How Covid-19 has taken its toll on our closest relationships
- New research reveals more than a quarter feel their relationship has deteriorated
- The impact is most severely felt amongst younger adults, with 70% of those in their twenties and thirties admitting lockdown has taken its toll
- Overall, around 1 in 3 (34%) say the pandemic and lockdown has been the most stressful and anxiety-ridden period of their life
- Despite the easing of restrictions, Priory psychiatrist says couples could consider getting help to avoid a relationship break-up now or in the future
The strain of the Covid-19 pandemic on relationships has been laid bare in a new poll which shows one in four people believes their relationship with their partner has worsened.
With concerns about the future, financial insecurity, home working and in some cases the health and mental health of children and other family members, more than a quarter (26%) of all those adults questioned said their relationship with their partner had deteriorated either ‘considerably’ or ‘somewhat’.
This figure doubles amongst poll respondents in London, with more than half (53%) of couples saying their relationship had suffered.
Those over 65 were happier, according to Priory’s poll, with just 10% saying their relationship had deteriorated, compared with 70% of those aged 18-34 for whom the pandemic has had significant economic and emotional effects.
The figures come as new Priory statistics show a sizeable increase in those suffering depression and anxiety seeking help.
Between January 2020 and January 2021, there was a 42% increase in the number of enquiries to Priory’s private services about depression, and a 21.5% increase in enquiries about anxiety.
Priory consultant psychiatrist Dr Natasha Bijlani, who treats patients at Priory’s Roehampton Hospital in south-west London, said many couples had found working in close proximity difficult.
Without the physical buffer of an office, the enforced intimacy (or in some cases the lack of contact with each other where couples live apart), had been a strain for many, exacerbating poor mental health and being a catalyst, in some cases, for potential break-up, she said.
The pandemic had brought tensions to the surface in a heightened, often emotional way, she added, with many worried about whether the damage was recoverable and others feeling a sense of rejection and worthlessness.
“Relationships require mutual compromise and adjustment, and the pandemic affected even the strongest of couples,” Dr Bijlani said. “Previous routines that couples had may have masked pre-existing problems and differences.
“The lack of space or distance between each other to ‘cool off’ under lockdown is likely to have exacerbated disharmony and it is not always possible for couples to address their miscommunication issues. We all tend to get into repetitive patterns of behaviour, particularly with loved ones.
“But recognising difficulties, and working to improve our understanding of each other’s perspective, along with better communication, goes a long way towards preventing breakdown. Psychotherapists are trained to help people understand their behaviour and reactions, as well as to enable individuals and couples to learn to incorporate practical strategies in their relationships that can go a long way to improving not just their own emotional state and ‘sense of self’, but also enhance their communication and relationship with others. Cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is a talking therapy that can help people manage their problems by changing the way they think, feel and behave, in a logical, goal-directed way, she said. CBT therapists help people to change negative patterns of thinking, behaving and communication and, unlike some other talking therapies, it focuses on dealing with current issues rather than problems from the past.
“For example, if a couple have been arguing more, the application of CBT techniques could help them learn to argue more effectively, enabling each person to express their point of view in an appropriately assertive manner, without their partner feeling unheard, dismissed or dominated.”
Priory Connect is an online face-to-face therapy service that offers remote access to fully-trained and qualified Priory psychotherapists and psychologists – all patients need is an internet connection. Therapists treat a variety of conditions or concerns including anxiety, depression, grief and bereavement, and stress. Remote therapy makes it more accessible for many, and less stigmatised. People who use it say they can access it in lunch breaks, in their cars or in a quiet room at home at a time that easily suits them.
The results of the Priory’s survey also flagged concerns about the nation’s overall mental health, with 1 in 3 (34%) saying the pandemic and lockdown had been “the most stressful and anxiety-ridden period of their life”. Around 1 in 4 (24%) said the state of their mental health had been further exacerbated by fear of job loss, or fears about their finances as a result of a job already lost. Nearly half (49%) said stress and “feeling overwhelmed” during Covid-19 had made it difficult to do their job properly.
However, the poll findings also suggested that people are now more likely to actively seek help for their mental health. Around 1 in 5 (18%) said the impact of the pandemic would encourage them to reach out for help, with one in 10 (10%) stating they had sought mental health support for the first time, either via a charity, helpline, or NHS or private provider.
 Online poll of 1,000 adults, see full citation at end
Notes to editors
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An online survey was conducted by Atomik Research among 1,002 respondents from the UK. The research fieldwork took place on 12th February – 15th February 2021. Atomik Research is an independent creative market research agency that employs MRS-certified researchers and abides to MRS code.
About Priory Group
The Priory Group is the leading provider of behavioural care in the UK, caring for around 30,000 people a year for conditions including depression, anxiety, drugs and alcohol addiction, eating disorders and self-harming. The Group is organised into four divisions – healthcare, education and children’s services, adult care and the Middle East.