“The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
― M. Scott Peck
As vaccines continue to roll out and the world slowly begins to move into a ‘new normal,’ many people are eagerly looking forward to getting back to their pre-Covid activities and reconnecting with old friends and forgotten hobbies.
And, most of all, many of us are looking forward to getting AWAY from our significant others. Yes, it seems constant contact does not make the heart grow fonder: There has been an ongoing trend of people reporting that their spouse or live-in partner has increasingly got on their nerves during quarantine, whether it’s the annoying way he cracks his knuckles or the fact that she won’t wear headphones during her Zoom calls.
But, now that we are returning back to some semblance of normal, I am worried that couples may brush their hands together and think, “Well, that’s over,” and simply try to forget this past year ever happened. Here’s the thing, though: Just like that pandemic weight we all seemed to have gained during quarantine, the issues caused by the pandemic shutdown are going to linger long after things go back to ‘normal.’
Sadly, all those months of bickering, constant tension, and lack of sex are not going to go away just because Covid restrictions are loosening. And my fear is that we are going to see a ‘rebound’ of Covid divorces in several months when people realize that their relationship just simply hasn’t healed itself and retuned back to normal even though the kids are back in school and we can start hugging our friends again.
That’s why I think therapy can be so invaluable right now. One of the times when couples’ therapy is the *most* crucial is during times of great stress and upheaval, and I can’t think of a better way to describe this past year for all of us. Sex therapy in particular can be really important because many people need a sexual reset button right now. Stress is a major libido-killer, which in part explains why only 32 percent of people in a recent study said that they were ‘sexually happy’ during the pandemic.
Even after this stress slowly abates, many couples have fallen into unhealthy patterns in the bedroom, like letting sex fall by the wayside for months, over-relying on porn or masturbation, or letting affection (like kisses, cuddling and other romantic gestures) completely dry up. In some cases, many people have even become accustomed to less sex and content with the new status quo (This is why I always say sex works on a ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy, especially as we age and our sexual response slows down a bit). However, this is going to lead to mismatched libidos (a major marital issue which can lead to divorce), because while some partners will be content with less sex, their spouses are often left feeling resentful and unsatisfied.
So, just in the same way we are all going to have to start going to Bikram yoga again or cutting back on all that Covid sugar-binging, we have to bring that same mindfulness back to healing the inner wounds caused by the shutdown as well…particularly the wounds caused to our marriages.
It would be really invaluable for EVERY couple to have an honest conversation, perhaps with a therapist (online or in-person, if possible) to examine some of the core ways that the pandemic has caused splinters in their bond. I know many of you are holding onto grudges and past hurts from things that happened this year—maybe it was the way your husband wasn’t vigilant enough about mask-wearing in your opinion, or the way all the online schooling and extra childcare fell in your lap, or the fact that work bled over in your home life in such a way that there was never a time when your partner wasn’t on their phone or laptop, even during dinner and in bed.
These little pinpricks can seem easy to ignore or even joke off—after all, what couple HASN’T gotten on each other’s nerves during the shutdown? But like the ‘death of a thousand cuts,’ these tiny traumas can pile up and lead us to perceive our partner in a negative light. As we view them in a less than idealistic and loving manner, we give off energy that is low-frequency and quite destructive. Instead of having an open, loving heart and sexy, playful energy, we have a mindset that our partner is always going to disappoint us or frustrate us, and that we just need to ‘get away’ from them.
Even in a joking manner, these kinds of jokes and this kind of exasperated energy can be apocalyptic for your libido and your partner’s libido. He won’t feel appreciated or desired, so he will withdraw and stop being as affectionate and loving, only further reinforcing your negative opinion and low-frequency energy, and so you will retaliate (consciously or subconsciously) by being less loving and sexually receptive. It becomes a vicious cycle, and one that you can not get out of unless you really set an intention to honestly examine how you have contributed to your marital strain during the pandemic.
So while I am happy to see the return to normal in many parts of the world, I wonder how many couples might wrongfully assume that they’re in the clear and their relationship survived Covid. Covid may hopefully be somewhat controlled and well-managed soon, but that doesn’t mean that we can simply brush away the hurt feelings and unhealthy patterns we built during this time. With mindful intention and great compassion for ourselves and our partners, now is the time to not ‘forgive and forget,’ but heal and rebuild our relationships stronger than they ever were before.