The isolation of the pandemic caused many people to reflect on their choices and relationships and as the world opens up, many are now making changes in how they organize their lives. Our Founder and Clinical Director Matt Lundquist was recently quoted in The Cut and Daily Beast about how COVID-19 led people to reconsider their marriages and drinking habits.
The Cut’s “Divorce is Down, But Will It Last” highlights the personal experiences of four recently divorced people, as well as seeks expertise from couples therapists like Matt about the impact of the pandemic on marriages and long-term romantic relationships. While it’s no surprise that the overwhelming stress of the pandemic may have exacerbated already existing issues for couples, Matt reveals that this “forced moment of profound reflection” also caused partners to take a deeper look at their marriage. Matt says, “People are thinking a lot about what matters to them, what they want in the world, what they tolerated living without that they don’t want to tolerate living without anymore.”
While not in the article, tolerance is a useful skill that can cover up so much bad stuff. One mechanism of tolerance is distraction. We might define distraction as the events, activities, or features of our lives that serve (intentionally or not) the dual useful and harmful function of helping us not focus on the uncomfortable or painful realities of our lives. This can include work, friends, partying, and being too busy. Many of these distractions vanished in March 2020.
Familiarity itself can also be a distraction. Things persist as they are without us noticing, in a sense, because they’ve persisted without us noticing. We might call this routine, rhythm, or inertia. Quarantine (for those whose jobs allowed it), childcare disruptions, deaths, illnesses, layoffs, and fear are all disruptions to the routine, rhythm, and inertia of, for instance, a marriage with abuse or a long-standing absence of intimacy. If a couple allows these disruptions to break them out of tolerance or open up options, they can change how they live, demand more from a partner, or reflect on how they’ve organized the relationship. It can also result in leaving a bad relationship.
In addition to leaving bad relationships, as well as attempting to improve so-so relationships, we’ve also seen many patients reconsider their drinking habits throughout the pandemic. In Daily Beast’s “Meet the Women Having a ‘Hot Girl Summer’ and Staying Sober,” Matt acknowledges how sobriety for those who stopped drinking during the pandemic may be tested now that there are more opportunities to socialize around alcohol. He explains, “At a certain point, someone who is sober and has benefitted from taking a break from being around alcohol is going to find themselves going back to an environment where it’s available…What’s new with the pandemic is how dramatic and binary it feels now–there are a lot of people going through this all at once.”
Sober people need to, as Matt articulates, “relearn” how to socialize, see friends, and go out without connecting these events to drinking. He reveals that some people find it useful to ask a friend or friends to help hold them accountable about staying sober. “The idea is to have people on your side…If you’re going to an event alone, such as a work event, call them beforehand and afterwards to check in and remind yourself of your commitment,” he says.