Before the pandemic became a pandemic, 25-year-old Maisy* and her boyfriend mainly argued about not making enough time for each other. But ever since they’ve been quarantined together, their arguments have become less and less frequent.
“It was definitely a concern of mine that being stuck in the house all day with a partner would cause loads of arguments," she says. "But actually, because the issues we normally argue about have sort of disappeared, the overall vibe has been a lot better."
Along with everything else in our lives, romantic relationships have been put under strain due to coronavirus lockdown, which has no been in place for over two months now. For couples who are quarantined apart, not being able to visit a partner’s home is a struggle (although, of course, the new "support bubble" announcement may change all that). According to research from relationship support charity Relate, 27 percent of people cohabiting during lockdown are "finding their partner irritating right now". Twelve percent say that they are having relationship doubts.
This is hardly surprising. Watching your partner pace around the house with a Bluetooth headset on, bellowing to their boss about “the numbers” can only start to grate after two months. Or maybe they finished the jigsaw puzzle you started together, even though they promised they wouldn’t.
In a press release about the research, Relate’s chief executive Aidan Jones warned of a post-lockdown relationship reckoning. His statement read: “We always see a peak in people seeking relationship support after Christmas, when spending unusually long together brings issues to the surface. Add to that the current extended period of isolation, worries about job security, finances, how to juggle work with childcare and uncertainty about the future. People coming to us for support are saying that the COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions are magnifying existing issues.”
It seems that Maisy and her boyfriend are the outliers in their lockdown experience. She admits that she is surprised at how trivial and infrequent their arguments are now. “You know that you can solve it because the person is always there," she says. "Whereas before it would be like, 'I’m going to spend the entire day at work being pissed off about it.'"
Does Maisy think that her relationship has generally been healthier under lockdown? “The fact that you’re around each other all the time means that the arguments are resolved really quickly," she says. "Being around each other and being pissed off at each other is quite inconvenient especially if you’re in a shared house with other people. But in a short term way it’s definitely improved it. But for me, you’re constantly reassessing [a relationship] and it’s status is always in flux.”
Some couples isolating separately have even found that lockdown has made them closer. Kate* and her boyfriend of two years have found it easier to resolve arguments over the phone. “He’s a lot more open when we’re on the phone and I’m a lot less emotional,” she says. “We generally talk about more things when we’re on the phone. We communicate better.”
But not all couples have had such good fortune. Rachel tells me that the past 11 weeks in isolation with her girlfriend have been a test of their relationship. “Every time she takes a work call, she refuses to use headphones – even though I offered her mine since hers are broken,” she says. “It’s a stupid reason to be annoyed at her and I do feel really bad when I bring it up. I think it’s easy to be irritable right now though. We’re not used to this and we’re at home working on top of each other. I hope that when everything is back to normal and I can start freelancing from cafes again, things will be as amazing as they were before.”
All the couples I speak to are unsure of how their relationship will change as the lockdown continues to lift. Maisy is worried that she and her boyfriend may even start arguing again.
“The real challenge will be when we go back to normal life,” she says. “If there are arguments about time management being in lockdown would have almost eradicated any tools we had to deal with that because neither of us are managing doing other things and seeing each other.”
Perhaps fortunately for Maisy, "normal life" still looks like a long way off yet.
*Names have been changed.