Couples living together should “develop a new normal” amid relationship pressures caused by the coronavirus crisis, according to a behavioural psychologist.
Jo Hemmings, a dating and relationship coach, said it can be a “really testing time” for people, with many working from home day to day, or forced to self-isolate for long periods of time.
She told the PA news agency that the busiest times for relationship counselling are January, after Christmas, and September, following annual holidays – both periods of forced time together.
“So here we are now in a situation where there is no independence, and there’s no escape,” Ms Hemmings said.
It’s very, very challenging and testing for relationships that are anything but super strongJo Hemmings
“For some lucky people, I hope they find a bit of joy in their relationship because they are going through it together and will find support from each other. But for others, it will seem impossible.
“If you are used to having your own independent life, going out to work, having times when you are together at weekends and evenings but not throughout a 24/7 period…
“It’s very, very challenging and testing for relationships that are anything but super strong.”
She added: “You have to develop a new normal, a kind of routine that works for both of you.”
Ms Hemmings said that couples used to being together all day – such as those who work together – will “thrive” during the lockdown.
But those who are used to catching up on their day in the evening will struggle, because they could find themselves “short on conversation”.
“I do think people need to give themselves permission to talk about something other than coronavirus. I think that’s really important,” she said.
“Watching a bit of rubbish telly you might have seen as guilty pleasure, do it. Talk about things, talk about memories, talk about the weather.
“I think people feel guilty sometimes if they talk about something other than our current situation but that is just building up our anxiety as individuals and couples.”
Couples who are both working from home should remember they are doing two different jobs, Ms Hemmings said.
“You don’t have to be by each other’s side all the time; live a slightly independent life within your four walls,” she said.
“A lot of people have laptops these days, they’re working from home from a laptop.
“Take your laptop and sit on a bed while someone is in the dining room, because you don’t have to be in the same place at the same time.”
In the evening, couples working from home should regroup – to “eat together, have a drink together, have a conversation about your day”.
Ms Hemmings said: “It’s a very, very different day to the one that you’re used to but nevertheless things will have happened and punctuated your day that you’ll think about.
“And that’s how intimacy works, it’s sharing things that matter to you that might seem really inconsequential or trivial to others, but that’s what good relationships are built on.”
You have to take it one day at a timeJo Hemmings
At weekends, Ms Hemmings suggested developing a routine of things to do together, with certain things planned – even if it is just clearing out a cupboard, or doing a bit of exercise in front of a video.
“I think strong couples will be OK, I think those wobbling a bit can find a way to be OK,” she said.
“I suppose people who are already in a difficult relationship situation will unfortunately find it hard.
“You have to take it one day at a time.”