Image: Suzy Hazelwood
Chapter 1: Love you, love you not
Personal dynamics will shift, flow, ebb, explode or dissolve.
This is the second in a series of blogs prompted by the increase in divorces in China after people have been in quarantine due to the Corona virus. The phenomenon of relationships falling apart in the aftermath of a crises isn't new, but the scale of this crises and the impact on relationships globally might be unprecedented.
One of the reasons couples argued more is because they were cooped up in close proximity with each other for a month and experienced the impact of diminished physical and functional distance. The increase or decrease in emotional distance would depend on how the couple dealt with the impact of the first two.
Many studies have been done on rats and the impact of physical proximity on behaviour. Humans are not that different. The more confined and isolated we are, or experience ourselves to be, the higher our levels of irritability, moodiness, anger or depression. In the current environment we need to add feelings of anxiety, fear, panic and helplessness as well as the potential of sickness and death.
One thing is sure, if you have to spend two weeks in confinement with the one you love while all your usual patterns have disintegrated and changed, your personal dynamics will shift. Not only in your partnership but also in yourself.
Your fault lines will show up and the cracks that you have been able to ignore with social interactions (of open and hidden nature) and keeping busy will become wider as you get to know your partner in their full magnificence or messy glory. Maybe for the first time ever.
However, this getting to know each other intimately and exposed may also lead to a stronger bond, better understanding, truer communication and a vulnerability and quality of connectedness that you never thought was possible.
We are here. This is it. There is no more hiding from your true feelings about yourself, your partner and the relationship.
Emotional states drive our social behaviour. You know that. So, what can you do to make the emotional navigation of time in isolation as kind and merciful as possible?
Here are a couple of suggestions to consider and think about in preparation so you don't feel like a chicken in a tumble drier when the time comes to close the door behind you.
1. People have different reactions to a threat.
Understand that you are not one person and that the way you deal with the situation will be not be the same.
Allow people to do this their way. Accept that it might be very different from your way. Embrace the polarity. Move away from you are either with me, or against me.
Be grateful if you don't have the same levels of anxiety and fear. Be mindful that your jovial socialite partner might be really suffering from withdrawal of social interactions and social isolation is their worst nightmare come true. A virtual coffee does not taste the same! Be kind if your significant other feels utterly helpless, depressed and cries while he counts the tins of food in the cupboard. Understand that you might be ecstatic about the down time and looking forward to switching off, while your partner sees this as the ideal time to clean, fix all the leaking taps and paint the living room before they complete the latest free online course on beekeeping.
Be patient. Be kind. Be mindful. Be responsible.
2. Your beliefs will have an impact on your perspective
It doesn't matter if you are religious, agnostic or spiritual. You have a set of beliefs about life on earth and these might not be the same for your partner.
Have you been anxious about the planet for a while and believe that this pandemic is a good thing and forcing people to reevaluate how they do things or are you in complete panic about potential loss of income? Are you happy about the fact that people are reaching out and connecting in new ways or are you stockpiling groceries? Do you fear death and experience it only as loss, or do you see it as a natural extension in the cycle of life? Do you believe there is a God and this is all part of a divine plan and all you need to do is pray or do you believe you are in charge of your own destiny and better read up on some conspiracy theories?
Your beliefs, or your partner's, might also change now that you are faced with a real crises of this magnitude. If the way you look at the world is aligned it will be less painful and easier to navigate your emotions. On the other hand, if you have always believed that the world is a safe place and people are essentially good, and your partner is of the view that the world is a dangerous place filled with people you can't trust, you might have to prepare for some tough conversations and uncomfortable interactions.
3. The more you are trapped in survival mode the easier it will be to become emotionally flooded.
When you are emotionally flooded you can't think clearly and you can't see the wood for the trees. The primitive section of your brain, the amygdala, can only process fight, flight or freeze. There is no rational, kind or mindful reaction.
In isolation flight is not really an option, unless its the short distance to the next room, so fighting or freezing will increase drastically if you let fear control your responses.
Learn to communicate clearly before you are emotionally flooded, or at least practice a time-out sign to use when you need to. Make a list of the things you can do to centre yourself and each other that you can access fairly easily when the going gets tough. It can be as easy as three deep breaths to get some space inside of you, brushing your hair, a cup of tea, a list of the things he does to make you laugh that you can look at, dancing to your favourite song, washing your hands.
You are in this together and you can start practicing new ways of being with each other, choosing different responses and getting really creative on how to stay together or move apart gracefully when the doors open.