Going to work. Seeing friends. Having ‘you time’.
You don’t realise how much the routine of everyday life cushions relationships until it’s no longer there.
If you find yourself questioning how compatible you really are with your partner when forced to spend every moment together, you aren’t alone.
But can you trust how you feel during such unprecedented times?
Is it wise to break up during a lockdown? Or should you wait until it’s all over?
Here’s my take on how to approach things, depending on what stage of the relationship you’re in.
Tracey Cox reveals the situations where you shouldn’t consider a break-up during the government enforced lockdown (file image)
IT’S SERIOUS AND YOU’RE ISOLATING TOGETHER
We’re in the middle of a crisis – probably the worst most of us will see in our lifetime.
Stress can make the finest relationship seem unworkable and some otherwise perfectly decent people behave badly under extraordinary circumstances.
So, avoid making any big decisions right now, if you can possibly help it.
If your partner is being physically or emotionally abusive, obviously get professional help so you can leave safely.
Otherwise, the best plan of attack if you’re thinking of ending things, is to first try to sort things out.
Create some time solo. Head out for a walk on your own. Put some earphones in. Take yourself off to read a book. Do anything you can to calm yourself down. Reflect when calm, don’t make rash decisions when angry.
The pressure is high if you have children and they’re in lockdown with you. Any difference in parenting style is acutely highlighted under these conditions. It’s easy to take sides and gang up on each other. Remember things won’t always be like this.
Write things down. Be specific about what you think the unsolvable problems are. If you told a stranger right now, “I’m going to break up with my partner because of X” what would they say? Would they think it trivial or agree that it’s time to split?
List all the things you love about your partner. It’s good to remind yourself. Remember, you’re probably not showing your best side during the lockdown either.
Tracey Cox (pictured) suggests trying an online therapy session, if you’re isolating together and considering a break-up
Don’t worry if you’re having less sex than normal. Having sex on tap 24/7 is a fast way to remove all desirability. Too much togetherness creates low desire. A stalled sex life is not a sign you’re in the wrong relationship, it’s more likely to be a direct result of the lockdown.
Talk to a friend. Encourage your partner to exercise outside on their own and vent to a trusted friend who knows your relationship and the two of you well. What’s their take on the situation?
If you can defer the break-up, do. Things are stressful enough without this plonked on top. If you can bear it, clear the air as much as possible and put finishing it completely off until lockdown finishes.
If you must do it now…
Condense the reasons why you want to split into three points. Make the points clear, specific and easy to understand. Keep them as non-emotional as possible. Don’t blame, just state things as they are.
Tell your partner you need to talk seriously about the relationship. Give them a chance to argue their side. Even if you’ve had 100 arguments in the last three weeks, this is different. This is a final break-up conversation.
Consider an online therapy session. A lot of relationship counsellors and therapists are offering therapy via Zoom or Skype and it’s well worth doing, even if you’re convinced the relationship is over.
It’s much easier to get over a break-up if you both think you did all you could to solve things. Plus it gives your partner support if they need help getting over the break.
Be tactful but honest. Giving false hope won’t help your partner get over you. Say ‘I’m really sorry but I think this is it for me’ rather than ‘Who knows what will happen in the future?’.
If you can move in with other family members or friends, do it. Otherwise agree on separate areas within your own home.
Don’t bad mouth each other to friends, family or on social media.
Be considerate. You loved each other once. Try to remember all the reasons why to muster up as much patience and kindness as you can.
Remember it’s not all about you. If friends aren’t as supportive as usual, it’s because everyone’s grappling with their own stuff.
Tracey warns it’s important to remember this isn’t normal life, if you’re in the early stages of a relationship that has been fast forwarded (file image)
IT’S SERIOUS AND YOU’RE FORCED TO LIVE APART
Is it the lockdown or is it the relationship?
You’re both worried about work, your future, your kids, feeling confined, claustrophobic and irritated.
You’re doing everything together, so have nothing new to talk about and – if you have kids – there’s limited opportunity for intimacy and sex.
The end result for most couples forced to be together seven days a week? Two irritated people who are getting on each other’s nerves.
Even happy couples are bickering and arguing more than usual right now.
If your partner is normally easy to live with and suddenly stressed, defensive and uncommunicative, it’s the situation not the relationship that’s causing it.
You don’t need to split; you just need a calm, honest conversation about what you can do to help each other through.
So, the first question to ask yourself if you are about to end things is this: how was your relationship before the lockdown?
If you were perfectly content but arguing now, things are likely to return to normal once our lives do.
If things were already strained or awkward, with both of you grabbing at opportunities to do things apart, all the lockdown has done is create a pressure cooker scenario to bring things to crisis earlier than they would have.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
A lot of couples adopt the classic ‘head in the sand’ approach when it comes to relationship problems, only addressing issues when they simply can’t ignore them.
The sooner you discuss problems, the more likely they are to be fixed.
Another telling question: How would you feel if you had to live the last six months of your relationship, over and over again until you die?
If the thought fills you with horror, there are (obviously) serious problems that need addressing.
While familiarity is breeding contempt for some couples, others face the opposite problem: not enough intimacy and no physical contact.
Being forced to live apart during the lockdown brings its own set of relationship issues.
If you’re a jealous person, you’re driven mad worrying about what your partner’s up to – who they’re contacting or interacting with online – without you around.
Living apart successfully, requires good communication skills and not all couples have them.
This is why it’s imperative that you both…
Be honest about how you’re feeling. Are you thinking of splitting up because it’s made you realise there are serious trust issues? Is your partner annoying you by wanting too much attention? Or do you hardly hear from them so are feeling ignored and unappreciated?
The more specific you can be about what’s annoying you, the more chance you have of finding a solution.
Ask for reassurance, don’t pick a fight. If the lockdown has made you think you’re not as important to your partner as they are to you, ask them outright if this is true. It might just be they don’t need as much contact as you do, rather than disinterest.
Let them know it’s serious. Because everyone’s arguing more than usual, you’ll need to make it clear this is a possible break-up discussion for them to take it seriously. Have thought-through points about why you want to split ready and (if it’s saveable) what needs to change for this to be avoided.
Suggest a break not a break-up. It’s easy to lose connection with someone when you’re not able to physically touch or be near them. You might feel very differently when all this is over and you’re in the same room.
The longer you’ve been together, the more reason you have to postpone the split until you can have the conversation in person.
If you’re arguing whenever you do have contact, agree to not talk for a few days or a week until things settle.
IT’S A NEW RELATIONSHIP THAT’S NOW ON FAST FORWARD
I know three couples who made a spur of the moment decision to move in when lockdown loomed, even though the relationship was in the very early stages.
Moving from casual to serious overnight can be the best thing you’ve ever done – or an absolute disaster.
What tends to happen to couples who fast-forward things is they get on well for the first two weeks – then start to grate on each other after the hormones start to fade (and sex falls off).
It’s a big call to be with someone every single day with no break.
You don’t know each other – and you don’t have the history that’s needed to give you incentive to hang in there when the ‘Damn. They’re not perfect after all’ realisation hits.
Stop the lockdown from ruining a potentially great relationship by making sure you both…
Tracey suggests either ending the relationship or reducing contact, if the relationship was casual before lockdown (file image)
Stay in the moment. Don’t have big discussions about where this is all going. Just enjoy being together without any pressure on what will happen when the lockdown ends.
Remember this isn’t normal life. When this is over, you’ll be separated for eight hours a day, have time with friends, have privacy and time to miss them.
It’s an unnatural situation. Give each other a break.
Have a sense of humour. If things are painfully awkward, make a joke about it rather than pretend it’s not happening. Laughter can move things from unbearable to enjoyable in a heartbeat.
Can you be friends? If you decide you aren’t compatible as lovers, are you interested in staying friends?
If you are, simply say ‘Hey, I’m not sure this is working out for me but I really like you as a person. Can we move this into friendship instead?’.
Separate if you can. If the other person’s place is close and empty, it makes sense for them to move back home (if it’s legal).
IT WAS CASUAL
If you’ve only had a few dates but they’re gagging for the lockdown to be over to see you while you’ve cooled off completely, you have two options.
Reduce the amount of contact until it’s petered to nothing and hope they get the hint or remove all doubt with a kindly worded text or call.
It’s perfectly acceptable to finish things by text if there’s been no talk of the future or ‘I love you’s’ exchanged.
Say you enjoyed your time with them but time to reflect has made you realise you don’t think the relationship has a future. If there’s a reason why and it’s not hurtful, say it.
If you’re just not that into them, say you don’t think you’re compatible enough to take it further but wish them well.
Who knows how long this lockdown will last for?
Don’t let someone spend it dreamily planning a future that’s never going to exist.
If they react angrily, respond calmly – but only once. Say you’re sorry they feel hurt but your mind is made up. Then don’t text again.
Tracey’s new book ‘Great Sex Starts at 50’ is on sale online. You’ll find her range of sex products at Lovehoney.