Relationship empowerment in the time of Covid

Today it’s much easier to fall for someone but far more challenging to sustain a happy, loving union, says Sarah Bladen.

With a fourth wave looming, let’s face it the prospect of finding true love is tricky, especially if you hate dating apps and are stuck in a lockdown. But that didn’t stop two virtual strangers booking a trip to Mexico together last November. A year later and they are excitedly planning a future together. 

Some people were overjoyed for them while others started shaming them for travelling during the pandemic, even though Mexico had an open border and the couple respected the country’s Covid rules. Behind this public shaming was likely a cocktail of envy, jealousy and anger that they had the courage to take such a risk and it paid off.  

After all, when it comes to dating, we have more choice than ever before and yet it is still fairly rare to find someone who offers chemistry, connection and compatibility. Often, we mistake lust for love. Control for love. Or we end up in a toxic entanglement that feels like love but isn’t. 

At the same time, our wish list of what we desire in a partner has skyrocketed. We want security and excitement. A rock-solid rapport but also mystery. Profound conversations but also sufficient alone time. A best friend, lover and someone to look up to, all rolled into one. And of course, we are hoping to avoid narcissism, control freakery, gaslighting and other red flags.

Today it’s much easier to fall for someone but far more challenging to sustain a happy, loving union. After all we are not taught how to navigate the maddening aspects of relationships at school. The curriculum doesn’t include healthy relating skills. Instead, most of us learn from or model our less than perfect family upbringings. Breakup rates only prove that something has gone seriously wrong. Leading British law firm Stewarts logged a 122% increase in divorce enquiries during the pandemic. 

Lockdown confirmed our struggle. Suddenly couples were working remotely from home and spending 24/7 together, pushing many over the edge. Existing tensions were magnified. And as relationship expert Esther Perel says, ‘Too much cosiness kills desire.’

Even so, some people still like to live up to the ‘perfect couple’ image, posting smiley photos on Instagram despite being miserable behind closed doors. This only perpetuates the Hollywood lie rather than having the courage to be transparent about the genuine challenges facing couples.

So, if love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, what are the answers? 

According to Terry Real, a renowned family therapist, bestselling author and founder of Relational Life Institute who works with men and women in both heterosexual relationships and same-sex relationships, in order to lead people into happiness and intimacy they need to move away from the patriarchal model of relationships. ‘The old rules were built for stability, for production and consumption. Not intimacy and happiness,’ says Terry Real.  

The relational skills that Terry teaches help to rebalance relationships by melting the mighty and empowering the weaker partner. This more equal playing ground helps to pave the way for what he calls ‘fierce intimacy’. 

When we change our perception of relationships – they are not just for procreation but also co-creation – an opportunity for us to evolve and heal. The person closest to us can act as a mirror – pointing out our own shortcomings and highlighting where we need to grow. There are always opportunities to learn in our romantic relationships. Instead of getting angry at our partner, we could choose to get more curious about what is triggering them? And support them through professional therapy. 

The truth is a happy relationship with another human being requires an emotionally mature mindset, a resilient heart and a fierce relational skillset to prepare you for inevitable challenges ahead.  

Learning new relating skills can help you to break free of the old narrative of toxic family lineage patterns.

So far, the wellbeing field has championed self-care and personal empowerment. However, when we move from personal empowerment to relational empowerment, magic happens. 

Relationship empowerment has a different feel to it. It asks these three questions:

  1. How are we going to be together in a way that works well for both of us?
  2. How are we going to negotiate our desires and needs?
  3. When there is conflict or hurt, how are we going to move back into loving connection?

Only when we say goodbye to the intimacy-killing patriarchal model, do we stand a chance of finding sustainable freedom and joy within our partnership.

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Sarah Bladen

Sarah Bladen is the former editor of OK! Middle East and the co-author of Practical Zen for Health, Wealth and Mindfulness. Sarah’s work has appeared in The Independent, CNN Travel, Women’s Health and Yoga Magazine. A meditation teacher, holistic coach and relational life therapist, Sarah is passionate about wellbeing within relationships.

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