12 toxic relationship habits you fell into in lockdown – and how to sort them

It’d be miraculous if you managed to get through multiple lockdowns with no effect on your relationship.

We’ve been forced into near-constant close contact, working and living in the same, often cramped, space and our socialising opportunities restricted to only the people we live with.

All that, plus the immense stress of the Covid-19 pandemic, and it’s no wonder few relationships have made it out of the past year unchanged.

But even if you’ve stayed together and avoided a blowup, your relationship may have fallen into some not-so-great patterns.

You might have picked up some toxic habits in the past year or so, and that’s understandable.

What’s key, though, is recognising this, and getting back on track.

Relationship expert Neil Wilkie breaks down 12 common harmful behaviours many couples will have fallen into in lockdown, and how to ditch them.

Suppressing your feelings

When we’ve been cooped up inside with our partners for months on end, it’s natural that we might stay quiet about any negative emotions.

After all, we want everything to go smoothly. Why bring up that they’ve offended you, or that you wish they would take the bins out without you asking? Won’t it be easier to just pretend you’re fine?

The truth is that feelings don’t just vanish. If you try to hold them in, they’ll either leak out – ‘and your partner will have picked up on the negativity’ – or simmer away internally, leaving you miserable.

Now is the time to prioritise expressing your emotions.

‘If your partner continues to do things that irritate or upset you; tell them how that makes you feel,’ advises Neil. ‘Do this in the moment rather than burying it and allowing it to get bigger.

‘Use words like “I feel…” and avoid blaming words like “You…”. This helps you dig below the stuff, into the real feelings.’

Not dealing with important problems

Related to the last point, you might have delayed dealing with big issues – whether practical or emotional – until lockdown is over.

‘Now’s the time to get them out in the open,’ says Neil.

Don’t let delaying turn into ignoring, then forgetting.

Being negative

With all the misery of Covid-19, it’s likely you’ll have fallen into a bit of a sadness spiral, unable to talk about anything that isn’t doom and gloom.

Give yourself a bit of a nudge to bring some positivity back.

Neil says: ‘In difficult times we often focus on what is wrong with our world. I wonder when you last said something loving or affirming to your partner?

‘Every night before you go to sleep share three things with your partner that you are grateful for. It will get both of your subconscious minds into a positive frame before you go to sleep.’

Loss of physical connection

You’ve been busy, it’s been hot, and the importance of human touch has kind of slipped your mind.

‘We need four hugs a day for survival, eight for maintenance, and 12 for growth,’ explains Neil. ‘They should be at least 20 seconds each to get the feel-good hormone, oxytocin, flowing. So get hugging.’

You’ve stopped having sex

Neil tells us: ‘In lockdown many couples found sexual tension faded into routine. Couples rarely talk about how to nurture their love life and stay in the same, disappointing normal.

‘A few words could open up an amazing world of possibilities. Discuss with your partner what you like and find out what their needs and desires are.

‘Just imagine you could have a risk-free conversation to explore this, knowing that there can only be an upside. What is stopping you?’

The ‘us’ has faded

Yes, you’re two individual people, but when you’re in a relationship, you do want to be a team.

Lockdown may have upped your need for alone time to the point that you’re not really investing energy in your partner.

‘Change this pattern by setting aside time and a place where the two of you can connect as a couple,’ suggests Neil. ‘Create those moments of intimacy where it is as if the world stops and nothing else matters.’

Date nights, conversations, and even just watching a TV show together can help you feel more united.

You’ve stopped appreciating each other

‘You have been trying hard, working your best but all you get is criticism,’ says Neil.

‘Knowing that your partner appreciates you will help your relationship to blossom.

‘Maybe share a list of 10 things that your partner generally does that you appreciate.

‘Then, regularly, say very specifically what your partner has done that day that you appreciate.’

You’re settling for ‘ok’

Your relationship survived lockdown, just about. Now it’s time for it to thrive.

That comes by taking your relationship a bit more seriously, and prioritising it accordingly.

Neil suggests setting aside an hour a week for a ‘state of the union’ meeting.

‘Reflect on what has gone well in your relationship and what could be even better,’ he recommends. ‘Share appreciation of five positive things your partner has done and then choose one issue in your relationship that could be better. Explain why this is important to you and what you would like.’

Things are dull

The days have been drudgerous and you can’t remember the last time you really had fun.

Time to revive that energy.

Neil suggests: ‘Unleash the child within and do things that will make you both smile and laugh.

‘Be creative and, once a week, take it in turns to surprise your partner with something that you think they would enjoy.

‘Let your imagination flow and see what joy you can bring.’

Feeling stuck

Being ‘in the moment’ is a good thing, but if you’re not making any moves towards the future, that needs to change.

Talk about plans for the future – both short-term, like a nice holiday, and long-term, like buying a home together.

Your feelings are all over the place

‘You have been through 18 months of uncertainty and have probably been in fight, flight or freeze mode for much of this, coping with an insidious and invisible enemy,’ explains Neil.

‘Work through your worries as a team. Talk about how you are feeling.

‘Post-lockdown we are all going through the grief curve and it is ok to be sad, worried or down. Let your partner help and allow these feelings to flow through you.’

You’re in a social media hole

Has your screentime rocketed in lockdown? You’re certainly not alone in this.

We’ve been feeling rubbish, and the dopamine hit of social media seems like an easy fix.

But diving deep into your phone screen can have negative ramifications for your relationship.

Carve out some time when phones are banned and you can truly be present with your partner, free of distractions. Turn off your notifications for a bit.

Neil Wilkie is a relationship expert, psychotherapist, author of the Relationship Paradigm series of books, and creator of online couples therapy programme, The Relationship Paradigm.

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