Now that COVID-19 vaccines are more widely available for adults, updated CDC guidelines, and mask mandates lifting, I’m beginning to see signs of distress and increased anxiety in couples regarding how to maintain closeness while reintegrating into their community. Couples aren’t sure how to discuss their expectations of what they want their life to look like after the pandemic lockdown, especially if they have different opinions, feelings, and anxieties.
Despite the real loss the pandemic has had for many families, there are positive takeaways. In a recent session, one client shared with their partner, “I really liked our pandemic routine. After we logged off our computers for the day, we made dinner together, played music in the background, and took a nightly walk. I could count on spending time with you, because there wasn’t another option competing for our attention. We didn’t get invitations to hang out with our friends, we didn’t feel comfortable going to a restaurant, in many ways, the pandemic made our lives more simplistic. As stressful as the pandemic was, it also gave us the chance to really connect, really rely on each other for entertainment, and I will look back on 2020 as a very special time between us.”
While this partner was able to reflect on the positives, the discussion quickly shifted to feelings of worry, “What if our connection changes now that things are opening up? What if we fall back into our old patterns and get distracted by work, lose focus on one another, and feel disconnected? I don’t want things to return to how they were – in some ways, I wish the lockdown would continue.”
It makes a lot of sense how this partner felt worry for their relationship – their routine pre-COVID left them feeling disconnected and the thought of returning to that disconnected condition felt threatening. Couples, such as this one, under forced lockdown have developed a new intimate routine of relying on each other for comic relief, entertainment, deep conversations, and sharing feelings of uncertainty and anxiety, together.
There are two options as we move forward post-pandemic:
1) Stay locked down voluntarily or
2) Evolve your routine with intentionality
Clearly option one is not realistic or healthy.
Evolving your routine with intentionality can best be accomplished through conversation. I’ve put together a list of 5 things to help you and your partner discuss how to evolve intentionally with the goal of keeping your connection strong.
How to have a healthy conversation about reintegrating into the community as a couple
- Start with a stress-reducing conversation. Ask your partner, “What about lifting restrictions is making you feel anxious?”
- Take turns reflecting upon what you enjoyed about social distancing with your partner. Ask your partner, “What will you miss the most about our pandemic life?” Try integrating a statement of appreciation while you reflect. Tips on making an appreciation statement can be found here.
- Share with each other what you perceive as a threat to your connection. Ask your partner, “What worries you about not being around each other as much as we have this past year?”
- Describe what you are hopeful for now that things in the community are opening up.
- Plan together by starting with brainstorming and check-in with each other throughout the conversation. A great starting question is, “How might we nurture our relationship as we move into this next phase while at the same time introducing options, such as getting out of the house, traveling, and seeing family and friends?”
You can be intentional about the way you go about reintegrating into society, taking the positives, such as a stronger connection with your partner, and being deliberate about how you spend your time alone or together. Don’t be surprised if you have to set aside time to talk multiple times – things change, and when they do, sometimes feelings and thoughts change, too.
It’s not all good and smooth, and that is okay
These conversations can bring up complex feelings, such as guilt, anxiety, and grief. Those emotions are important to process and are valid. Unprocessed feelings can lead to further disconnection and possible resentment. For instance, even if you enjoyed the quality time together, you can also feel joy about having more freedom and time away from one another. Sharing this with your partner can be a delicate balance of wanting to appreciate the good and feeling the reality of relief – seeing your partner grimace or smirk could lead to feelings of guilt and make you want to shut down, but instead of shutting down, talk about the complex feelings you are having.
Or perhaps you enjoyed time together initially, let’s say for the first 6 months, but after a while your relationship lost some energy by way of less spontaneity or falling into a mundane routine. While your partner may not be excited about the community opening up, you are. Sharing your feelings, even if they differ from your partner is okay.
The point is, conversations are essential in maintaining the health of your relationship. Sharing how you feel is crucial in fostering your connection. Transitioning back into our community post-pandemic lockdown can bring up a lot of mixed feelings and this topic is a conversation that you and your partner should have (and continue having).
When therapy can help
If you find having conversations are difficult or adjusting to post-pandemic lockdown is causing distress (such as feeling overwhelmed, anxious, withdrawing, being more irritable), a licensed therapist can help.
If you are ready to schedule an appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started. We offer virtual sessions only right now to accommodate the safety of our staff and clients during the time of COVID-19.