What to Do When Your Relationship Implodes During a Pandemic

How to cope.

Posted May 18, 2020

Whatever you avoided in the past with regard to problems in your close relationships may be staring you smack dab in the face today. 

Perhaps pre-pandemic, you weren’t necessarily happy with your romantic partnership but your other outlets kept you occupied and happy enough. You may have had an enriching work life, social life, or life involved in your children’s schools. You may have traveled for work or your spouse may have traveled for work so you rarely occupied the same space except for the occasional family dinner. Maybe you were somebody who was always so busy and your partner was so busy that you never really had to fully acknowledge to yourself, let alone to your partner, that your relationship is in jeopardy, makes you very unhappy, or is downright toxic.

Now that the world has come to a screeching halt and you are in quarantine with your significant other, your hurt, anger, annoyance, irritation, or upset may be all you can see. Here are four ways to cope with recognizing that your relationship is imploding while keeping your longer-term best interest in mind.

1. Don’t Panic: All of the negative feelings generated by the tribulations of the world today coupled with rising tensions with your partner may leave you feeling quite trapped. Feeling trapped makes people anxious and puts them into fight or flight mode. Fight or flight can produce decisions born of desperation and panic—decisions that bring short-term relief but may not always be in your best interest in the longer run.

Try to take the edge off by reminding yourself these issues have likely been present between you and your partner for a while now. Nothing has really changed—you are just recognizing it now. There will be a path forward but first, bring down the physiological arousal that this stress is creating for you. Do mindful breathing or yoga every day. Keep healthy eating habits and try to find ways to relax and sleep eight hours a night. These strategies will help to soothe you on the inside so your brain can catch up with what is happening in your life and allow you to think things through clearly and rationally.

2. This Is an Opportunity: If you are overwhelmed by your relationship during the pandemic, consider if you have been avoiding dealing with issues and pushing things under the rug for a while now. Consider the toll that avoidance has taken on you and your partner. Have you really been happy? Have you really be able to experience consistent joy and internal peace? Chances are if you have been avoiding the elephant in the room the answer is no.

Avoidance only makes relationship problems grow and become more and more intense. With this historic freeze in place, you have an opportunity to enrich your life by forcing yourself to tune into your feelings and to what is really going on in your relationship. Now that you can’t push things away, maybe there is hope you can improve your relationship or generally have a better, more peaceful life. A life in which you don’t have to dull out your experience and emotions with escape and avoidance. As the current crisis shows us, time is fleeting, life is short. Use this time constructively to actually give attention to what is not going right in your life and in your relationship.

3. Do something every day to grow the relationship. Avoiding your unhappiness in your relationship means you haven’t given yourself and your partner a chance to see if things can actually improve. Do something every day to see if you can build new skills or develop new insight into your marriage or relationship. See if you can agree on areas of growth as a couple—communication, intimacy, and trust. Consider if you and your partner might take the extra time you have together to dive into the issues with a professional through couples therapy (many therapists are offering teletherapy currently). If therapy feels too hard at this juncture, read a marriage therapy or self-help book together. Even exercising daily together or making a commitment to talking every day for a specified period of time about the issues between you is an excellent start.

4. Use this time for self-growth. We tend to project our inadequacies, or perceived inadequacies, onto our romantic partners. Recognize if you have been doing this and instead, each time you are frustrated or sad or angry or feeling trapped in your relationship, consider your own self-growth. Can you use some of this time to increase your self-awareness around what you need to improve upon or grow within yourself?

One way to start is to conduct an inventory on your dysfunctional patterns or what you tend to repeat in your relationships. Reflect on what you need to start cultivating within yourself separate from your romantic partner—self-esteem, validating your emotions, taking care of yourself, communication skills, being more emotionally available, being more trustworthy, being more open, are examples. Consider taking up mindfulness meditation as a way to start observing your thoughts and finding ways to be more present in the here and now.

Whenever would you imagine you would have more time on your hands, more time with your partner, and less ways to avoid all that upsets you about yourself and your life? I get that may sound overwhelming on first blush, but it is also an incredibly special moment to have the space to start processing and growing yourself as an individual. If you use the time constructively, life after the pandemic could look healthier and brighter than before.

For more, check out my book, Building Self-Esteem 5 Steps.