The current COVID-19 pandemic is leaving almost everyone feeling isolated–if not actually physically isolated. Dealing with feelings of isolation is never easy, and the stress that it causes can often be compounded when you’re feeling isolated within your relationship. During this time, it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. But, when your household feels divided, it can be hard to stay positive and remember that we really aren’t alone. None of us are.
If you’re feeling isolated, especially if you’re in a relationship, I encourage you to get down to the heart of the reason you’re feeling isolated and use this quarantine time to tend to yourself, your heart, and your relationship.
What causes feelings of isolation in relationships?
You don’t have to actually be alone to feel alone. In fact, feeling isolated in your relationship is a common experience. Because there are many reasons that you or your partner may be feeling isolated, it is important to try to figure out what the underlying cause is. Communication is the key to maintaining a healthy long-term relationship no matter what, but it is especially important during times of high-stress and uncertainty.
The fear that causes people to feel isolated in their relationships isn’t necessarily a fear of the other person. It can be a fear of stressing your partner out, a fear of what comes after this period of uncertainty, fear of vulnerability, and even feeling like you’ve done something wrong. This is not an extensive list, of course, but fear can often manifest itself as feelings of isolation.
If you have unresolved conflict in your relationship, feelings of isolation can creep in through the cracks. Unresolved conflict can make communication really difficult, particularly if it’s difficult to say how you feel, stand up for what you need, or are concerned about whether or not what you have to say is important enough to bring up. These can leave either you or your partner (more commonly you and your partner) feeling isolated.
Secrets of any kind can absolutely cause feelings of isolation. Whether you are keeping a secret or you think your partner is keeping a secret, secrets can cause serious fissures in a relationship. Be it an affair or a shopping trip you didn’t tell your partner about, all secrets put a strain on relationships. If you are keeping a secret or suspect your partner is, try talking about it. Being open about the secret might allow you and your partner to reconnect as opposed to the fallout that you suspect might result from sharing the secret. If the secret is big like an affair or gambling, it may be good to contact a therapist to help you both through the healing process.
The cyclical nature of isolation
If you’re not careful, feelings of isolation can spiral into a cycle that sweeps up both you and your partner. Our natural human response to seeing our partner self-isolate or seeing our partner respond to our isolation is often to immediately default to questioning what we did wrong–even if the reason for our partner’s isolation has nothing to do with us.
This cycle can start out of a desire to protect our partner from more stress, more conflict, or more isolation. By continuing to protect your partner, you can actually perpetuate the cycle of isolation. Try opening up with your partner in a way that doesn’t demand reciprocation. By leaving the lines of communication open and letting your partner know that you’re ready to connect, you can start to create a safe space that can break down the cycle of isolation.
How you can start navigating feelings of isolation in your relationship
If you’re struggling with feelings of isolation in your relationship, it’s good to start small. Start by asking your partner what they’re thinking or if they’re feeling a specific emotion instead of things like “how long do you think it will take us to get back on our feet” or “how are we going to feed the kids.” When you or your partner are self-isolating, being confronted about it directly can, unfortunately, have the opposite effect: it can be further isolating and can feel like a demand or an attack.
Approach your partner openly and gently, and try meeting them where they are. Encourage them to open up in a way that doesn’t demand that they open up–try playing a video game, cooking a meal together, or going on a nice walk. By creating a space where your partner feels safe to open up will allow them to do it in their own time while rekindling some connection between you.
Take time for self-care
If you are self-isolating, it is really important to take time for self-care and reflection so that you can start to understand why. It can also be really helpful in terms of managing your stress. If you are overwhelmed with stress from everyday life, especially when it’s losing income. Trying to make ends meet, worried about what to do next, you might not even be in a place where you can open up. By managing your stress, you can create brain and heart space to open up and connect with your partner.
If your partner is self-isolating or you are feeling isolated from your partner, make sure to take time for yourself and to remember that it isn’t necessarily about you. We all have our own individual needs and concerns, and watching someone we love self-isolate is really difficult. However, it doesn’t mean that you have done something wrong. In fact, might be a result of your partner trying to protect you from the stress they are feeling. If you are feeling like you’ve done something wrong or something to upset your partner, take some time to yourself to check in and remind yourself that you are only responsible for the way you respond. Create a safe space for yourself to feel what you’re feeling so that you can be a safe space for your partner.
Using this time to reconnect with your partner
This quarantine time doesn’t have to add stress or pressure to your life. If you and your partner have been feeling isolated from each other, try to use this time to reconnect with each other. You can start by playing a video game, watching a good movie, or just talking about the weather. From there, you can increase your means of connection to help bridge the gap between you and your partner.
Couples therapy is another great way that you and your partner can work to reconnect. This is a really uncertain time, and tensions can run higher than your relationship may have known previously. A therapist, even over telehealth, can give you and your partner tools to reconnect and be in the moment together. Taking this time to work on your relationship and rekindle your connection can be a valuable way for you and your partner to come out of this pandemic better and stronger than ever.