Despite one law firm claiming they’ve seen a 42% increase in divorce inquiries since the start of the pandemic, for the majority of couples, going through lockdown together has left them feeling more committed to each other.
So how have couples managed to navigate waters as unknown as a government-mandated lockdown?
“We often comment on the fact that we’re a team and when one of us struggles, the other will compensate, and it works,” says portage practitioner Alex Opaye-Tetteh, describing her relationship with her husband of four years, emergency services worker Elikem Opaye-Tetteh.
‘A beer at the weekend celebrated another week tackled together’
But being a team takes work, even for married couples. And with a one- and two-year-old to care for, in the early days of lockdown Alex struggled in a way that many new mums will identify with.
“About three weeks into lockdown I struggled physically and emotionally,” Alex recalls. “El was still commuting to London, I had no support and nowhere to take our two young children. I remember calling El and just breaking down, it felt like such a dark tunnel with no light at the end.”
As a key worker, Elikem was very much on duty while the rest of the world battened down the hatches. Based in Bexhill-on-Sea, this meant a two-hour-each-way commute against the backdrop of an unprecedented global pandemic. When he did work at home, “stressful” change was required: “We had to create an ‘office’ within our conservatory and explain to our eldest child that I was home for work and not for play,” Elikem says, stating that he was often tired and grumpy when he was at home.
Respite came, not with grand gestures, but by carving out time to simply be together. By 6:30pm, the kids were asleep and quality time could begin. Dinner, a movie (“although more likely a documentary that I would actually make through to the end,” Alex adds), and a 9:30pm bedtime became a hallowed ritual, providing space to reconnect after a stressful day, as well as enough energy to tackle tomorrow’s challenges, while a beer at the weekend celebrated another week tackled together.
Psychotherapist Diana Parkinson believes that those all-important meaningful moments needn’t be an anniversary or a date night. Just as Alex and Elikem did, simply making the active choice to be together can benefit a relationship.
“[During lockdown] the days blend together,” she explains. “There needs to be a time when there’s a cut-off.” What you do in that time, however, is really up to you. And as Alex and Elikem found, it can be as simple as a dinner and a film. “Put your devices away at a certain time,” Parkinson suggests, adding that valuable time together can consist of anything from reading to playing a game together. “A good relationship is built on sharing,” she says, emphasising the importance of sharing time, thoughts and feelings as a daily practice for couples.
The benefits of this seem to have flipped a switch for Alex and Elikem. “I think we’ve learned we can cope very well as a couple under pressure, and have the skills – practically and emotionally – to combat unexpected life challenges,” Alex says. Elikem has taken concrete steps towards creating more time for togetherness, changing jobs so he can be based closer to home. The change in perspective he’s experienced during these trying times has been profound: “I will look back on the time with the realisation of just how crucial Alex is to us as a family.”
“The ability to communicate openly and honestly is the key,” Parkinson says. “Talk, listen, understand. Luckily, emotional intelligence can be learned and improved upon. Understanding of oneself, and others, is like a magic key, enabling us to unlock connections.”
And so the conclusion is unanimous: it is presence, not absence, that makes the heart grow fonder. It’s about consciously creating opportunities to actively listen to, and engage with, our partners, rather than expecting intimacy to flourish without putting in any effort. You get what you give, as the saying goes. Advice that’s not just relevant during the pandemic, but for life.
Take the time to savour the special moments with your loved ones with a chalice of Stella Artois
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