Are we facing an upturn in requests for Couples Therapy?
How can the coronavirus crisis affect our love life?
In the last few months we have experienced an unprecedented reality. If we turn our attention from the macro to the micro, there has been a very clear impact both at the level of society, passing through our social, family and couple fabric, and ending up in us as individual beings.
The vast majority of people have heard messages about how we are going to see an upturn in solidarity at the social level, that we are going to value and care for family and social relationships in a different way as we have given them the true value they had because we have missed them, that we are going to reorder individual priorities and live more meaningful lives or that we are going to find ourselves with a spike in separations and divorces just around the corner..
There would be much food for thought on all these levels, and there is no doubt that the studies that will appear in the coming months and years will shed much light on the subject. But let's stop at the couple.
From pandemic crisis to couple crisis.
Confinement has been a big change and therefore, a great exercise of adaptation in a global context that has already worked as a stressor.. We could say that there have been as many experiences of confinement and the COVID-19 crisis as there are people and circumstances.
But the impossibility of seeing each other physically without having chosen to do so for non-cohabiting couples, having to live 24 hours a day, 7 days a week together in the same space The fact that couples living together who teleworked or did not have to leave the house to work, or the challenge of managing the upbringing of couples with children in their care within four walls, has undoubtedly left a significant mark.
We cannot affirm (we do not have the data to do so) that the couples have been weakened or strengthened (most probably this will depend on each couple, their previous bond, their potential for adaptation and the circumstances in which they have lived the confinement and de-escalation). But we can affirm that in the private clinic we are already noticing a notable increase in the number of requests for Couples Therapy..
Characteristics of the previous bond
We know that there are couples that have a more effective relational glue than others, that is to say, that their union is more solid. Those couples that have better communication and conflict resolution skills, couples that have a common project and connect in their bond with the feeling of team, or couples that share values and place them in similar orders which does not break their sense of priority, have much to gain.
Those couples that have better glue and a stronger bond are likely to have noticed a greater sense of relational buffering. That is to say, that even if they did not add more to the couple or if the situation led them to subtract from their bond, they would have felt much less erosion of their bond..
But you can't live on rents alone. Even those couples with better bonding and therefore better relational buffering, under sufficient conditions of attrition and erosion, may come to see their bond damaged. Therefore, it is important to take into account the potential for adaptation and flexibility..
In the couple's biographical journeys it is common to find adaptation challenges: moving, job changes, birth of children, illness in the family of origin... and for the adjustment of all of them, the ability to adapt to new demands, needs and coordination of roles is fundamental.
It is frequent to meet in consultation with people who in this type of circumstances fall into the trap of wanting to return to their previous situation.. That is to say, they rigidly resort to the coping and management formula that had given them results at other times, something that under new circumstances will most likely not work.
What does this have to do with the spike in requests for Couples Therapy?
We know that We, as couple therapists, have very different roles depending on which couple and at what stage of their relationship we have in consultation.. We can be mere companions in decision-making processes of couples who, although it may be difficult for them to accept it, no longer want to stay together, we can recover critical states when we work with couples who come to the process as a last resort or we can be trainers of bonds that already enjoy a reasonable health.
After what we have experienced as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, it seems that this summer may be key for many couples.. After weeks and months of having worn down pre-existing shock absorbers and having tested the effectiveness of their relational glue and coping potential, we somehow return to a somewhat less demanding situation in which to stop "surviving" and be able to get back on the path of building.
Of course, we can only encourage you to value Couples Therapy as a strategy for strengthening and investing in increasing bond strength, rather than as a last resort before splitting up - I'm sure no couples therapist would disagree that the work that can be done when we can be reasonably healthy bond coaches is far more powerful than the work that can be done when we have a bond in a critical state!
But most of all what we encourage you to do is to invest in building up buffers. Not only because it is a way to strengthen and increase the effectiveness of relational glue, but because it is the clear way to enjoy more satisfying and pleasurable couple relationships.
So ingredients such as mutual care, shared humor, quality time, search for shared codes, affection, emotional communication, eroticism... can be great allies for the strength of couple relationships in this summer after the de-escalation. And without a doubt, if you feel that it is not enough, we professionals are at your disposal.
Author: Diana Lozano López. General Health Psychologist and sexologist, M-24562.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)