions in times when privacy and time are of the essence.

Once a strain on a relationship is identified, there can be a broad spectrum as to the urgency and seriousness of the issue. It is crucial to determine how serious that strain may be in terms of safety and welfare.

Sadly, in these pandemic times, domestic violence is on the rise. In such situations, it is incredibly important to put a plan in place for a safe exit. This is a challenging time for us as people, colleagues, friends, parents, and partners. Help is available to suit any circumstance or situation.

Some people might think that accessing professional mental health services is not possible right now but there are lots of services available, accessible online and at no cost.

Jennifer Griffin is the General Manager and Brian Holohan is the Clinical Manager of turn2me. They are both fully accredited and experienced counsellors and psychotherapists. turn2me is a registered charity and its services are made possible with the support of the HSE’s National Office for Suicide Prevention, Sláintecare, private donations and community fundraising.

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Jennifer Griffin & Brian Holohan

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