As the lockdown enters its seventh week, challenges are emerging for couples, and putting a spotlight on relationship issues. Three counsellors from Tower Hamlets and Croydon share their tips on how to navigate relationships during the pandemic.
“We are starting to get really busy now” said Olivia Luna, a relationship/psychosexual therapist based in Tower Hamlets. “During the first two weeks of isolation, a lot of people were in shock, processing uncertainty, and the numbers [of clients] dipped. But now we are getting really busy”.
This pattern is common among the couple’s therapists EastLondonLines has spoken with during lockdown. Gurpreet Singh, relationship counsellor, based in South London, explained: “It’s a trend we also see after periods such as the Christmas holiday or the summer vacation, where couples spend an increased amount of time together. When you then introduce a lockdown like this one, it’s to be expected that many more couples will seek external help”.
When asked what it’s like to be a couple’s therapist during a pandemic, Fatoumata Jatta, clinical psychologist and coach based in Hackney, says that it’s important to remember that they are human’s first, therapist’s second, as the job is especially challenging when you yourself have concerns about loved ones and their health. On the other hand, Luna said: “For once, we are all going through the same feeling, which can be quite useful. A lot of clients are bringing in their anxieties, and for the first time, I am also feeling them”.
The themes clients have discussed with the therapists are also common among the three therapists: switches in family dynamics, a loss of individuality, and being forced to face any underlying relationship issues, Luna added: “Those whose relationships were a success dependent on the time they spent apart might have their underlying issues brought to light during isolation”. A switch in the family dynamic can for example be anything from deciding who now is in charge of home schooling, or who will be the breadwinner, and a loss of individuality is an issue seen as partners feel less and less in control of their own space.
So, what general advice can be offered? As Singh emphasizes, no two couples are the same; but there are a few general rules to keep in mind. He for example used the analogy of the relationship “Now is perhaps not the time to move houses, but the time to rearrange the furniture”, meaning that couples should consider not making any drastic changes during this time. Jatta encourages taking control wherever possible, in order to ensure that we also take time for/to ourselves, and Luna underlines the importance of good communication: “Communication is so important during this time, it’s vital that we speak about our needs and frustrations with our partners. Everyone will experience the lockdown differently, so it’s important to bear in mind that your partner might not feel the same way as you do”.
Ultimately, the lockdown can either make or break a relationship: “It can tear you apart if you have underlying issues that you are not able to resolve, but it can certainly also help you grow together, and spend time together in a way we never usually have time for”, as Singh put it. “And now certainly is a good time to begin to communicate about any issues, so that we can come out the other side stronger” he added.