From less sex and more stress to petty rows – how to tell if your marriage is really over

BICKERING over the bins, rowing about homeschooling or simply not talking at all might be driving you mad, but is it really the end of your marriage?

According to support services Relate, one in eight of us has experienced relationship doubts in lockdown, with Co-op Legal Services reporting a 42 per cent increase in divorce enquiries.

For some, spending so much time with each other has highlighted problems that were already bubbling beneath the surface.

But in these uncertain times it’s difficult to distinguish the deep-rooted issues from the workable scenarios.

Counsellor Annette Forster says: “During lockdown many of us have battled external pressures from financial concerns to worrying about elderly or vulnerable relatives.

“Many are trying to juggle work with childcare and there has been a huge spotlight on the way chores are shared at home. This can create resentment if someone thinks they are doing the bulk of it.

“Normal life is usually diluted with other activities such as going to work, visiting friends, going to the gym or the pub.

"Relationships can often potter along quite nicely if there is enough good to outweigh the difficult bits. But couples have been stuck in the mundane with no release.

“There are people who might have been experiencing problems before lockdown and this situation has really brought it to the fore. There’s nowhere to hide.”

Relate’s research showed 27 per cent of us are finding our partner irritating and almost a quarter of us say lockdown is putting pressure on the relationship.

Relationships can often potter along quite nicely if there is enough good to outweigh the difficult bits.

The tension could be triggered by anything from household chores to childcare or not having enough sex, but it is the way these issues are dealt with that can make or break a couple.

Peter Saddington, also a counsellor with Relate, says: “It might be the washing up or who does or doesn’t empty the dishwasher.

"In lockdown, it may have felt a lot more intense and if you feel angry about something, it may start to escalate quite quickly.

"You need to step away, give yourself a break. Go for a walk and when you return you will probably notice you are nowhere near as angry as you were before.

“Another common issue is intimacy. If you were having difficulties before, this could have been exaggerated during lockdown.

"You might feel anxious about it – when will it happen, will it be enjoyable, do they still find me attractive?

“It really is a matter of being able to talk about it. There shouldn’t be any reason why you can’t say ‘I’m worried’ or ‘Can we take it slowly?’

THE KEY TO LONG-TERM HAPPINESS

“One great option is to plan a date night then neither party is worrying ‘Does he or she really want to?’ Both of you can anticipate what might happen – ‘it’s likely we will have sex’.

“The fact you agreed to a date night means you are likely to be OK with it. If you really can’t face that, then it might be worth getting an online appointment with a therapist.”

Now lockdown has started to ease and a new kind of normal resumes, it would be easy to brush a lot of problems under the carpet, but confronting them is the key to long-term happiness.

Communication is essential, says Peter. “Spend some time each day talking about how your day has been,” he adds.

“What is getting you down and what do you need help with? Don’t mind-read or make assumptions. The more we listen, the better we can understand the other person.

“Lots of us are guilty of guessing what our partner might say or think. You assume you are being criticised or got at rather than listening to what is really going on.

“So if you have an issue, set aside some time to talk about it. This shouldn’t be at 10.30pm just as you go to bed.

Lots of us are guilty of guessing what our partner might say or think.

“Pick a time when you are both sober — that’s really important — and when you don’t have children with you or work or other things to worry about. Take turns talking about what the problem is.”

Peter also advises scheduling for work and home time if you are working from home.

He says: “It’s been very easy to work more or different hours than you usually would. Create a structure that means you work 9am to 5pm but after that, you turn the laptop off.

"Also make time to go for exercise as it releases endorphins — happy hormones that make you feel good.”

But for some couples, the breakdown in the relationship could have gone too far for reconciliation.

TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS MARK THE END

Annette says: “Breaking point comes whenever there is physical or emotional abuse. That’s a big no no. There are four behaviours that usually sound the death knell for struggling couples.

“The first is criticism – if you are constantly criticising your partner or being criticised. If your partner is being contemptuous, which means they are being insulting or abusive. Third is ‘gaslighting’.

"This is where a partner makes you feel you are the one with a problem when, actually, it is them.

“Stonewalling is the fourth. This means that they refuse to engage with you when you are trying to deal with an issue.

"If they are constantly storming out or refusing to compromise, it might be you decide you can’t be in that relationship any more.”

Peter says once a relationship has become toxic, it could mark the end.

He adds: “If you start saying really unpleasant things to each other, or engaging in unhealthy behaviours like drinking too much alcohol, they are bad signs.

“It never has to be over if you are both prepared to work at it. But if one of you is clear you don’t want to be in the relationship then that is the end.

“Lockdown has made it very hard for some people to leave and we have been working with couples, trying to help them live under the same roof until a time comes when they can separate.”

  •  Relate offers relationship support via webcam, telephone, email and Live Chat. Visit relate.org.uk to find out more.

Take our revealing quiz

FOR many, lockdown has put a huge strain on their relationships. But as the restrictions ease, will you and your partner stick together or will you go your separate ways?

Take the Fab Daily quiz, ­created with the help of ­relationship charity Relate, to find out . . . 

DURING lockdown, where does your relationship come in your priority list?
A. Bottom of the list. With home-schooling and work as well, I have no time to worry about it.
B. Work comes first, then my relationship.
C. After my children – they need me more.
D. Top of the list.

HOW many petty arguments do you have?

A. We never stop bickering, it’s endless.
B. Two or three every day.
C. We fall out every other day, but usually make up quickly.
D. Maybe one or two a week. Mostly we agree on everything.

THE last time we had sex was:

A. So long ago that I can’t remember.
B. About six months ago.
C. In the last month.
D. This week.

THE last time we said “I love you” to each other was:

A. At the start of our relationship and we haven’t said it since.
B. I never say it, my partner should know by now.
C. In the past few weeks.
D. We tell each other regularly.

HAD you ever thought about ­ending the relationship before lockdown?

A. Lots of times – then this happened.
B. Yes, we had arguments before.
C. We bickered a bit but no, I hadn’t thought about it.
D. No, we are really happy.

HOW well do you communicate with each other?

A. We never talk openly about our feelings.
B. We keep things bottled up for fear of upsetting each other, until it turns into a row.
C. When tensions start rising, we will sit down and talk about what’s going on.
D. We take time every day to ask how the other partner is feeling, especially during lockdown.

HOW are you spending lockdown evenings together?

A. Fighting. Often one of us storms off to another room.
B. Mostly doing our own  thing, checking phones and talking to friends online. We’ve had enough of each other.
C. We try to enjoy couple time in the evenings, at least a few nights a week.
D. Having sex.

WHAT is annoying you most about your partner right now?

A. Everything, even how they breathe.
B. I resent my partner as I am working and looking after the kids.
C. We bicker about minor things around the house.
D. Nothing, they rarely irritate me.

ARE you drinking more alcohol or smoking more than usual?

A. Yes. I start drinking at lunchtime as my partner stresses me out.
B. I definitely drink or smoke more. It’s hard being together at home.
C. A little more than usual, but I make sure I have a couple of days off.
D. No more than usual.

HOW well do you know your ­partner?

A. I’ve forgotten his surname.
B. He has told me what his favourite meal and movie are, but I’ve forgotten. He never asks about me.
C. We regularly talk about each other’s likes and dislikes. I’m learning more about him during lockdown.
D. I know every last detail – what he likes to watch on TV and the name of his childhood pet.

What your answers mean

MOSTLY A

YOUR relationship has lost its spark and you may feel like life’s pressures have taken over.

If both of you are willing to work on the relationship, you may benefit from Relate’s webcam counselling service. If you’re not willing to work at your relationship, maybe it’s time to walk away.

MOSTLY B

YOU’VE lost sight of each other. Communication between you may be tense. You may be resenting each other. If that isn’t nipped in the bud quickly, your relationship may break down.

Focus on the positives and try to enjoy couple time. Relate’s Live Chat service could offer you support.

MOSTLY C

THE honeymoon period has long gone and you are stuck in familiar and boring routines.

When you’re alone together, make sure you are focused on one another and not smartphones or the TV.

Ask your partner how they are and really listen. Doing something new or creative together may help you reignite the spark.

MOSTLY D

YOU are a couple who really understand each other and you both take time to invest in your relationship.

Your foundation is strong and you both put in the effort to make sure you feel loved. This is a happy, healthy and equal relationship that will survive long beyond lockdown.

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