Happier relationships in a pandemic: Tips from a Relationship Coach

Spending too much time with your partner lately puts pressure in your relationship? Are you too busy and tired to have any energy left for your love life? Do you suspect your partner of having an online affair? Or are you into online dating? Relationship coach Kate Nicolle, with over ten years of knowledge of conflict and couple relationship, answered my questions on different scenarios, with the same goal: how to have a happier relationship even during the pandemic.

Relationships demand effort from both sides. In most of the cases, it’s a matter of luck, of pure chemistry and also intelligence to build a healthy and happy relationship. And let’s face it, this isn’t easy! Like this wasn’t enough, the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic turned our lives upside down. Couples had to face new challenges, from spending almost every minute of the day living in the same household, without meeting other people, many working from home, with a nearly non-existent personal space. Other couples have long-distance relationships, without knowing when they will be able to see each other again. While other couples struggle to take care of their children properly, working during a global pandemic, and also trying to have a good love life.

Pandemic isn’t yet over, but neither is love! And one way or another, love should always survive.   

Kate, please, tell us what is exactly the role of a relationship coach?

A relationship coach is there to help you explore why issues have arisen in your relationship and to work with you to identify different, more positive ways of communicating that will help restore a sense of warmth and closeness.

Relationship coaching is about facilitating a couple through reflecting on ‘How did we get here’ and ‘How would we like things to be different’ and ‘What do we need from each other to get there’.

Mature relationships are about mutual love, respect and understanding.

How can you make your partner fall in love with you again, when spending too much time under the same roof?

So here is what we need to understand about long term relationships. They are not meant to be a Disney love story the whole time. Mature relationships are about more than the sparkly romance; they are about mutual love, respect and understanding.

I’m not sure it’s that realistic to think that you can re-create falling in love again, but you can rediscover your relationship. I am a believer in finding still what makes your relationship individual and unique to you. What is quirky about you as a couple, what have you stopped noticing that you admire and respect and started taking for granted?

Spending more time together than is healthy for your relationship can make you start to focus on all the things about your partner that irritate you. Once that becomes your focus, you notice another and another. It’s like when you paint one room in the house you then realise how awful all the rest look as you begin to compare.

For every one negative thing you say to your partner you should balance it with five positive things.

You focus on what you don’t like and with ease go on adding to that list, not stopping often for a second to consider whether you also have been somewhat irritating. Did you know you eat crisps REALLY loudly?

So, step back, give your partner some credit and try to see what has been positive. Try to resist always moaning about their downsides to anyone who will listen, as that then becomes the only narrative you hear about them.

Gottman champions the 5:1 rule, for every one negative thing you say to your partner you should balance it with five positive things. Yes, FIVE! Just doing this, we know it generates a much healthier atmosphere in a relationship that helps you find your way back to warmth with your partner.

Sometimes more positive behaviour towards you driven by guilt can be something you might pick up on.

How do you know when your partner is having an online affair, and what is the smartest way to react?

It can be very hard to be sure that your partner is unfaithful. A change in behaviour is going to be your best clue, a change in how they communicate with you, their mood, their normal behaviours. Sometimes more positive behaviour towards you driven by guilt can be something you might pick up on.

Suspicion is not an emotion that is healthy to live with for too long. The smartest way to react if you discover this is going on is to try and be calm and speak from your perspective. Speak about how you feel and how the discovery is impacting on your thoughts and feelings. This will invoke a less defensive stance from your partner and make a meaningful discussion more possible.

The virtual world is still real life; it’s happening to your life.

Online affairs are as bad as the ones in person?

That depends on you, really. Some people find emotional betrayal more hurtful than physical betrayal. When trust is broken, your ability to adapt to the new status of your relationship can be affected by many elements, including your past life experiences.

The virtual world is still real life; it’s happening to your life. It can be easy to forget that, and that causes damage.

Meeting each other’s needs is the basis of a healthy relationship.

In a long-distance relationship, what is the best approach for anxious partners, mainly now when travelling is banned or limited?

Long-distance love requires an extra special effort. It can be easy to forget to talk to your partner about what they need. Meeting each other’s needs is the basis of a healthy relationship, and that is easy to do when you are with the person a lot of the time. When you are not, it’s much harder and less obvious, so making a habit of making it part of what you check in on is vital. What do they need from you? To listen to them download about work? To talk through a dilemma but you not to try and fix it, just listen? For you to be romantic with some loving gestures or a spicy zoom call?

Distance creates insecurity, and even those couples who communicate well can fall foul of uncertainty and jealousy.

How can long-distance relationship partners overcome doubts caused by uncertainty and jealousy?

Of course, distance creates insecurity, and even those couples who communicate well can fall foul of uncertainty and jealousy. Recognise it, call it out, say you feel insecure or jealous, don’t pretend everything is fine and then go on to try and catch your partner out. Trying to check on if they have been where they said they were for example.

If you don’t feel loving towards yourself, it’s going to be hard to believe that another person loves you as much as they say.

Long-distance love requires lots of trusts, and for each person to believe that the other genuinely desire them despite the barriers to being together. So how you feel about yourself comes into play here. As if you don’t feel loving towards yourself, it’s going to be hard to believe that another person loves you as much as they say they do to endure so much time apart.

Communicating in the virtual world is controlled. We can manipulate it. We have far less control in real life.

You started an online relationship on a dating app during the pandemic. Even if the lockdown ended, the virus is still out there. How do you know the person is the right choice in real life too?

Someone in the virtual world and someone in the flesh can be somewhat different. So much about communicating in the virtual world is controlled: the lighting on your face, how long you talk for when you speak etc. We can manipulate it, so we feel comfortable and enjoy the experience. We have far less control in real life. So, the reality may be an altogether different experience. The only way to know if the relationship will float in real life is to give it a whirl when the time is right. Acknowledge that it’s going to feel weird and new, mentioning realities often diminishes them.

In a family with young children, when partners feel overwhelmed, what is the best way to improve their relationship and love life?

Talk, talk and talk some more. When you are busy, tired and overwhelmed, it’s easy to stop talking other than to bark orders. Share your expectations of each other, be open about what you resent, what you find hard and what you find comfortable. Parenting is a team sport, play to each of your strengths. The more supported you feel by one another, the closer you will feel emotional.

Recognise the effort your partner makes, say thank you!

Acknowledge. Recognise the effort your partner makes, say thank you! It’s easy to adopt the attitude of, ‘that’s the least you could do, I’m running this show!’ all that does is foster negative vibes. Rather than take the opinion of, ‘if you loved me, you would know’ tell your partner what you need help with, be honest with each other if you can. This helps with a feeling of togetherness rather than a parenting competition of who has had the hardest day, least sleep etc.

Relationship coach Kate Nicolle

To find out more check out Happier Relationships or Instagram.

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