No matter what it was like before, COVID-19 has introduced a whole new range of challenges into our relationships that very few of us were ready for. So it’s probably no surprise that family law solicitors have been out the door with work since the start of lockdown.

Having to look at your partner, day in, day out, combined with the kids permanently under both your feet, is putting pressure on even the most fairytale of relationships.

Couples who were struggling before the lockdown, however, are finding that they are running out of strategies to deal with their partner. When a relationship hits the rocks, it’s common that both parties will build up an independent “outside” life in order to cope. Whether that’s working more or becoming involved in activities, both partners find reasons not to be around each other.

While restrictions have lifted substantially, many outlets like workplaces, social and community groups are not as accessible as before. This means the old escape routes are gone for the foreseeable future. Hence the rise in power struggles and arguments.

It might be hard to accept, but improving your circumstances has far more to do with what you need to change in yourself, than what needs to be changed in your partner.

For both partners to survive this lockdown, each needs to change how they have usually responded in the past.

So what can you do to try and improve the situation for everyone involved?

1 Start with the end in mind

During COVID-19, there’s nowhere to run to when the arguments start. All that has happened is that your usual coping strategy has been removed. Now you are having to face the substantive problems you have had with your partner for years.

Remember, you don’t have to become a mutual admiration society, you just need to be able to work together. If Paisley and McGuiness could do it, so can you.

2 Understand the problem

Unless there has been an infidelity, it’s unusual for there to be one big thing that has caused the problem in the relationship.

More often than not, the substantive problem is the result of little problems that have festered over the years as a result of neither partner knowing how to fix them.

Similarly, the solution is not to be found in big gestures like going off on a holiday or even spending more time together.

If the problem was caused by how you responded to each other, then the solution is to be found in changing the way that you respond to each other now.

Following this simple formula can help you both survive this crisis, regardless of where you want your relationship to go in the future.

3 Understand what the solution looks like

Whether your situation improves or gets worse, will all be determined by how you both respond to the little things that occur every day.

I’ve never been a big fan of big cheesy solutions to relationship problems. They usually don’t work, especially if the relationship has become toxic.

However, I have seen many couples survive and build successful relationships from the most toxic points. Even if they eventually split, they maintain a deep respect for each other.

So, surviving as a couple has more to do with understanding how relationships work in real life, than trying to become loved-up teenagers again.

Relationships that survive the early child raising years have to change the foundations on which they are based. Couples that survive develop mutual respect for each other, respecting the many differences in their partner and becoming attracted to their partner’s qualities rather than just their personalities.

Of course, you don’t have to like your partner or even want to be with them in order to be able change the nature of your relationship.

By identifying your common goals and how you can support each other in achieving these, you can both improve your circumstances immeasurably. This might be as simple as ensuring that the kids are provided with what they need to grow healthily or keeping the family farm going.

The next step is to identify the best way to achieve these goals and how far you want to go in your relationship.

A Trying to make it at least better than it is now

Improving your daily life with your partner will involve changing the way you respond to them on a daily basis.

  • Don’t get into the ring when they try to argue with you. It’s very difficult to spar with someone who refuses to spar back.
  • Don’t defend the indefensible. If you have done something wrong, take ownership for it, apologise and move on.
  • Find the kernel of truth in what your partner says and validate it. Even a broken clock is still right twice a day. Your partner is not always wrong. Try to identify areas in which they are right and focus on these only.
  • Keep your voice calm and reasonable. There’s not much use shouting at them to stop shouting at you.
  • This doesn’t mean that you are allowing them walk over you, you’re just making it much harder for your partner to argue with you.
  • State your truth quietly but firmly if you need to. Keep it simple and don’t keep changing how you deliver the message.
  • Give each other space. Allow your partner to have time alone without you. They are finding your company as difficult as you are finding theirs.
  • B Trying to make this work

    It’s hard not to warm to someone who is respectful of us. We have two ears and one mouth, so we need to use them in that order. Improving the situation usually means taking the cotton wool out of our ears and sticking it in our gob!

    Very few people in an argument are insisting that you accept that they are right. They just want to be listened to and have their viewpoint validated, even if you think that they are wrong.

    Listening does not mean agreeing with someone. We can validate their viewpoint without having to agree with it. Try to figure out what the person is trying to say, rather than what is coming out of their mouth.

    Repeat back what you think you have heard, to see if you have it correct. Try to understand why they think the way they do.

    When we are listened to, we feel validated, we demobilise our defences and as we do, we usually are able to see where we might be wrong and accept alternative viewpoints.

    C Going for gold

    Unless you want to live on your own, you are going to have to learn how to have a relationship with someone. You can either learn how with your current partner or you can learn with your next partner. The choice is yours.

    If you can both accept that you are as much a joy to live with as each other, then you are ready to try to make it work.

    The hardest part of repairing a relationship is seeing beyond your partner’s behaviour and understanding what love is and understanding what makes relationships work

    Are we born with love or do we learn it? The reality is that we are born with it, we learn how to lose it. We also have to learn how to hate, and if we can learn how to hate, we can learn how to love again.

    Distress comes from unfulfilled demands. By removing the demands that you make of each other, you can let go of your resentments.

    If you make demands, your partners initial reaction is resistance. When someone’s defences are not up, they are more likely to take the other persons feelings on board and respond positively.

    So, if you want to really make a go of it, then make no demands on each other. Trust me – try it for two weeks and we’d love your feedback on how it went. Email Enda on

    Read more

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    The pathelogical critic during isolation