COVID-19: Relationships in a Post Pandemic Era
By Darlene Davis, LMFT, LPCC
CEO/President, HOPE Counseling
Therapists have spent almost a year meeting with clients via Zoom, Doxyme, and other telehealth platforms. As therapists (and clients) have navigated this new way of conducting therapy, we have gently supported and encouraged our clients to “hang in there”, and that we will “all get through this”. We helped to pull our clients out of depression, gave techniques to calm their anxiety, and worked hard to keep relationships together. In the last year, people have gone through big changes and one of those was learning how to adjust spending 24/7 with significant others. In fact, therapy clients have learned more about themselves and their partners than maybe they wanted to!
Congratulations to those that weathered the storm in the past year (although we are not quite out of it yet!). Moving, forward, the hope is that your relationship is now better for it and that you understand the “me” and the “we” better in your relationship. You’ve been able to find ways to get your needs met whether you are an extrovert or an introvert. Of course if you are experiencing abuse please know there is no expectation to “weather the storm”. Please call 1.800.799.SAFE or talk with your therapist for help.
As we look ahead into 2021 and beyond, it prompts the question: what will happen when we reach the day when we can freely move about our days (with precaution)? Some will be very excited to enjoy the activities they missed the most. Some will want to travel right away, some will want to see friends they miss so dearly, others might want to go dancing, go to a sports bar, etc. What affect will this vigor for excitement and adventure have on our relationships?
When it comes to our roles in relationships, the hope is your therapist has taught you the difference between “pursuers” and “avoiders”. Putting it in layman’s terms, “pursuers” have a greater need for connection and if they perceive their needs are not met, they may begin to feel alone, disregarded, or forgotten by the one they love. Conversely, “avoiders” may prefer the way it’s been, staying at home in their safe and secure environment, and may become flooded by all the changes. This difference in attachment style could trigger resentment from a partner, raising questions such as: “why aren’t you joining me in all the activities and adventures we’ve given up for so long?”, “how come your gone so much, don’t I matter?” and “is this how you are going to stay for the rest of our lives?”.
This is not to say that either partner is the root cause of these feelings, but what it does mean, is we need to begin to have conversations about what it will be like to NOT be together 24/7 anymore, and how the relationship will change, once again, when we begin to engage in the outside world. The same way clients learned to understand each other’s needs for connection and separation during the pandemic, we will need to understand how those needs for connection and separation will look different as post-pandemic choices begin to emerge.
How do we nurture and support each other’s differences and prepare for triggers of disconnection that may arise? One way to be proactive is to talk about what each person in the relationship is looking forward to the most when choices arise and how they want to spend their days. It is important to understand the need to get out and explore is as important as it is to understand that someone is comfortable just the way it is. The next step will be to communicate support for each other’s needs. It is vital to everyone’s well-being. There also needs to be compromise such as: “when will you return?”, “how will we stay connected when apart?”, staying excited for the person exploring new adventures, and more.
Lastly, just as relationships learned to enjoy each other in ways they never would have without the pandemic, there will now be different opportunities to enjoy each other- just in a new way! I like to call this next phase in relationships, the “new now”. We are all learning to navigate this “new now”.
Be patient with each other and enjoy the ride!
Darlene Davis, LMFT, LPCC
CEO/President, HOPE Counseling