Date night? Meeting new people? These can be “strange” concepts for many people over the past year, thanks to a global pandemic. This year has challenged many people, and many relationships, in various ways. Couples who were accustomed to regular date nights to reconnect, may have lost this special time together over the last year. The same could be said for those who wanted to go out and be social to meet other people/partners. The pandemic has forced people to completely rearrange the ways they interact as part of a larger society.
One aspect of this pandemic that I have processed with clients is how challenging it can be to connect with a partner when the ways they connect may have changed. This could mean no exciting dates, no breaks from the kids, and no tasty dinners without the clean up. One common concern has been how do you do something new and exciting from home? Or get time away from the kids? My work with clients has been finding ways to get creative. That may mean actually getting dressed up, and eating a picnic outside, or on the floor of the living room. Something that breaks up the monotony of the daily grind.
Another challenge of this past year is how to meet other people to date or to socialize with. A big part of life, and relationships, can be the social aspect. If you are looking for someone to connect with, it may have been challenging to figure out exactly how to go about this with all of the restrictions and possible anxiety around going out and being around people. The online world has thrived during this time, but it still does not address our innate need for in-person interaction. I have spoken to many people over the past year that have expressed that video chatting with the goal of feeling closer can actually do the opposite. Some even feel more disconnected than ever, and at times isolated. This part of our work, unfortunately, does not have any “perfect” answers. I usually spend sessions with clients trying to understand what this means for them now, and going forward. Sometimes, that just means experiencing the feeling associated with what is going on. Many times, we want to just ignore those feelings, and move on. Sometimes, it can be helpful to sit with them, understand them, and then work with what comes next.
One challenge that I have heard the past year is: how can you miss your partner if you are always around each other? Working from home is the new normal for many, which has trapped partners in the same house together for months on end. All day. Every day. For some, this has been positive. For others, though, it has been a strain on the relationship. With partners working, living, eating, and doing everything in between from home, there seems to be no social distancing when we want it (see what I did there?). Hahaha! This is another chance to get creative. What are some ways you can find alone time? Or a place to work, uninterrupted. Again, there may not be any good answers here, but acknowledging that things are different can be a place to start. Giving yourself understanding and kindness with change, and time to adapt, can be the bigger part of this.
Another common challenge of this pandemic is how to have therapy sessions from home. The idea of finding a private place, where others are not within earshot, can be a huge hurdle to overcome. I have worked with clients in their car, outside, and even some sitting in their closet. You gotta do what you gotta do. While it has been difficult for some to find ways to have the therapy session, I continue to be amazed at how clients still prioritize themselves during this change. I know that while many are trying to survive virtual school, no social interaction, and endless hours staring at a screen, it can be difficult to put therapy as a priority. On the other hand, taking care of yourself is vital to enduring the stress, anxiety, sadness, frustration that so many have experienced. If you are dealing with so much, with no outlet, where does it go? How can you function? Finding ways, even the “small things”, that can make you feel better or less stressed, can be the key to getting through tough times.
Another aspect of the past year that I have discussed with clients is heightened anxiety/ depression. This seems to go hand in hand with the uncertainty of the times we are living in. These feelings can be more severe for people who have struggled with mental health issues prior to the start of the pandemic. To address these concerns, I work with clients to ensure they have coping skills and resources that can help, which could include medication for mental health optimization. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of working with your therapist to help get through these difficult times. It can provide ways to cope and manage the feelings that you may be experiencing.
Whew! So much to think about. So, where does all of this leave us today? Some couples have leaned into the necessary changes the pandemic has forced us to make, and have embraced new ways of connecting. Clients have communicated to me that they are happy with the flexibility that virtual meetings and appointments provide them. Others have enjoyed getting to spend more time at home with family, explore new recipes as they are cooking at home more often, or enjoying the slower pace of life that staying home has provided. It may be time to evaluate what you would like post-pandemic life to look like, whether you want to try to go back to the old normal instead of the new normal or if it time to reframe your approach to aspects of life, relationships, and sex. This in itself can be a chance to explore new ways of connecting and finding time together. I would love to work with you, and help you on your journey.
–Meagan Thomas, MS, LCMHCA
Meagan Thomas, MS, LCMHCA is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor Associate in North Carolina, and is currently accruing hours toward full licensure. To schedule an appointment with Meagan or any of the therapists at Carolina Sexual Wellness Center, call 919-297-8322.