Love is such a gloriously splendid thing! Until it isn’t.
We all have an image of how we want our love relationships to be. Our minds fill with images of lovers clinging to each other as they walk, happy couples sharing their lives, cozy togetherness, tender moments, and of course, sex (and lots of it). Realistically, we know that life can’t be happy and roses all of the time, but lately, many of us haven’t been very happy with our relationships at all. The culprit? Too much time together!
Covid-era relationships are a challenge. Will this era of hyper-togetherness permanently damage our love relationships? How can we fix this? To get answers, I asked the best-selling author and behaviourist, Robin H.C.
LISA: We see that Covid togetherness has many couples heading for the divorce courts and many others heading into countless fighting matches. Positive feelings for our partners seem to diminish to the point of no return! Is there hope that people can bounce back from this negativity?
ROBIN: The pandemic is merely augmenting what is. If you are an anxious person, this will be enhanced. If you are a resilient person who embraces change, the pandemic will be far easier to navigate than for those who resist change. At the end of the day, your relationship will be an amplified version of your pre-pandemic relationship.
LISA: So then, I see why the little habits that we once found adorable in our partners- like a childish laugh- went from mildly irritating to nearly intolerable now. Why does this change happen in the first place?
ROBIN: There is a scientific term called the Honeymoon Effect. In the early stages of partnership, people awaken from the unconscious state that they live in 95% of the time (think autopilot). This effect engages the frontal lobe, waking people up, so to speak- they feel inspired and empowered because they are mindful, and as such, they look for evidence that their partner is a good fit. A couple of years pass, and they slowly become unconscious again, and this effect wears off. People begin to treat their partners as they do themselves. They notice their faults instead of paying attention to the initial charms that brought them together. To combat this misaligned focus, for every irritating thing your partner does, notice a few things about them that you are grateful for. Covid is a good reminder that life is short. Think of how much you might value that annoying quirk if your partner weren’t here tomorrow.
LISA: Reminding yourself of your partner’s strengths is a good idea. What about the physical relationship? More people than you would expect have lost interest in a sexual relationship with their partner. How can this be remedied? It is terrifying to lose (and even to admit that you have lost) the sexual connection.
ROBIN: Good sex requires being present and in the moment. When a couple neglects to address issues as they arise, a build-up happens. Sex can become a chore when closeness has dissipated. Practise acceptance with your partner and honesty with yourself. Much like a workout, we rarely regret it after the fact. If you are not feeling it, clear the debris, try counselling, and get truthful – sex is a bonding experience and is rather critical to relationship health.
LISA: I agree. Intimacy is so important, and we’re drifting away from the very people we’re closest to. It seems like so many people are carrying around bad feelings. Surely, no one enjoys feeling cranky and annoyed, nor taking the brunt of someone else’s anger. Even sarcastic comments can feel like mean-spirited attacks. How do we stop a hurtful cycle like this?
ROBIN: There is a cultural bias to blame our partner for our happiness, but think back- what version of yourself did you initially bring to the relationship? How are you altered positively for knowing him/her? What can you do to create a more inspired you in this moment? Anger is a normal emotion, and culturally we tend to suppress it. People are entitled to bad moods, and we all benefit when we learn not to take them personally. Though tempting, it is not healthy to blame your partner for setting the tone of the day due to her/his mood. It creates a victim narrative, and victims give power to the victimizer. Allow them the space to feel what they feel without making them wrong. The love and friendship bond increases when we learn to love our partner’s ugly bits and not just their strengths. This can be especially difficult if you have little space for your own shortcomings.
LISA: Yes, little space... literally. Clearly, though, I see that the move toward positive togetherness starts in our own minds. Is there something simple that we can do when we catch ourselves in our own negativity? Something to ‘snap’ us out of it?
ROBIN: Negative emotions are our teachers― when we listen and understand them. A recurring negative emotion has a remedy, likely an action you can take to diffuse it. Use your emotions to identify when you are on-track or off-course. Remember, the brain is a problem-seeking mechanism. The primitive amygdala brain is always scanning the environment for threats. Without an inspiring focal point in your life, it will revert to petty issues to engage itself. Give your brain a puzzle worthy of your life force! It may be: how do I get my fashion line in the USA, what will it take for me to write my screenplay, or how do I raise $100,000.00 for my favourite charity? The brain loves puzzles that invite discovery and creation of a higher level of self.
LISA: To stay focused on your own learning and growth is the best advice. Thank you, Robin. Now we know to try not to take things personally, give our partner more space to ‘be,’ and focus our attention on our partners' positive attributes and ourselves. There is a road to relationship recovery.
Robin H-C is a behaviourist and author of the best-selling book series Life’s in Session!
She lives in Creemore, Ontario.
Lisa Taggart is a freelance writer and editor from Richmond Hill, Ontario, who enjoys curiosity and the answers found through it.
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