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Couples adjusting to post-pandemic life could struggle; tips on how to cope, adapt

Those who have gotten into a groove this past year ‘might even have a bigger adjustment going back out into pre-pandemic’ routines, a psychologist says.

Some couples have grown closer from all of this time being constantly together. But, for some, the closeness has also fueled dependency.
Some couples have grown closer from all of this time being constantly together. But, for some, the closeness has also fueled dependency.

Allison Miller and her boyfriend enjoyed six months of normalcy before the pandemic hit. But their relationship quickly became ”a lot more real” as they went from seeing each other on weekends to working remotely under the same roof.

Miller, who was fearful of contracting COVID-19 after nearly dying from the flu in 2014, says that, through it all, her boyfriend was “fantastic, supportive and a blessing.”

While some couples have struggled to communicate and agree on COVID protocols during the past year, others have thrived. But experts say the next stage could be a challenge as couples who have grown closer adjust to post-pandemic life.

A Pew Research Center analysis in October found that 53% of married or cohabiting respondents described their relationship as “going very well.”

But, for some, the closeness has fueled dependency.

“This pandemic just feeds into our entire co-dependency,” Mila Kunis said in January when describing how her relationship with husband Ashton Kutcher has been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Given that we have been living working and spending every waking moment with our partners over the past year, it only makes sense that we might feel some discomfort spending time apart,” says Kathryn Esquer, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Teletherapist Network. “Some of us might have come to depend on our partners for things such as emotional support throughout the workday or small tasks that make life easier.”

Couples who have gotten into a groove this past year ”might even have a bigger adjustment going back out into pre-pandemic” routines, Esquer says.

Re-upped work commitments and social engagements outside the home could become external points of stress if you’ve spent the past year ”connecting on a deeper level with your partner and enjoying the home time,” she says.

As that extra time together and support wanes, couples may feel a sense of loss.

“Even though (the end of the pandemic) is a perceived good change, any change comes with loss and so that loss must be addressed, communicated and mourned in a sense, adapted to,” Esquet says.

How can couples address and adapt? Nedra Tawwab, a therapist and founder and owner of Kaleidoscope Counseling, says it’s important to be “very clear about your needs.”

“Many couples come to counseling because they’re having issues with communication,” Tawwab says. “That can look like an issue with a partner because they’re not meeting our needs. But it’s an issue with us because we’re not telling them.”

Tawwab says couples might want to seek professional help before a big transition to help with communication and coping skills.

“Therapy can be a preventative strategy,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be a reaction to something going on.”

Awareness is a good place to start, Esquer says.

“If you’re finding yourself to be a little more on edge or irritable,” Esquer says, that’s the time to assess: “What are your fears coming up? What are your assumptions coming up?”

Once you figure out what’s bothering you, communicate it “in an open way,” she suggests.

“Even if you don’t know what you need, just communicating and letting them know what’s going on what’s in you can help them understand what you’re going through,” Esquer says.

Tawwab says couples should try to “continue to practice many of the things we practiced while quarantined” — like “being creative with things, connecting with our partners.”