Joel and I have talked a great deal about how the COVID pandemic has highlighted underlying issues existing in relationships prior to the world turning upside down. This particular listener wrote us to ask about how to repair a relationship that came apart due to very different ideas about safety and protocol in the face of COVID. What do you do when you feel regret over a COVID breakup?
This was one of those rare moments when Joel and I were aligned in our views. The pandemic itself isn’t likely going to destroy your relationship. However, any problems or pain points that were there are really going to be magnified during a crisis.
Here’s a list of the issues we figured might have contributed to the downfall of this new-ish relationship. Consider how these issues emerge in your own relationship and where you and your partner might need to do some healing work:
If you can’t communicate with each other, you won’t be able to come up with a plan together. Communication isn’t just expressing your needs or your feelings. It’s also necessary to listen to your partner as they share their own needs and views. Listening requires empathy and curiosity, even when the circumstances are heightened and emotions are running high. Breaks are allowed if you start to get upset, and should be requested with an explanation that you’ll return to the conversation when you are able to listen to your partner. In order to be heard, you must be prepared to be accountable for your part in the disconnect.
Sometimes when we disconnect from a romantic partner, it’s difficult to shelve our own emotional response in the interest of listening with compassion. It’s important that we pause here and recognize where these strong reactions are coming from. Is this moment triggering a sense of feeling unsafe? Where does that feeling come from? Does it belong in this space? If the strong emotion is informed by a history of feeling unheard or having your boundaries disrespected in this particular relationship dynamic, that must be acknowledged by both partners. However, this strong emotional response may belong to unhealed issues from your past. In some cases, it can be a combination of both of these things. How can you create space to manage your emotional response so that everyone feels heard?
Mama/Papa Bear Syndrome
When children are involved in issues of safety, parents can get extremely protective. If one of the people in the relationship isn’t a parent, it may not occur to them how deeply this pandemic has touched on parental fear. Parents not only want to keep their children safe from the virus, but they are also fearful of how the world has changed, and what the new normal will look like for their kids. In addition, parents are under a tremendous amount of stress as they are now being asked to both provide an income and school their children from home. How is your role as a parent contributing to strain in your relationship?
Choosing Other Priorities Over Relationship
When you’re in a committed partnership with someone and a global pandemic changes the world as you know it in a matter of weeks, the ideal scenario is to create a strategy together as a team that acknowledges everyone’s need for safety and security. This should also include each person’s need for emotional safety and security. Both partners deserve to feel like the person they are with values and respects their basic need to feel safe.
Whether that means staying sane and providing for your family by continuing to do your work or taking extra precautions like physical distancing and wearing masks in public, all viewpoints deserve consideration and COMPROMISE. Sometimes we must bend in order to serve the greater good of the relationship. Sometimes, in the face of something so unprecedented and confusing, it’s better to err on the side of caution until more information comes to light. Are you making your relationship a priority as you weather COVID? If not, perhaps it’s time to take a long hard look at why other things take precedence.
The media keeps telling us these are ‘unprecedented times’. The very nature of our lives, and so many of the freedoms we took for granted vanished overnight. The media is constantly reporting death, violence, chaos. We’ve been taken to emotional places that many of us have never been before in the midst of this pandemic. There has to be space in our relationships for each person’s unique response to this often surreal existence we now find ourselves in.
There are romantic relationships that illuminate the places where we still need to heal. If both partners can recognize the ways that they bump up against each other’s pain points, and then hold each other through that, the opportunity for growth is tremendous. If one or both partners are not up for that work, then the dynamic can become toxic really quickly. Chances are, these people are both great people, but they aren’t great for each other. No amount of love will change that fact. Sometimes you just choose the wrong person.
I love Joel’s analogy in this clip. A woman’s ex husband complained bitterly for years about her excessive and frivolous collection of mugs from all the places she’d travelled. Her new boyfriend built her a shelf so she could display her souvenirs.
We all deserve the kind of partners who will hold our hand through the rough patches and love us despite our quirks, our fears, or our pain points. That way, when the world goes crazy, we can seek shelter in each other. Are you both prepared to work on these areas of challenge, and perhaps even enlist help from a relationship therapist? If not, perhaps it’s time to see to your own safety and emotional security and say ‘I Don’t’ to your COVID companion.