Voices Pushpesh Pant Ravi Shankar S Vaidhyasubramaniam Shinie Antony Madhulika Liddle Mata Amritanandamayi Buffet MAGAZINE People Wellness Books Food Art & Culture Entertainment NEW DELHI JUNE 27 2021 SUNDAY PAGES 12 Love, Actually Relationships have changed drastically during enforced seclusion and togetherness since the pandemic struck. As India awaits the Third Wave, the lessons of the recent past could lay the groundwork for a new, caring world. By Ravi Shankar T here is a Close Relationships Laboratory at the University of Georgia in the US that studies the development, maintenance and impact of close relationships on the health and well-being of people. Its director, the well-regarded American psychology professor Richard B Slatcher, has launched a biweekly study ‘Love in the Time of COVID’ (you can take it too; just log in) to examine the effects of the pandemic on human bonding. He concludes that intimate personal ties can either boost psychological and physical well-being in such traumatic times or be vulnerable to outside stressors, thereby adversely affecting even the most supportive relationship. The impact of the pandemic on couples is visible everywhere and strangely, they have no consistency in pattern. All is not bad news. An Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS) study in 11 Indian languages and English has discovered that the lockdown had an overall positive impact on relationships in India, including on love and dating. Nearly half of the responders (47.4 percent) reported marked improvement in their relationships with their spouse or partner after the beginning of the first lockdown. Even as millions of people continue to get infected or are dying in the pandemic, the shared experience is bringing people together. Therapists have identified some positive interpersonal markers after the nightmare began. “Relationships require time and effort to grow. Pandemic-related working from home has given many couples the opportunity to spend continuous time together, work and function in each other’s presence, understand each other’s need for space, support and nurturing, and also generally enjoy each other’s company,” says Dr Natasha Kate, Consultant Psychiatrist, Masina Hospital, Mumbai. People are becoming better partners, say counsellors. The pandemic has made many of them question the true meaning of their lives and its lessons. This introspection is encouraging couples to re-evaluate their values and, therefore, feel responsible to sort out personality defects. Couples have become closer than ever before. Some lucky pairs have rediscovered forgotten quirks in their partners, while some learn new aspects. “It is the sudden change in lifestyle, which resulted in emotional distress for almost every individual. Some couples are realising that the pandemic has brought them closer. Those in a long-distance relationship felt this,” says Dr Navodita Kumar, Clinical Psychologist, Apollo Hospital, Hyderabad. Covid-19 is a life lesson whose impact on interpersonal relationships, communication, time management and personal space will determine how we will negotiate the coming years. A lot of it is likely to be an improvement. Ryan Howes, Clinical Psychologist and former teacher at the US-based Fuller Graduate School of Psychology, writes that feeling moments of happiness during the crisis is okay “It doesn’t . make you a monster. Actually, it can be really helpful. We all have to figure out how to get through this in a way that’s emotionally sustainable over the long run. Finding moments of joy where you can might help you endure. There’s also the fact that, even if you have to dig deep, you’ll probably notice that you don’t only feel okay (or even happy) right now. Having a lot of conflicting feelings is part of being human.” A VIRAL BONDING Ankur Kapur and Rina Chander had been dating for a year. The romance had the right kind of surprises. The sex was good. Both were hardworking professionals, Kapur in entertainment and Chander in banking. Marriage was still not being discussed but it was there nevertheless, a pleasant shadow in the suburbs of their relationship. Chander was toying with Kapur’s invitation to move into his Gurgaon house. Then she got a promotion, which came with a transfer to Mumbai. Her partner being in the entertainment industry moved too, so that he could be with her. When the first wave of Covid-19 struck, the lockdown kept them apart for two months. Unsure when or if the pandemic will end, they moved in together. This time, it was Kapur who packed his bags to stay in Chander’s Bandra apartment. Now, two lockdowns, viral waves and a lot of we-time later, they have no complaints. Kapur is already talking marriage. A survey by Weddingwire.in concluded that 13 percent of respondents moved into their partner’s house during the lockdown to stay close through the pandemic. It says, “Partners who chose to move in together to survive this phase chose each other to walk the rope of these unprecedented times and definitely made their relationship a ‘24 hours together’ thing.” Forty-three percent of these couples were working from home, which gave them another common ground to respect and support each other. The recent American Family Survey data found that about 58 percent of participants received increased appreciation because of the pandemic and almost half said it “helped deepen their commitments to their relationship”. SHARING, CARING AND HAVING FUN The majority of the couples (41 percent) in the Weddingwire survey spent more than 20 hours together, sharing domestic chores, cooking and exploring new recipes, enjoying entertainment options such as television and music, and making fun TikTok videos. Kapur and Chander have been grooving to the peppy ‘Coincidence’ by YouTuber Handsome Dancer that has taken the TikTok world by storm—a competition to see who is the better dancer. Thirty-seven percent who took the survey admitted that they spent 6-19 hours with their partners. TikTok has had an unexpected effect on couples— fun. It soothed apprehensions. A TikTok dance challenge to a song by Conkarah requires participants to put a cool pair of shades on their forehead and drop them over their eyes when the song says “Drop!” The one who lands the shades first is the winner. Australian singer Tones and I composed ‘Dance Monkey’ that is meant to loosen you up with frisky lyrics and beats—tbh dance like a monkey! “I can make a fool of myself, goof around and make mistakes knowing that my partner won’t be judgemental. It exposes our flaws and brings us closer,” says Chander. According to Mollie Eliasof, Couples Therapist and Head of Mollie Eliasof Therapy “Quality of time is so , different than quantity of time. Couples, who want a deeper, richer connection, need to invest in getting curious about one another. Not only in how their partner is spending their day but truly , searching for what makes them smile, blossom, feel moved, or hungry for life.” Lovers innovated to beat Covid blues. London doctor Annalan Navaratnam and girlfriend nurse Jann Tipping got married at the hospital they worked in. A Brooklyn photographer sent a drone with a message inviting a neighbour on a date, which she accepted. A Malayali couple set up a Zoom wedding attended by Turn to page 2 Pandemic Relationship Advice • Allocate more time to connect with friends and family. After all, time is what you’ve got in spades. • Pay attention to people in your life by not getting distracted by external factors such as gadgets and gizmos, work issues and other interests • Listen, not merely hear others, and try to understand what they are telling you. Focus on their needs in that moment. • Allow yourself to be heard by honestly sharing your feelings, and welcome support from others • Recognise toxic relationships to move forward and find solutions • Look after yourself and establish a routine like regular sleep hours, waking up on time, getting dressed as if for work, eating nutritious food, scheduling work breaks at home, such as a midday yoga video or meditation session together • WFH couples must fix separate hours for work and time spent together. To escape pandemic-induced anxiety, people may tend to be immersed in their work. • Avoid substance use and abuse like excess drinking, smoking and drugs to escape pandemic stress • Exercise outdoors together in your garden or terrace. Wear masks and go for a jog or a walk with each other. Work out to exercise videos together. • Plan the routine of children in advance when possible, and share an equal amount of time to keep them occupied and happy • Don’t expect amazing sex. The pandemic and its attendant aggravations like job loss, a Covid death in the family or of a friend interfere with sexual desire. • Have a larger support system. Depending solely on your partner for sustenance is overburdening them. Use computers, phone and email to maintain your support network. • Plan something fun like a drive together, a special meal; or buy something both enjoy. Use social apps to meet other couples for dinners, game nights or movies at home. • Be on your best behaviour since courteous and considerate behaviour will strengthen the bond after normal life returns • Ask for professional help if you need it • Write down your deepest thoughts and feelings about your relationship. Couples who did this opened up to their partners better, thereby strengthening their association. Sources: MHF; Johns Hopkins Medicine, US
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