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CommunityMental HealthLingering pandemic relationship issues? Here’s help

Did your relationship suffer during the pandemic? Still struggling to recover? You are not alone.  Priory Wellbeing Center in Dubai reports an 11 percent increase in patients seeking help with relationship issues in the last year. And according to a UK poll conducted by The Priory, which now has a location in Abu Dhabi too, one in four people (26 percent) think their relationship with their partner worsened over the period.  Mandeep Jassal, a behavioral therapist...
livehealthymag.comMay 26, 202213 min
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Did your relationship suffer during the pandemic? Still struggling to recover? You are not alone. 

Priory Wellbeing Center in Dubai reports an 11 percent increase in patients seeking help with relationship issues in the last year. And according to a UK poll conducted by The Priory, which now has a location in Abu Dhabi too, one in four people (26 percent) think their relationship with their partner worsened over the period. 

Mandeep Jassal, a behavioral therapist at the Priory Wellbeing Centre in Dubai, says it was inevitable that some relationships would be put under strain during the past two years. First off, the increased proximity enforced on people during home-working restrictions.  

“The pandemic in effect removed the ability for many couples to maintain a healthy balance in life,” she says. “When this happens, relations become strained, and can result in negative thinking such as ‘I can’t cope’ and ‘I am failing in this relationship’, which can lead to dysfunctional and repetitive behaviors such as snapping or avoiding certain conversations.

Tensions arise

“Couples have had to make major adjustments to their relationship, which for many has brought tensions to the surface in a heightened, often emotional way, with many worried about whether the damage was irreversible, and others just feeling a sense of rejection and worthlessness.”

For some, previous routines had masked pre-existing problems and differences, which had nowhere to hide during the pandemic. The Priory team reports that over the last 12 months, the most prominent issues seen to be testing a couple’s resilience and exacerbating disharmony have included:

• a lack of privacy and personal space

• adjustment to a new pace and daily routine

• work and financial stress

• childcare issues

• uneven split of household tasks

• miscommunication

• a general lack of quality interaction.

Newer relationships suffered more

The Priory Group’s UK survey revealed that those hardest hit by the impact of the pandemic were aged 18-34, with 70 percent reporting significant economic and emotional effects. This group was also more likely to be in the early stages of a relationship, when couples are still learning about each other and have not yet fully developed the ‘friendship system’ found among those in long-term relationships.

Mandeep says: “Couples who have been together for a considerable amount of time can more easily fall back on their ‘friendship system’ in times of crises, simply because it has had time to develop and establish itself with the luxury of time. 

“Unlike younger couples, they will know more about their partner’s inner psychological world, having spent a longer time together, which can create a buffer to more stressful situations and enable them to handle them better than younger couples. A big part of the friendship system is the transition from ‘me’ to ‘we’ statements, where there is a sense of team work and ‘us against the issue’ attitude. Again, this can be more profound, as relationships develop compared to those in the early stages who tend to still view things from an individual perspective.”

However, all relationships require mutual compromise and adjustment, and Mandeep is keen to emphasize that the pandemic has affected even the strongest of couples: “Tackling the tensions is key and small adjustments can significantly ease friction and reverse the majority of issues.” 

Tips to tackle relationship issues

So, how to do that? The Priory team suggests:

  • Introducing daily rituals to provide a sense of balance and calm, such cuddling in bed before getting up, having lunch together or a walking together in the evening. Creating regular rituals helps to develop a sense of stability and predictability in the day, especially when there are many factors around the couple causing uncertainty.
  • Scheduling time in the week to discuss issues within the relationship, as well as more difficult and challenging topics. This provides a sense of safety that there will be a set time and place to discuss the issues, and removes the feeling of ‘walking on eggshells’, where a topic could be raised at any particular point, causing underlying stress. Couples who make the time to talk openly and honestly on a regular basis are more likely to build an emotional attachment with one another, creating a sense of safety and trust.
  • Going on a date night is important ‘we time’, which is relaxing and romantic. This can include going for an evening walk or visiting your favorite cafe for a coffee.  
  • Showing affection and appreciation is an important part of the “friendship system’. Here couples are tuning their mind to see the good in their partner, which helps frame the relationship in a positive rather than a negative way. Being thankful by saying ‘I really appreciate you washing the dishes’ or ‘I loved how we spent yesterday evening and how present you were’. Noticing the positives and stating them is more likely to create positive and virtuous patterns in the future. 
  • Ensuring your own designated zones in the home for work and relaxation to help provide a divide and to ensure work is not merged into the living and social areas. This can result in positive thoughts and feelings. 

But recognizing difficulties, and working to improve our understanding of each other’s perspective, along with better communication, goes a long way towards preventing breakdown. 

Mandeep adds: “Ultimately, couples who are curious and keen to learn about the strengths and issues in their relationship will reap the rewards by enabling themselves to become better equipped in improving and enhancing it.”

Pandemic sparks change in mental health attitu

The Priory Group survey found overall that the pandemic appears to have sparked a transformation in the way people approach the topic of mental health, with an increased acceptance about the importance of seeking help when problems arise, according to a leading UAE-based expert. 

“The pandemic has caused much turmoil across the world, but it’s important that we also take the positives where we can find them,” says Mandeep. “One of these is the fact that conversations about mental health have become much more commonplace. It is no longer an issue which is simply brushed under the carpet. As a result, people are also more likely to seek professional help.”

Mandeep welcomed findings from a recent Priory poll that found 18 percent of people were more likely to reach out for support post-pandemic, with 10 percent reporting that they had sought mental health treatment for the first time in the pandemic’s wake.

Other key findings of the survey:

• 34 percent of people called the pandemic “the most stressful and anxiety-ridden period of their life”.

• 24 percent said their mental health had worsened due to fears of job loss, or about their finances as a result of a job already lost.

• 49 percent said stress and “feeling overwhelmed” during Covid-19 had made it difficult to do their job properly.

• This article was provided courtesy of The Priory Center

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