A remarkable amount of people (those who know I am a couples counselor) have said to me, "You must be getting a lot of clients because people are spending so much time together." I was interested in how the pandemic might change my clients' stories. I thought I would share what I have seen thus far. These are based on my observation. I have not conducted formal surveys.
My first observation is that it has intensified problems that were already present rather than creating new ones. Now that people are together more, it is harder to ignore issues. The small things they redirected to their subconscious are now more glaring as there is a higher frequency of related incidents. People who could get by focusing on the routine of life without addressing deeper issues are now coming to see me.
Another problem is time management. The pandemic thrust people into their home, forcing them to create new schedules and routines. Many of my clients complain about not having enough time together. Now, they have considerably more time, yet they still find ways to disengage from each other.
In my experience, quality time is more an issue of commitment and motivation, than logistical barriers. A quote I often share is, "If you don't have time for quality time, you don't have time for a relationship." I understand that many people are busy, but often there are deeper problems with intimacy, rather than simply, "making the time."
COVID-19 has undoubtedly increased stress on families and couples. Each of us has a finite amount of energy to give each day. If simply getting through a day is taxing, there is only going to be so much left for the couples to, "fill each other's buckets."
In this case, I start by helping couples determine what is an "inside job or outside job." In most cases, when clients see how important quality time is for repairing their relationship, new solutions arise due to increased motivation to change. This is the "outside job."
The inside work is where I come in to help couples address barriers to emotional connection and effective conflict management. Life is hard and we have to make space for connecting, especially with our commitment partner.
Relationship satisfaction is a huge factor in overall life satisfaction. Those couples who are managing conflict well and emotionally connecting are going to engage life stress as a common goal rather than an excuse to withdraw.
These are just a few observations. We have yet to see how the long-term effects will manifest in relationships. What I tell people is that most every couple could benefit from having a well-trained couples counselor at some point in their life. This pandemic is helping some of those people get into counseling sooner. However, I imagine that other couples might put continue to put counseling off to deal with pandemic related challenges.
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