Isolation has definitely impacted our relationships, both platonic and romantic, in how we display our affections and communicate. Social media has been our lifeline to the outside world but also to our romantic endeavours, whether it was online dates via video chat or posting our fondest memories, we cannot deny our reliance on the internet. However, has this reliance on social media affected how our relationships will be now life is returning to ‘normal’? I am in agreement with Mark Newey, a self-avowed revolutionary author and psychotherapist who specialises in eliminating anxiety, stress and depression, that lockdown has been the ‘reset button nobody dared to press’. I interviewed Mark on this belief and this is what he had to say:
‘I think we’ve been forced to focus on relationships more. Whilst we’ve had differing experiences with those we’ve been locked down with, those who’ve grown closer together, have simply paid more attention to each other and been more mindful of their needs and desires, despite the proximity. For friends we weren’t able to see, the separation allowed us to realize how important they were to us and how much we missed them and tell them so!’
Separation, in Mark Newey’s opinion (and mine too) has certainly made us more aware of the importance of our relationships, both platonically and romantically. From my isolation experience, I can say that I do believe that it was a reset moment. I had to learn and unlearn behaviours and anxieties, had to put more trust in my partner when it came to online behaviours, I cherished the moments we got to spend via call or video chat and I made the most out of anniversaries that were sadly overshadowed by isolation by having online date nights in which we both dressed up and cooked the same meal to share together. I do agree that we were forced to focus on relationships more, be it the ones with the people inside our households/bubble or the ones via social media. However, isolation also caused a lot of strain on my relationship and certainly there were bad days too, which were made harder when in-person apologies or discussions were unavailable.
We asked our followers over on @cub_unisex on IG whether they believe that isolation had been a ‘reset button’ for their relationship and the result is a dead set divide, 50-50. What does this say about the notion of the ‘reset button’? I think it shows how different and unique our relationships are. Depending on your relationship at the time of isolation you may have found isolation a blessing or a curse. It either was a reset in terms of exploration and learning, perhaps even a reset of the relationship as a whole or it could have been similar to pre-isolation in which nothing was reset and you continued a steady path.
I then asked Mark Newey, his opinion on our dependency on social media during isolation and how the transition from long distance / virtual romance to in-person relationships will be affected.
‘In some ways it’s easier to be more open and honest long distance, so deeper conversations may have been easier, especially because there’s nothing else to focus on. There’s no TV on or music playing; there’s no pone walking in and out of the room: just the couple. However, of course, there’s a danger of misunderstanding something that’s said because we don’t have proper access to body language and the more unconscious elements of communication.’
This poll was significantly less blurred with 77% stating that they had relied heavily on social media during isolation to communicate with their partner. I believe it is true that our conversations became deeper, that we had more time to digest information and even spark debate between one another. I personally became more engaged in topical discussions with my partner during isolation and learnt more about him on a moral level than I had before. I also agree that communication also led to misunderstanding as we lacked access to body language, using screens to communicate certainly takes away the human in my opinion and Mark refers to that as well as the unconscious elements of communication such as facial expressions which are lost over text. However, I do believe that there is a positive and negative to this reliance. Our communication skills have improved and we have learnt the importance of focusing our time solely on our partner, however this may fade when our spare time becomes less and less again. The negative of this reliance is that we may base our relationships solely on their representation on social media which, we can all say, is compiled to only show the best bits.
Let’s talk about communication, trust and misconduct. Has isolation made the ability to misbehave in a relationship, to cheat, more rampant?
‘I would hope the opposite is true. If it was easier to be open and honest at a distance, then I hope people will carry that openness and honesty through to normal face to face relationships. I would have assumed cheating, at least physically, would have been extremely difficult during isolation! And Zoom’s not a great way of starting a new relationship based on attraction.’
Honesty, Mark states, is easier when at distance which I do believe is true. Long distance relationships have a higher level of honesty than in-person ones because of this barrier which allows the individual to escape embarrassment or judgement, the same reason why social media is so appealing for political discussions. In terms of Mark’s comment that cheating would have been difficult during isolation, at least physically, that is true however, that depends on the individual’s concept of what cheating is. For some, cheating is merely physical, whilst for others it can be texting, sending photos, liking posts, video chatting etc. This depends on the individual and therefore, I do believe that misconduct within relationships could certainly have been higher during isolation but I also agree that creating a spark over media forms such as Zoom seems unlikely.
In terms of social media expression of love, Mark states that sadly we will be sucked back to the way we were before, that online public displays of affection will return to a casual selfie every other month, we need to make an effort to keep expressing our romantic feelings towards our partners. Surprisingly to me, only 15% of our followers stated that they have expressed more displays of public affection during isolation so perhaps things may not change as much as first thought!
I then proceeded to discuss boundaries and low self-esteem with Mark Newey and asked how he believed a couple can work on their self-esteem issues:
‘I think there’s only one way to do that and that’s be brave: have a totally open conversation and say how you feel about yourself…ideally in lots of different situations: with your partner, with colleagues, with friends etc. If your partner judges you or throws what you’ve said back at you at a later date, you’ve got to wonder whether they are “the one”! Also, before starting, ask if he/ she’s prepared to do the same.
If your partner makes you feel unworthy, you need to be able to tell them…without creating an argument.’
I agree with this ‘be brave’ idea, discussing boundaries with a partner and how you truly feel can be terrifying, especially for those with low self-esteem and anxiety (been there myself!) You should never feel judged by your partner, yes you can disagree on beliefs and as long as they do not hurt anyone or your partner, then differences are ok. We asked on IG whether followers had discussed their boundaries with their partners and 70% said that they had, which is great to see! Bringing up boundaries is something I believe is first date material, lay it all out on the table before you increase the heat. Mark Newey stated:
‘Values operate powerfully at an unconscious level as to how we create our reality on a moment-by-moment basis. Values are the biggest filter on how our mind takes in 2 million bits of information a second, but allows only 5-9 bits of information to get through to our conscious mind.’
I think discussing values, morals, and boundaries are extremely important and through discussions with friends, those conversations have increased during isolation. This may be a result of future thinking, I for one have been imagining my future with my partner during isolation and therefore, I’ve wanted to discuss our values. It may also be a result from the fact we are in a pandemic and sadly, we do lose loved ones every day so it makes perfect sense to want to make sure that you are on the same page as your significant other during a time of crisis.
From my discussion with Mark Newey, I do believe that isolation has affected our concept of relationships, however, everyones relationship has been affected differently because we are different. Whether it was a light bulb moment, a moment of clarity or a chance to grow as a couple, isolation has aided us with tools we never would have discovered without this time of seclusion.
If you wish to learn more about how to deal with stress, anxiety and depression, check out Mark’s website Headucate.me for an easily accessible, mobile-friendly, online programme to empower you to take control of your wellbeing.