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Mating in captivity: How to keep the love alive in lockdown

Being cooped up with your other half for weeks on end is bound to affect even the closest of couples. Add financial and health worries to the mix and it could be a recipe for disaster. Tanya Sweeney asks the experts how to safeguard your relationship while housebound

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Head to head: Relationships can be strained under tense circumstances

Head to head: Relationships can be strained under tense circumstances

Head to head: Relationships can be strained under tense circumstances

Hands up if this conversation, or one like it, is remotely familiar to you.

"Do you have to slam the door like that?"

"What door? I was just closing it."

"No. You slam it. Hard."

"…"

"YOU DO IT TO GET AT ME, DON'T YOU?"

I'm not going to lie; spending all day every day with my beloved partner and daughter is not easy. Previously, I'd fantasised about days of spending luxuriant swathes of time with them. I love the idea of having nothing to do, and idling at home in our little family bubble. Talk about being careful what you wish for.

With no end in sight, there's a growing sense that the walls are closing in on us a bit. We don't have the distractions of the pub, or nights out with the lads, or visits to the in-laws. It's just us. We're doing fine largely, but every so often, the pressure cooker bubbles over, and threatens to topple off the stove. My partner is a paragon of calm and sensibility, so it's usually me doing the wigging out.

Statistics on divorce regularly reveal a spike in the number of people separating over Christmas - most likely caused by being cooped up in close quarters. Well, take away the Home Alone reruns, the Drambiue and the festive bonhomie, and add in financial stress, anxiety and health concerns instead. It's a sure-fire recipe for marital strife. One can only imagine what might happen to many relationships as couples self-isolate together amid the coronavirus crisis. divorce lawyer, Fiona Shackleton, who famously handled Paul McCartney's split from Heather Mills, revealed this week: "The prediction amongst divorce lawyers is that following self-imposed confinement it is very likely that the divorce rate will rise." And that is exactly what happened in Wuhan, once residents came out of lockdown.

Psychotherapist Trish Murphy has certainly noticed an uptick in need for her services in recent days.

"When you add health anxiety to financial uncertainly and you then find yourself essentially locked in a house with someone, nerves will fray and people will become more irritated," she reveals.

Certainly, anyone who has tried to keep kids entertained, work from home and keep one's mental health in check will be feeling the strain. But how do you ensure that your relationship doesn't become a casualty?

Relationship counsellor David Kavanagh is now running courses online that help couples cope with the strains of life in lockdown.

"The big issue is, how do you balance your own needs with your family's need for education and play, and the needs of your own relationship?" he asks. "For most people, this will be one of the most difficult things their relationship has ever had to face.

"Broadly speaking, what this crisis will do is show up incompatibilities in the relationship," Kavanagh continues. "Workaholism, alcohol and other things that have been serving as soothing mechanisms are essentially taken away, and people will soon find their limits."

Kavanagh concedes that the current self-isolation conditions will take a massive physical and mental health toll on people.

"Life is very testing for the average person at the best of times, but now there are people who really will be struggling," he observes. "For a long time afterwards, it will be seared into our mindsets how vulnerable we all are. It's a massive strain on people's resilience levels, and some can cope better than others."

Given the circumstances, it's entirely normal for people to have a bad day.

"They'll have good hours and bad hours, never mind good days and bad days," Kavanagh notes. "You might be fine one afternoon, then just have a complete meltdown, and that's okay. Couples will have to practice compassion and be really flexible with each other."

But what if the bad times outnumber the good? Under times of duress, the temptation will no doubt be there to wonder if a relationship is doomed?

"At times like this, it's easy to start asking the wrong questions, like 'this is showing up all the cracks in our relationships, surely I need to leave?'" explains Kavanagh. "I wouldn't be making any serious judgments like that within the next few months. I think on a day-to-day basis, do what you need to do to get through the difficulties you face as a couple, rather that catastrophising and looking into the future. Remember, people are going to be acting like they've never acted before, and that will have to be okay."

What of the relatively new couples that decided to self-isolate in a misty fug of romance, and are starting to regret that decision now?

"It's a very difficult scenario," Murphy concedes. "We put our best selves - our funniest and most generous selves - forward in a new relationship, and this crisis will really test that. If you hit difficulties, it doesn't mean that the relationship isn't working. You're making huge judgments based on too little knowledge and experience."

Even with the best will in the world, stresses about work and finance will soon affect long-term relationships. If one person in the household finds themselves suddenly unemployed, that loss of income and identity is likely to hit the wider household hard.

On which, Kavanagh advises: "Try to find a deeper reason for getting up in the morning if your job is gone. So many people will lose employment, and trying to find value and identity will be their biggest challenge.

"If your partner is going through that, don't give them platitudes about finding another job soon," he adds. "That won't do justice to the fact that they are experiencing an enormous sense of loss. If they want to talk about it, don't shut them down. Simply being supportive and available to them is important."

Murphy notes that all crises offer an opportunity in some form, and this is one of those times.

"It's an opportunity to be your better self," she says. "It's one of the few times we'll ever change things.

"Take note of how people function - some

Irish Independent