It has been a year since the health crisis totally changed our way of life. Faced with the rapid spread of the coronavirus, the government’s decision was none other than to confine the country on several occasions, causing a break in our routine. Each individual had to adapt to the changes he was confronted with and this from the youngest age: closing of schools, restaurants, stores, the introduction of telecommuting or even the wearing of the mandatory mask. The consequences of this first confinement are multiple in the economic, social and psychological fields. But what about relationships? 

Each household is different, hence the importance of specifying that this research cannot be generalized. Nevertheless, many researchers have studied this subject and have demonstrated significant results.

Different factors have influenced the couple’s relationship differently

The consequences of confinement are different depending on how the couple had to go through this ordeal. Some couples experienced the confinement from a distance, others with children or with the introduction of telecommuting.

Each sphere (professional, relational, friendly) is well defined separately for each individual and works very well individually. But when we have to combine all the spheres of our life in one point, the situation can become critical. According to a survey carried out by the OpinionWay Institute, 29% of respondents believe that their work interferes with their love life. 22% say that it is a frequent subject of dispute and 7% say that it has led them to separate.

A study conducted in Spain tried to find out the well-being in a couple relationship with and without children.  Participants filled out a standardized online questionnaire. The results showed the presence of a high level of anxiety during this confinement. Couples without children had problems communicating and understanding each other during the lockdown but had less conflict than couples with children. These results may be explained by the triangulation of children into adult conflicts.

One might also wonder if this confinement might not cause a baby boom effect? Recent research has refuted this theory by showing a drop in the frequency of sexual relations in the couple during confinement. 

Anonymous testimonials 

“Our confinement as a couple is arguing about anything and everything… How do I tell him I wanted him to go out for a walk so I can talk to my shrink? Our dates became the laundry room. The confinement as a couple resulted in years of relationships in a matter of weeks.”

“Being on staggered schedules (and lives) through work, containment was easy for the first month. Unfortunately after that, the stress of classes and work took its toll on us and arguments ensued. A few weeks of cold weather were in order and little by little things got better. Communication and time are the key, I think.”

“It was impossible to put up with each other being on top of each other, it only caused arguments. You see the true face of people when you’re together all the time. Unfortunately it led to a breakup but I think after reflection that the second lockdown might have been easier because we knew what to expect…”

Tips for avoiding conflict in relationships

  • Communicate positively
    John Gottman, a therapist, defines a method called 6 for 1. In order for a couple to be satisfied in the long term, daily exchanges must be essentially positive. One of the techniques used to avoid conflict is the method of giving at least 6 compliments to one’s partner before making a criticism. The results of his experiment proved the effectiveness of this method.
  • Take time for yourself
    In order to release the pressure, it is important to take care of yourself in order to free your mind. Go for a walk, practice meditation (see article on meditation), play video games… All these practices that you like will do you good. 
  • Separate your work space from your living space
    Although telecommuting does not make it easier, here, as said before, work is a source of conflict in the couple. The goal is to organize yourself so that each of you occupies a predefined work space without having direct contact with your partner (use headphones, isolate yourself in another room).
  • Talking after work sessions
    In order to decompress after an intensive day, talking with your partner allows you to release the pressure and give yourself up more. In fact, this advice is used by almost all couples outside of confinement (after a long day spent working separately).
  • Avoid addressing past issues
    If you haven’t resolved these issues before, it’s best not to dwell on unresolved conflicts. This difficult period accentuates our emotions and feelings causing anxiety.

Conclusion

The sociologist Jean-Claude Kaufmann assured that the couples who succeed to cross this critical period “realize a relative exploit”. In general, it has been shown that couples for whom confinement has not been a problem have a relationship based on communication and listening to each other’s needs (for example, when your partner often cheers you up, or understands your need for solitude). Although scientific research has shown an increased rate of divorce and breakup after this confinement, these results as stated above are not generalizable. It is possible to avoid conflict even in times of health crisis.

Bibliography

Crowe, M. (1997). Intimacy in relation to couple therapy. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 12(3), 225-236. https://doi.org/10.1080/02674659708408166

Delporte, C. (2020, June 27). Couple, life after containment. Retrieved from https://www.lesechos.fr/weekend/perso/couple-la-vie-apres-le-confinement-1218646

Günther-Bel, C., Vilaregut, A., Carratala, E., Torras-Garat, S., & Pérez-Testor, C. (2020). A Mixed-method Study of Individual, Couple, and Parental Functioning During the State-regulated COVID-19 Lockdown in Spain. Family Process, 59(3), 1060-1079. https://doi.org/10.1111/famp.12585

Maryam Davoodvandi, M. D., Shokouh Navabi Nejad, S. N., & Valiollah Farzad, V. F. (2018). Examining the Effectiveness of Gottman Couple Therapy on Improving Marital Adjustment and Couples’ Intimacy. Iran J Psychiatry, 13(2), 135-141. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6037577/