The second year of the pandemic continues to bring uncertainty and strain to our nation’s mental health. The ongoing health crisis has affected every aspect of our lives, especially our relationships and marriages.
As a clinical psychologist, I work with couples who seek couples therapy or marriage counseling to alleviate the effects of the pandemic on their marriage and improve marital satisfaction. Learn more about couples therapy here.
With the health situation worsening in Malaysia, we are on our third MCO now, so many couples struggle to transition into a new lockdow and stay-at-home orders. What initially seemed like a temporary situation has turned into a marathon, with people putting their lives and relationships on hold coming to the realisation that we have a long way to go.
How Does Lockdown Impact Marriages?
Relationship experts believe that the lockdown during the pandemic will lead to a rise in divorce rates globally. Every couple experiences conflicts and difficulties from time to time. Also, it is expected that conflict in relationships become more frequent during stressful times. What has been found is that prior to lockdowns, differences in routines and lifestyles often facilitated relationships between partners in need of more space and/or masked existing issues in a relationships. Take for example a couple who has been together for 15 years and have accepted they enjoy a diverse array of activities. One partner is social and enjoys seeing her friends regularly, particularly to engage in activities like going to art shows and swimming, both activities that her husband does not enjoy. Whereas her partner is more introverted and enjoys time by himself, often watching football. When this couple spend time together, they enjoy their mutual interests, do not exceed the more introverted husband's limit of social connection and can exists together connecting comfortably. Now- both are at home, with the social partner growing resentful of her lack of social stimulation and outlets to managing stress, while both share resources such as the tv and disagree what to watch. Over time, the quality time they used to enjoy has turned burdensome due to excess of time and lack of diversity in activities.
Similarly, a couple may have difficulties such as poor communication or the tendency to escalate in difficult conversations towards screaming and arguing. Many relationships develop coping skills to manage their flaws such as leaving the house for a break. Now, faults are at the surface of relationships and increase in quantity of time spent together is pressing on these faults, furthering them.
It is safe to say the lockdown has had a significant impact on our relationships. Illness-related anxiety, uncertainty, lost work security, financial hardship, and childcare issues strain many marriages. It has been found that there has been a significiant increase in women initiating divorces, with 76% of new divorces stemming from women . This increase in divorces initiated by women is believed to be the result of the covid related increase in house and childcare responsibilities falling on women versus their male partners.
In addition, due to limited mobility during MCO, many partners have the opposite problem of too much family time and are instead stranded in different parts of the country or different countries, not seeing each other face-to-face for months.
So what are some of the ways the pandemic has affected marriages?
Here are some of the possible pressures the pandemic can put on your relationship and how to overcome them.
Emotional boundaries enable us to separate our needs and feelings from others. For example, it is easier to feel significantly affected by other people’s words or actions in a lockdown. With COVID-19 lockdown, many of our physical and emotional boundaries have been weakened or erased, as the pandemic has forced us to change our routines and priorities drastically.
For many people, life before the pandemic involved spending more meaningful time with their spouses. We used to spend far less time at home, with our families. Instead, we would fill most of our days working, getting together in the evening. We would see our families, catch up with friends, go out, or spend time in nature on weekends.
During MCO, you may not be able to enjoy the time alone you used to before the pandemic. Due to a lack of space, you and your spouse may be forced to share the same workspace (along with other family members), spending much more time together at home with no apparent end in sight.
When your emotional boundaries are weak, you are more likely to feel exposed, engage in conflicts with others, and end up feeling hurt.
Marriage counseling can help you re-establish your emotional boundaries and de-escalate negative emotions, protecting you from feeling overwhelmed or distressed.
While stress is an inseparable part of our lives, the stress of the pandemic has put us in an extended period of tension, with no relief in sight. No relationship is immune to stress. However, accumulated stress may create more tension, so previously minor issues may now create havoc in your relationship.
Couples counseling may be a safe environment to identify and manage your emotions. Marriage counseling can help you identify negative communication patterns in your relationship and learn positive communication skills such as active listening or reflecting.
Many people in relationship counseling complain about feeling incredibly lonely in their marriages during the lockdown. Is relationship loneliness pushing your marriage over the edge? Spending an increased amount of time together doesn’t equal more intimacy or closeness. Lockdown may have intensified a feeling that you have been trapped in a roommate’s marriage. In fact prior to the pandemic, feelings of decreased intimacy and connection are one of the primary versions couples seek therapy.
Over the years, many couples cross a fine line between friendship and marriage without noticing it. Now that you spend most of your day with your spouse, you realize that you feel lonely in your marriage. You don’t share affection, passion, and intimacy anymore.
Couples counseling can teach you how to communicate your needs assertively. A skilled couples counselor can help you understand and protect each other needs, be there for one another, and rekindle closeness and intimacy.
Research shows that infidelity happens in about a quarter of marriages. However, it seems that increased stress during the pandemic has put couples at greater risk of experiencing infidelity.
Many couples wait for years before seeking marriage therapy. Over the years, their problems accumulate, fracturing the couples’ connection, trust, and intimacy. Instead of trying to restore relationships, some people turn elsewhere to have their needs met.
Infidelity doesn’t have to end your relationship, though. Many couples come to counseling to work out the roots of the affair, learn how to regain trust, rekindle closeness, and heal.
Whether you feel that the pandemic has negatively affected your marriage, or you want to enhance your relationships, couples counseling can be the right place to address your issues and reconnect with your spouse.
I am Dr. Cassandra Aasmundsen-Fry, Psy.D. If you are experiencing distress or want to improve your well being, please reach out to me to book a session over Zoom or in person. I can be reached by WhatsApp at +60125472408 or at Cassandra@Mindwell.biz. I am a Clinical Psychologist with a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology who sees both individuals and couples in Mont Kiara, KL, Malaysia. I am a registered member of the Malaysian Society of Clinical Psychology and a licensed Clinical Psychologist in Boston, MA, US. Read more about me here.