The pandemic has multiplied most of our experiences and has profoundly affected couples in a multitude of ways. With greater unpredictability, and a new level of anxiety, couples had to work out their individual comfort zones, make decisions on how to follow the rules while maintaining their mental health, work through conflicts, and create new ways of being with each other, their children and with third parties outside of their bubble.
Many people have felt for the last year and a half frozen in time in whatever relationship or family situation they were in when the pandemic first hit. Single people have experienced a higher barrier than ever to begin a relationship, due to the challenges of finding a partner who had the same comfort zone regarding the type and speed of romantic interactions during a pandemic. Couples in the early stages of their relationship might have moved in together faster than they would have without the need to stay in your bubble. People cohabitating for a while and being used to some space and individual freedom have encountered new challenges of too much closeness. All this has taken a toll, not to even mention health concerns, financial instability, and the grief experiences many have struggled with.
Extreme times also remind us of what is most important for us as humans: relationships, human touch, and connection.
Are those relationships that were forged or had just started when the pandemic began likelier to last? And what does it take moving forward to keep these relationships going?
The pandemic has been a real stress test in some ways. Most couples encounter different issues regarding finances, health, and family over the course of their relationship or marriage. But whereas in the past those challenges would have come up slowly over time, COVID forced young couples to confront them from the start. Rather than more superficial considerations like similar hobbies, social connections, or physical attraction, deeper questions had to be asked, for example: Can we be alone together, and enjoy each other’s company without socializing or engaging in outside activities? How does my partner respond in a crisis, and are we a good team when unusual challenges need to be faced? But most importantly: Do I truly feel safe with this person?
Couples who can answer those deeper questions with yes might be more confident that they will be able to stay together for the long haul. At the same time, a lot of stress that normally affects relationships through “third party interactions” was removed through the artificiality of the bubble. It is easier to exist in a bubble of two than having to deal with how to respond to other people as a team. The outside world can be full of interferences, distractions, temptations, and possible downfalls.
Image by Alin Constantinescu from Pixabay
In her book “Not ‘Just Friends’” Shirley Glass describes a marriage that is less likely to be affected by an affair as one with clear boundaries: “In a committed relationship, a couple constructs a wall that shields them from any outside forces that have the power to split them.” In such a relationship, the partners have built a safe couple bubble and they act in a way that signals to third parties that their partner always comes first. When COVID introduced us to the rule that each core family is a bubble, this helped couples refocus on each other and have clearer boundaries with others.
Relationship researcher Scott Haltzman, MD wrote in Psychology Today in April 2020, “A close connection with another person is central to an affair’s mechanics. Daydreaming or fantasizing may contribute somewhat to emotional closeness, but affairs of the mind and heart must at some point be bolstered by making contact with the affair-mate. When a married couple is on lockdown, it’s much more difficult to place a surreptitious phone call or text, let alone arrange a rendezvous with that third person: The most basic elements of sneaking around are now out the window.”
As we are looking ahead to less restrictions and more of an opening of different social interactions with others, we also need to ask how couples can maintain these healthy boundaries with others and show up as a unit with third parties, including the extended family. The couple bubble is not just a safeguard against potential affairs but also an important boundary with the extended family or friends. The experience that my partner has my back, even when we disagree, and firmly stands by my side, strengthens the relationship.
These days no topic seems to fuel emotions quite as much as COVID safety, starting with wearing masks, social distancing, staying in your bubble, and how to socialize, and by extension whether to get the vaccine or not. Should somebody hesitate to get the vaccine, this person is usually looked at as “selfish” and met with pressure to get vaccinated rather sooner than later. The longing to have our old freedoms back is completely understandable, yet often things are not just simply black and white. Just as political or religious topics can split us into two opposing camps, this topic is another one couples must sort out in today’s age.
What does a couple do if they disagree on whether to get vaccinated at this point or not? As step one, mutual tolerance and acceptance is called for while unpacking each partner’s deeper feelings and fears. Most people do not make this choice lightly. In fact, this decision can cause a lot of emotional turmoil and great stress. Can I allow my partner to make their own decision regarding what is a personal medical procedure, which needs to be assessed on their medical history, and tolerate the ambivalence when their choice differs from mine?
As step two, the partners have to work out how to present this choice to friends and family. No matter what the topic is, it is always challenging to defend my partner when I do not share their opinion or decision. Having to stand by my partner who is being questioned about or even attacked for making a conscious decision about their own body is a tough test of the longevity of the union.
It is also good practice for many other situations in life, when a couple needs to put their disagreements aside to be a strong team. When partners are unable to do that, they allow third parties to cause a rift in the relationship. However, when a couple can show up as a unit, it strengthens their partnership and the longevity of their marriage.
Are you wondering how you can show up together as an undividable team with others?
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