Kate Thompson - a couple psychoanalytic psychotherapist, faculty staff member and clinical lecturer at Tavistock Relationships.
In these times couples therapy has moved online to make us feel there is someone outside who can help.
Who lives in isolation?
The word conjures up lighthouse keepers, prisoners in solitary confinement or a lone yachtswoman circumnavigating the globe. Little did most of us imagine that living in isolation would be something we would all be doing, March 2020, segregated from wider family, friends and society as a whole.
Not only do we need to stay ‘in’, there is a real threat outside, in the form of this pernicious virus, Covid 19, about which there is still much to understand as scientists, politicians and medics grapple to gain control over its spread and impact.
Coping with the uncertainty of this and the reality of falling ill, anxiety around food shortages, routines revolutionised, wall-to-wall children at home, on top of worries about financial insecurity and jobs, is a challenging mental task for us all.
In this stand against Coronavirus, families are being severed from their normal everyday existences, of trips to schools and cinemas, cafes and work. They can no longer use experiences outside the home to refresh and share what is going on inside the home. This cloistered living is bound to cause anxiety to rise within all family members as everyone copes with change, and the loss it brings. It is hard to ‘keep steady’.
The challenge to relationship and coping with ‘otherness’
Our current compressed domestic existence can take its toll on intimate relationships. Couples will process these drastic changes to how they live their lives at different paces and in different ways. Negotiating differences and tolerating the ‘otherness’ of partners can prove challenging at the best of times; what does it mean if he thinks so differently about this or can she really know me if she expects me to feel like that? Taking time out and cooling off after a disagreement is harder when meeting a friend or going to the gym are off limits. Worries about whether an already ailing relationship will be robust enough to endure such close proximity to its injuries can add itself to an already long list of the stressors that are besieging many.
Tips on how to survive in this alien normality and how to ‘isolate well together’, an oxymoron if ever there was one, are flooding the airwaves;
Create structure in the day!...Take exercise!...Try and laugh three times a day!...Keep calm and help your neighbours! Eat healthily!...Tackle only one day at a time only….Focus on some positives….
Social media has proved a blessing when sharing out funny film clips and photos, keeping family in touch and sharing advice. Perhaps a more serious antidote to tackling cabin fever is to avoid those who are inclined to heightened and alarming statements of concrete fact about Coronavirus and to limit exposure to incendiary news coverage - especially late at night. None of this advice is really news to us and yet receiving it can be comforting. Sharing thoughts around what to do to make time pass a little easier can provide some internal emotional stability in itself.
Dealing with the anxiety within your relationship
At Tavistock Relationships, we might add think about the function of your anxiety; once you have done all you can to stay safe and followed health professionals’ guidelines, what is the burden of worry doing to you? How is your anxiety affecting your interaction with those you love? Try and notice what helps to soothe this internal tension and rumination and build on that. And, crucially, can your relationship act as a resource in this?
With the latent functions of work - such as personal validation and distraction – temporarily fallen away, along with interactions with the wider world outside the home, it’s perhaps normal that fault lines in relationships are likely to come under renewed pressure. At Tavistock Relationships we are finding that this pressure is being relieved for some couples and individuals by seeking help in the form of counselling and psychotherapy over the internet with our team of experienced and highly trained practitioners.
Professional Webcam therapy can open up communication
Couples are finding that ‘remote therapy’ is more effective than they would have imagined. Counselling on-line can open a metaphorical door to the outside, relieving the build-up of tension, allowing couples to look inside themselves, exploring the stress and anxiety they are experiencing through a different lens.
For some couples, on-line (or webcam) counselling allows the two individuals that make up a relationship to make emotional contact with their unique intimate life together, away from discussions of Covid-19 and what is going to happen next. It can enable them to feel warmth and increased understanding for one other and the strange situation they find themselves in.
Relationship therapy doesn’t lessen the awful impact of Coronavirus, nor change the reality of valid fears for many people, about their loved ones and their futures. What couple counselling can do, though, is help couples to think in a shared space, to understand each other’s worries and be alongside one another as they do this, bearing witness to pain, confusion or appeals for help. It can’t make the ‘bad thing’ go away but it can help both halves of a couple not feel so alone – and with that feeling of not being isolated, of being a team, couples and individuals can perhaps face adversity with a new vigour and determination to get through.
If you would like to try online therapy and counselling, please book an appointment here.