Falling in love again or falling apart? Couples therapist Louis Venter shares his observations of what’s happening in relationships through his experience of offering virtual couples’ therapy remotely to dozens of couples over South Africa.
Couples therapy can be intimidating and might feel like admitting defeat but this mindset will only keep you trapped in negative cycles. During the lockdown, set yourself free with virtual marriage counselling and use this lockdown for what it can be, an opportunity to fix what you hadn’t realized was broken.
How should we adjust our relationships and marriage to accommodate the lockdown?
Who could’ve predicted at the start of 2020 that by April, we’d find ourselves in a worldwide pressure cooker designed by Stephen King, not us that’s for sure! For most people in South Africa, COVID-19 is a terrifying threat to basic necessities like food, water, and medical care. For the middle class, the typical stability and routine of our lives have disappeared and new strains have been placed on our relationships.
Jobs and incomes are on the line meaning that anxiety, frustration, and confusion are running high. When I write about the impact of lockdown on relationships, I’m talking about couples who can work from home and are not fighting for their survival each day. I do this because this is my area of experience and generally speaking, who makes up my clientele. Over the past few weeks, here’s what I’ve discovered through those I’ve been working closely with.
What is left when the busyness stops?
For a number of years, many of us have been avoiding the reality of our relationships. By packing our time with work, children, sport, friends, and entertainment, we’ve been hiding behind busyness. Being busy and having a full schedule, actually shields us from our truth.
When did the two of us stop prioritizing our sacred space? When did we stop tending to our relationship? When did we start using our schedules as an excuse not to see each other? Being busy has become a scapegoat.
Now that science fiction seems to be our new reality, life as we knew it has stopped. Our state of busyness has ground to a halt. What is there now, without the busyness? Can we find our truth again?
From what I’m seeing at the moment, one of two scenarios is playing out:
1. The Harsh Truth?
The two partners in the relationship become increasingly resourceful at finding ways to create ‘space’ from each other. The game becomes, how many ways can we avoid each other in this house? Children, economic stress, and personal coping mechanisms can all exacerbate the blame and shame dynamic. Resentment and anger intensify, and feelings of being alone deepen and manifest as extreme loneliness for both partners.
Chances are good that couples in this dynamic won’t survive lockdown. Once the quarantine period ends, they may get divorced.
We will no doubt see a spike in divorce rates after the lockdown. The story that couples in this space are seemingly telling themselves is that they married the wrong person, that they aren’t understood by the one they married, or that lockdown confirmed what they feared for many years: “We are broken.” Not realizing that in lockdown, they’ve simply continued as they were.
2. A couple rediscovers each other
Strangely enough, other couples in this unbusy period are beginning to reconnect. A desire to both hold and understand one another and to be held and understood is driving them to embrace lockdown as one big gift.
For them, it’s an invitation to pause. A pause that can be used to reflect, recharge, and reconnect.
They’re buying online books, doing online courses, arranging Skype sessions with relationship coaches, enjoying having breakfast and supper together, having morning lies ins, and cherishing quality time together as a family.
They’re learning new skills. How to listen more deeply. How to understand each other better. How to develop the ability to contain each other’s bad behavior and sometimes childish emotions. How to be accountable and self-reflective about their own contributions to the relationship over the last few years.
The lockdown becomes a very important chapter in their book. Yes, the virus stopped the world, but these couples can say, “I can see you again,” and, “How lovely it is to see you. I’ve missed you.”
In essence, they’re rediscovering the beauty of their relationship. The work they’ve done together over the years, and the work they’re doing now, is paying dividends.
Interestingly, I often see this happening in other spheres of pain: death, job loss, illness are deeply troubling times where the relationship can actually become the foundation that helps a couple make sense of what’s happening, giving them a soft place to heal or recover.
My invitation to you
I invite you and your partner to discover the reality of a long-existing rapture of connection. To grow into a deep appreciation for the special, unique gift of your relationship. Use your strengths and gifts to navigate this difficult time. And to solemnly swear that when the big wheel starts turning again, you’ll never again allow distance to creep in.
If you feel that you are in need of guidance for your relationship, get in touch to see if virtual marriage counselling is right for you. If you’re based in South Africa and are experiencing a strain on your relationship during this lockdown, Louis can help deliver objective and impartial advice, pulling from a wealth of experience in delivering South African marriage counselling.