For couples who went through or are still going through a tough time, here’s some advice.
Recently, a radio host asked me about some non-academic test anxiety.
“Should couples be concerned if the pandemic tested their relationship?”
My short answer?
Because testing is neither unusual nor negative. And isn’t life itself but one long multi-section test, with multiple choice options and bigger essay themes to be developed along the way?
The pandemic, however, was the nightmare test of dreams, wasn’t it?
The one where you arrive in the classroom late, totally unprepared, and naked, to boot. It was an ill-defined misunderstood crisis marked by conflict and confusion… we were late, unprepared, and completely exposed. The ensuing months flipped everything we thought we knew and challenged us at every level, as nations and as individuals. The only sure things were stress-inducing ambiguity and an uncertain timeline, changing how we shopped, thought, interacted, worked, slept, and dreamed.
That’s a lot of moving parts. Multiply them by two —or more, if living with kids, extended family, or housemates—and it’s no wonder this global disaster shifted the dynamics in more than a few relationships.
Maybe you’re concerned that your initial vision of pandemic togetherness looked nothing like the reality that played out under your roof. Instead of warrior-ing through, a team of two, reconnecting with romance along the way, your “go with the flow” adaptability chafed against her (controlling!) struggle to create order amid chaos. Or maybe his feet stretched across the arm of the sofa while you stretched out on the yoga mat, trying to ignore the length of his untrimmed toenails. You noticed a few things… and wondered about many others. Sounds pretty normal to me.
The reality of extreme togetherness plays much better on Netflix. Heard it before? Mute. A little boring? Fast forward. Too much drama? Power off. But after those first cozy “we’re in this together” weeks of COVID quarantine, as all our usual distractions disappeared, and stress bloomed like an invasive weed, you were privy to every unfortunate gastric event, ran out of words by noon, had too much time to ponder one another’s worst habits, and discovered some shocking new ones.
It was the road trip from hell, and you didn’t even get to go anywhere!
So, what’s COVID shrapnel and sheer battle fatigue, and what’s reason to leave?
Ignore your mental list of grievances in favor of looking deeper into the layers beneath. Pandemics come and (hopefully) go. You’re unlikely to repeat this experience with anyone, so, while we can’t “unsee” what was seen, we can choose if merited, to focus on the enduring positives. In deciding whether to invest further in your relationship, consider these questions:
- Did one or both of you change in a significant way? Or did you simply have the time to notice details that were there all along? A COVID retrospective might be a good way to broach what seems or feels different. Keep an open mind; change can be very good once you traverse the bumps.
- Look at basic compatibility measures: your values and priorities. Do you see a chasm on what used to appear a seamless expanse of alignment? Have you talked about this, or are you making what seems a logical assumption based upon your observations? Remember that your perceptions are based on your own unique set of life experiences. Your partner, with a completely different history, will see other angles on many things. This deserves discussion.
- Is there true conflict between you or frustration over ongoing miscommunication and a feeling of not being understood? Clarify to confirm. We all have some faulty defaults carried forth from childhood that can cause static interference in our relationships. We understand less accurately than we think we do.
- Can you still detect a degree of respect between the two of you? Kindness? The absence of these indicates a significant rift and loss of love. While not impossible, reconciliation is less likely and not to be achieved without considerable time, effort, and commitment to a common purpose.
- Finally, the most elemental measure of all: Does he or she support your growth towards who you want to be? Or diminish your hope of becoming that person? This is where you live: within your own self. In healthy relationships, we facilitate this kind of growth in one another. We don’t deserve or belong in relationships that hamper it.
You were tested. We all were. Take the time to think through your responses. There are no right or wrong answers, only true ones.
About Heather Dugan
Heather Dugan is an award-winning author and conference speaker. She is the founder of Cabernet Coaches®, an “all ages, all stages” group for women that fosters self-betterment through face-to-face friendships and social connection. Her books include The Friendship Upgrade: Trade Clickable Connections for Friendships that Matter and Date Like a Grownup: Anecdotes, Admissions of Guilt & Advice Between Friends. Heather is an engaging live and virtual speaker who facilitates corporate and community workshops on topics pertaining to relationships, social connection, group culture, and effective communication.
A graduate of Indiana University, Heather has independently produced and appeared in hundreds of video and voiceover projects for a wide range of national and international clients.
Heather’s spotlight on the disconnecting factors impacting personal and professional relationships creates larger conversations on creating space for connection and building stronger communities and organizations. Her focus on fostering more meaningful relationships, facilitating effective communication, and equipping men and women for life-changing transitions makes her a popular speaker and guest expert for companies, communities, and the national media. Heather resides in Columbus, Ohio, but is an avid traveler and outdoor enthusiast who keeps hiking poles and her passport within easy reach.