Leandie Buys Realtionship Therapist & Clinical Sexologist

How the Covid-19 pandemic affected relationships

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic turned our world upside down. It’s not just about the health impact of the virus. It’s about the emotional and psychological effects of lockdown, the uncertainty of the future, and how this stress has affected our lives and our relationships.

There’s no denying that the past few years have been chaotic.

As a relationship therapist, I have personally seen how the pandemic has affected relationships over the past few years. Everyone has tried to cope in their own way, but sometimes these coping skills can be destructive. Not just for the individual, but for the couple as a whole.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected relationships? These are some of the most common issues that I’ve seen in my practice lately:

1.     An increase in alcohol abuse

Sometimes people turn to alcohol to cope with grief, stress, or anxiety. During the pandemic, many people lost their jobs, were placed under major financial pressure, or had to deal with the tragic death of a loved one.

Alcohol is an easily accessible way to hide away from feelings. People drink until they are numb, because they struggle to cope with overwhelming emotions. However, this can become a major issue in relationships. People’s behaviour changes when they drink. Some might become aggressive, while others might ‘check out’, and leave their partner to deal with the responsibilities of day-to-day life.

Partners lose respect for each other, and end up adding stress to their lives by arguing instead of dealing with the situation.

2.     More people are struggling with sex and porn addiction

Over the past few years there has definitely been an increase in sex and porn addiction. Remember, sex addiction is not just about physically having sex with a partner. It comes in many forms including porn addiction, sexting, flirting, and visiting massage parlours.

This kind of addiction is devastating for those in a relationship as well as people who are single.

Isolation during lockdown forced more people to seek comfort and intimacy in chat rooms, and through porn sites. Because people felt so alone, they turned to the internet for a connection because it is relatively accessible and affordable. It’s also anonymous and offered an ‘easy’ way to feel connected when in isolation.

People are now struggling to come to terms with real-world relationships again. If you think you or your partner are addicted to porn or any other sexual behaviour, there is help available. Please find out more about sex addiction and therapy here.

3.     Loss of physical attraction to partner

Many people turned to food as a comfort during lockdown. Like alcohol and porn, food can be a ‘drug’ that helps ease our anxiety temporarily. But the physical effects of a bad diet can impact your relationship. It’s not just about weight gain. If you don’t follow a healthy balanced diet, you won’t get the critical nutrition you need to live a productive, energetic life. You’ll feel tired and run down, you’ll get sick more often, and your libido will be affected.

In my practice I’ve seen a lot of couples who are struggling to feel physically attracted to each other because they have gained weight. Or they are too tired to be physical with each other because they lack good nutrition.

It’s not just men who are ‘turned off’ by their partner’s weight gain. Many of my female patients have complained “his boep is just not doing it for me”.

Investing in your health is investing in your relationship. To help rebuild the physical attraction between you and your partner, why not join a gym together. Or if you are still wary of being indoors, join the local Park Run.

Take more responsibility for your nutrition. It will benefit your overall health, and your relationship.

4.     Disconnect in the relationship

The uncertainty of the pandemic also created a major disconnect in relationships. Some couples spent more time together during lockdown, and found some major holes in their relationship that they were too scared to confront. For other couples, one partner may have lost their job, while the other one had to work twice as hard. Some may have had to deal with the loss of loved ones.

In times of chaos, and life-changing events, couples can either come together and build stronger relationships, or drift apart.

This happens when individuals are scared of sharing their fears and frustrations with their partners in case they ‘make things worse’. People go into ‘survival mode’ driven by anxiety, and they stop focussing on their partner while they try to juggle the chaos of everyday life.

Eventually, couples lose the ability to talk openly about their feelings. They are so scared of hurting each other, or feeling vulnerable that they would rather not communicate at all. Both individuals end up feeling very lonely.

You can rebuild the connection, and work towards healing the relationship together. By learning good communication skills, and learning how to support each other, you can build a relationship that can stand the test of time, and overcome any obstacle.

5.     Exhaustion!

I think everyone can relate to this. People are not just tired. They are exhausted. They are emotionally and physically drained.

We haven’t had any time to relax, and heal after the shock of the past few years. Many of us lost our December leave, and have been working non-stop to try to make ends meet. We started 2021 tired. And 2022… And things just don’t seem to be getting much better.

I’m seeing a lot of couples who have lost the balance in their lives, and they are too exhausted to work on their relationship. They feel like they’ve lost the ability to have fun and enjoy life.

This exhaustion can sometimes even lead to major depression. If you feel like you or your partner are struggling to cope, and you aren’t able to see a way ‘out’ of this heaviness and exhaustion, please see your doctor as soon as possible.

For couples who are dealing with exhaustion in their relationship, try to figure out a way to get the spark back. You’ve already lost so much, don’t lose your relationship too. There are small ways that you and your partner can start to rebuild, and find the ‘fun’ again. And the effort will be well worth it.

The pandemic has taken a lot away from us over the last two years. Don’t allow your relationship to be another casualty. By working together and dealing with the fallout of the pandemic together, you can build a strong and resilient relationship, that will last a lifetime.