She Said, He Said: Pandemic having more significant impact on relationships than anything in years
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori,
I love my girlfriend, but I’m really starting to question whether she can meet my needs in our relationship. We’ve been living together for two years, and over the past year it seems like I’ve slowly fallen further down her priority list. I feel like I’ve been doing a good job of clearly and kindly asking for what I need, including more time together, and to be included more in decisions. But she has started to respond with frustration, saying I need too much from her. I know she’s busy with work and taking care of her parents, but she also makes time to ski and hike with friends. Since the pandemic started I’m able to work from home with a flexible schedule and think it’s a great opportunity for us to be together more. How can I help her see that the focus should be more on our relationship?
Signed, Wanting More
Lori and Jeff: You’re definitely not alone in your desire for more positive attention from your partner. There is a greater context for why so many are feeling as though their relationship is falling short. Before COVID, couples tended to have much better balance in their lives. Often, more than half of social and emotional needs were met through many elements outside of the relationship. With health and safety restrictions, those previously used resources for support, love, friendship and identity have become largely inaccessible for most of us. As a result, many people are now looking to their partners to fill most, if not all, of their needs, creating too much pressure on that relationship.
Lori: The question you ask holds insight to your answer. You would like to know how to help her see, which means you’ve created a story that you are in the “right” position and the solution is moving her to your side. My first question for you: Is what might you not be seeing? Also, What is her true experience? Have you asked her what it has felt like to be juggling a relationship, work, family, exercise and self-care in these times?
From your description, you are actually the partner with greater resources at the moment: more time, more flexibility, less responsibility. Instead of feeling neglected, how might you lean into the relationship and be a support for her? Enhancing the emotional connection between partners doesn’t just happen through scheduled dates or designated quality time. Rather, closeness is enhanced when we show up for each other in the chaos of life. If you want to feel more connected to her, find the courage to step out of your fixed perspective and try meeting her where she is.
Jeff: Before the pandemic, your schedule may have contributed to limiting the amount of time your girlfriend could spend with you. With work, commuting, social and family commitments, and the general business of life, it may have seemed like she was doing the best she could. With COVID, many of those external limitations have disappeared and, with the sudden increase in your availability, your girlfriend has had to set some of those boundaries herself. This change might have led to feelings of rejection or disappointment instead of the tolerance or acceptance you may have felt about the time you spent together before.
What’s gone missing in your life? Are there regular activities, hobbies or interactions that you had pre-pandemic that are no longer filling that space? Are you relying too heavily on your girlfriend to meet all your needs? If you think there may be room for you to recalibrate your expectations, that would be the most effective approach. It also would be very important for you to clarify your needs and then decide how appropriate it is to expect one person to fulfill most of them.
Lori and Jeff: The pandemic has had a more significant impact on relationships than perhaps any other single cause has in years. The best thing to do is not assume that changes in your relationship are because something is inherently wrong. Start by looking at how things might be different on a day-to-day basis due to the virus. Just make sure you’re exploring your own changes as much as your partner’s.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.
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