“Everything was going great until, you know, the coronavirus happened.” It’s a sentence many people can relate to right now — and one that describes the demise of 23-year-old Brooklyn-based media specialist Mecca’s relationship.
While Mecca and her then-boyfriend were quarantined in separate places, their communication became more and more sparse. Each time she talked to him about it, he said he’d make more of an effort but then didn’t. “I felt like I was begging him to talk to me,” she remembers. “I was over it.”
Jayna, a 29-year-old administrative assistant in Washington, started dating someone in February, and things also fell apart shortly after the quarantine began. “We played cards, darts, watched Netflix, cooked together, and went on long walks when it was nice out, but it can be hard trying to be supportive when both people are dying to go out,” she remembers. The guy broke up with her in May, and she wonders if it was in part because their time together got boring and repetitive.
Maddie, a 27-year-old marketing manager in Philadelphia, started dating someone during the quarantine, and it quickly disintegrated after several arguments. “We both had so much time to be in our heads that we rushed into things,” she says.
Clearly the coronavirus quarantine has brought up relationship issues that never quite existed before. Hopefully, will we never have to deal with them again. But regardless, we can learn from the conflicts produced by this strange situation and take that knowledge to our future relationships.
Why Quarantine Relationships Fall Apart
This usually happens for one of several reasons, says Margarida Rafael, Psy.D., licensed therapist and resident relationship expert at AdorePassion.ca. Already established couples “are either quarantining together and forced to face a number of issues that they were not ready (or able) to solve, or they are quarantining apart and love did not [survive] this enforced social distancing,” she says.
Couples formed during the quarantine may experience the reverse: They discover as rules ease that their relationship doesn’t work alongside people’s jobs, social engagements, and other aspects of everyday life. They also may realize that their relationship was born more from desperation for companionship during the quarantine than actual compatibility. Sometimes, as in Maddie’s case, things may fall apart more quickly because people rushed into the relationship, says Rafael.
Couples who break up after quarantining together may also have had to confront relationship problems sooner than they normally would have, says Rafael. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: It just sometimes accelerates breakups that would have happened anyway.
Before you decide to give the relationship another try, reflect on whether it really was circumstance-specific or the quarantine was just bringing up issues that would have presented themselves anyway.
Splitting up while separated during quarantine isn’t always a bad thing either. “Maybe you realized you did not miss this person that much and were better off on your own,” Rafael says. “It is also possible that during this distance, you took time to focus on yourself and realized this is not the path you are willing to go down with your partner. Or, at worst, [in some cases] separation leads to possessive, controlling, or dependent behaviors you only realized now and are not willing to tolerate.”
Plus, issues related to the coronavirus itself can bring out vital information about someone’s character. Caitlin, a 28-year-old development executive in Los Angeles, broke up with her partner because he saw a friend who had the virus, then got mad at her for not wanting to see him again for a while.
When Relationships Can Be Salvaged
While Caitlin sees her breakup as ultimately for the better, some coronavirus conflicts may reflect issues a couple could actually work on, says therapist Jaime Bronstein, LCSW. Certain people, for instance, got so wrapped up in their own worries that they forgot to show compassion for their partners. Others may have had trust issues flare up when partners were texting their exes to check in on them. Some may have felt frustrated that their physical intimacy has not increased despite being quarantined together.
In these cases, it may be unclear to you whether things were meant to end or you let the stress of the situation get to you. If you’re unsure, Rafael recommends asking your friends and family for their opinion or speaking to a therapist. Before you decide to give the relationship another try, reflect on whether it really was circumstance-specific or the quarantine was just bringing up issues that would have presented themselves anyway.
If you first connected with your ex during quarantine and want to give it another shot, you need to essentially press reset and accept that you’ll have different expectations this time around, says Rafael. “Adjust the expectations and slowly transition into the current routine without shaming the other,” she advises.
Moving On After A Quarantine Breakup
Your quarantine breakup also might help inform your behavior in future relationships. “When taking an introspective approach and thinking about ways to avoid running into the same pitfalls again in the relationship, it is helpful to identify the red flags and triggers that contributed to your breakup,” says Rafael. “Take the time to switch perspectives and think, Does this new person show any signs of having that specific trait, habit, or annoyance that contributed to my last falling out?”
For example, if your breakup, like Mecca’s, was based on insufficient effort on your partner’s part, you might be extra wary of lazy texters. Or, if you feel like you were the one at fault, consider whether you’ve done the work to behave differently next time. If the situation was more like Jayna’s and just fizzled out, you might make more of an effort to keep things exciting.
Once you notice a problem in a future relationship, make sure it doesn’t take being in close quarters indefinitely for it to be addressed. “Be open and honest with your partner always. Don’t hold things in until it’s too late and then it all blows up,” says Bronstein. “We all want to feel seen and heard, so do your best to really listen to one another and validate each other’s feelings.”