Couples doubt relationship future during Covid-19 lockdown

Couples living together under lockdown are experiencing “growing unease” in their relationships, with more than one in eight people unsure about spending their future with their partner, according to a leading charity.

While nearly a quarter of people (23 per cent) say the strict measures imploring people to stay at home are placing pressure on their relationship, some 12 per cent say they are having doubts about their relationship, a new survey by Relate shows.

That figure is even more stark among those aged between 
25 and 34, with more than 
one in five (21 per cent) harbouring concerns about the long-term health of their relationship.

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The findings are laid out in the survey commissioned by the UK’s largest provider of relationship support, which points to growing tensions in households across the country as the lockdown continues.

A couple kisses to celebrate the new year. More than one in eight couples are questioning their relationship's future under lockdown. Picture: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

The charity warned of a “post-lockdown relationship reckoning,” with tensions between couples, as well as parents and children, “boiling over” as a result of efforts to stem the spread of Covid-19.

The survey of more than 2,000 adults found that nearly one in four respondents who are in relationships have had more arguments with their partner, with 26 per cent pointing to money worries as a major factor.

But simply being forced to spend an extended period of time at home is also escalating tensions. Some 27 people questioned said they were finding their partner irritating, with women more likely to be peeved by men than vice versa.

However, the vast majority of respondents in a relationship (65 per cent) said they felt supported by their partner during the crisis, with 43 per cent saying the experience had brought them closer.

The extra time together did not necessarily translate into greater intimacy, with only 17 per cent of couples saying they were having more sex than usual.

Parents who are currently living with their children are under particular pressure with over a third (34 per cent) saying they are finding it hard to create structure for their kids and keep to a routine, and almost a quarter (24 per cent) saying their children’s behaviour had become an issue since staying at home.

Aidan Jones, chief executive of Relate, urged people experiencing problems to seek out telephone or webcam counselling instead of allowing them to fester during the lockdown.

He said: “We always see a peak in people seeking relationship support after Christmas, when spending unusually long together brings issues to the surface. Add to that the current extended period of isolation, worries about job security, finances, how to juggle work with childcare and uncertainty about the future – and it’s clear why we’re expecting a post-lockdown relationship reckoning.

“These findings reflect what our counsellors are seeing. People coming to us for support are saying that the Covid-19 pandemic and its repercussions are magnifying existing issues.

“Everyone’s trying their best to get through whilst stuck under one roof but that door won’t stay closed forever, which is why we’re urging anyone experiencing issues to get in touch now rather than letting things fester until things get irreparably bad.”

Relate has published advice on its website for couples who find their relations are strained during the lockdown. It suggests regular communication about routines, especially if one or both partners are working from home, and putting “big and difficult conversations” on hold while the crisis continues.

Relationships Scotland, which offers therapy, counselling, family support and advice for couples, has issued similar advice, reassuring people that it is not uncommon to experience stress and anxiety given the extraordinary restrictions on normal life.

Its advice states: “The lockdown measures are restricting our movements and we are likely to get tetchy, annoyed or just plain angry with others at times.

“Recognising that this is hard for us all and being able to talk about what is upsetting us or getting us down is important. Listening to your partner or friends will help you to find a solution.”

It adds that children and young people are experiencing “significant changes and uncertainties” due to the closure of nurseries, schools, colleges, and universities, and urged parents and carers to acknowledge they may be feeling sad, angry, and short-tempered.

“It is important to allow them to express their emotions, and to listen to their concerns,” it explained.

Brian Magee, chief executive of Cosca, Scotland’s professional body for counselling and psychotherapy, has advised its members to try to use technology as a substitute for face-to-face sessions.

He suggests the Zoom online meeting app or FaceTime could offer “alternative delivery methods” for clients during the lockdown.

The online survey of 2,021 adults throughout the UK was carried out on Relate’s behalf by the research company Censuswide between 9 and 14 April.

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