Practicing couples therapy through the pandemic, we’ve seen how romantic relationships, by default, have met needs that may have been met by numerous other people in partners’ lives during non-pandemic times. Looking ahead to after the pandemic (though we don’t quite know when that will be or what it will look like), couples are understandably asking themselves what will happen to their relationship when quarantine ends and they begin to socialize more. Our Founder and Clinical Director Matt Lundquist recently joined WNYC’s All of It with Alison Stewart for a conversation on how couples can prepare for this next big transition in their relationship.
In the segment, Matt takes listeners’ questions on a range of topics, including concerns about dealing with a lack of new people during quarantine, transitioning relationships that have been mostly text-based to real life, and navigating an inactive sex life during the pandemic. While addressing these specific issues, Matt also emphasizes that, at least for right now, couples need to reconcile not knowing exactly what their relationship may be like post-COVID. “Quite simply the relationship is going to have a new kind of test. We’re going to be looking at it through a new lens,” Matt observes.
Though certainly more positive and less frightening than last March, couples should anticipate that the transition out of quarantine may be as disruptive. Matt explains, “The thing to do is welcome that disruption and greet it enthusiastically, but to recognize things are going to change. And the world has changed–our friends have changed, the people we haven’t seen in a long time have changed, we’ve changed.”
Matt encourages partners to see this as an opportunity for discovery. “The most important thing is for people to be open to discovering that they’re going to learn some new things about themselves and the other person in the relationship. I think it’s important for people to have an open mind and relate to this next phase as a new moment of discovering what’s possible,” Matt says.
Although couples will have to discover through “seeing what the relationship looks like in the world,” Matt urges couples to begin to have direct and honest conversations now “about what the relationship meant, about what everyone’s expectations are and discovering if they’re on the same page, and about being ready for another big change.” Matt suggests approaching these discussions more formally than is typical in romantic relationships. Schedule a meeting to ask each other questions like: What do we need? What feels good and what are your concerns? How frequently do we see each other? How do you feel about checking-in regularly? How do we negotiate monogamy and fidelity? Is this relationship monogamous by default or is this what we want?
Part of these discussions could involve a consideration of what worked well during the pandemic that couples want to keep up, such as, as one caller mentioned, increased emotional intimacy. Many people who weren’t inclined to want closeness needed it a year ago–needed to cling to someone and to seek (and give) comfort and safety. This necessity gave birth to new ways of being with people vis-à-vis closeness. With people learning to let their guard down and ask for nurturing and reassurance, Matt’s hope, as he tells Alison Stewart, “is that people will take the lessons they learned about the value of vulnerability as a condition for creating intimacy, which is such a meaningful part of our lives, and continue to develop that even when they feel more secure in the world.”