How to manage a lockdown breakup

Bibi Lynch 4 May 2021

A breakup anytime is tough, but how can you cope with a breakup during lockdown? Sara Davison, a divorce coach, has valuable advice

COVID has affected pretty much everything in our lives—from who we can hug to new-found appreciation of loo roll. Everything has been touched by this virus; not least our love-lives. 

And how. A survey by StoryTerrace, a biography company that turns people’s life stories into books, found over 33 per cent of the nation—nearly 12 million Brits—say they want to be in love more than ever before; over half the nation has said the pandemic has strengthened their relationship with their romantic partner; and nearly 2.5 million Brits say they have reconnected with an ex. And some people have actually met new people. Actual. New. People.

However, it hasn't been all hearts and flowers for the nation—as over 3 million Brits said the pandemic has made them fall out of love or break-up with their partner. Never easy. But during a pandemic? How on earth do people navigate a relationship being over when they can’t physically get out? We asked Sara Davison—aka The Divorce Coach and host of the Heartbreak to Happiness podcast—for advice… 

Is COVID to blame for these break-ups?

Surgical mask and wedding rings on top

Sara: “There’s been a lot of people whose marriage would have lasted the test of time—but because of COVID, it hasn’t. I have a client who is really into her tennis; he plays golf; and they both work. They had a great relationship—but it wasn’t based on spending quality time together. So when the dynamic that pre-existed changed—because of lockdown—irreparable damage was done from being within the same four walls for such a long period of time.

“It’s worked both ways: some people have thought 'I didn’t think everything was great but I’m going to be grateful for what I have got'—and others have gone, ‘Life is too short and I don’t want to tolerate something I’m not really happy with’”.

But lockdown meant they couldn’t move…

“And finance too. Lots of people can’t afford to get divorced even in normal times—but during COVID when you haven’t got an income or you’ve lost your job… Many are stuck living together because they can’t afford to run two separate homes. Finance, and the fear of not having anything when you leave, makes people stay.”

"Finance, and the fear of not having anything when you leave, makes people stay"

So how do you know the relationship is really over and you should take that scary step?

Couple having diasgreement

“When they say they’re going for a walk and you’re having a little party in your lounge, that’s not a good sign. You don’t really want to spend time with them; it doesn’t excite you or you dread it… If the chemistry’s gone and the thought of them touching you makes your skin crawl… If you’re not happy in yourself, then maybe the relationship isn’t working… And obviously if you have feelings for somebody else. But COVID has put a lot of pressure on the best of relationships: so if you’re not sure, don’t just jump ship—especially now we’re coming out of lockdown and your normal dynamic might be resumed. 

"If the thought of them touching you makes your skin crawl, then maybe the relationship isn't working"

“Try and save it, work on it, communicate with your partner. Think about it carefully because divorce is a hideous process to go through.”

OK. You’ve decided. How do you tell your partner?

“Be kind and respectful. Think about how your partner is going to react and what they’re going to need. Will they need space or will they want to talk it through with you for hours? And is it safe? If the relationship is abusive in any way, make sure you’ve got somewhere to go and your bags are packed. Call your local domestic abuse charity if you need to. 

“Create a safe space—no phones or kids interrupting you—and start off saying something caring that sets the tone of how you want the discussion to go: ‘I care about you and we’ve had some amazing times but this isn’t working for me now’. Make sure the impact is softened if it can be.”

After the conversation, what then? You’re still in the same space…

“Unhooking your lifestyles can be very difficult. Appreciating that and confronting that upfront by saying, ‘When things get strained, if they do, let’s agree to be kind and respectful and maybe take time out or sit down and talk about it’ helps.

“If you’re living in the same home, it’s important to have your own space. One person uses the bathroom; the other person the shower room. And separate your things. You’ve got your bedroom and your clothes in there; they’ve got their bedroom with their clothes in. That way they’re not going in and out of your private space. You need your private space—with no constant reminders of them. 

“If you’re in a one-bedroom flat? It’s going to be toxic and incredibly painful if one of you has moved on and the other hasn’t. You’ve got to manage time so you’re out as much as you can be (now we can go out more); or organise a bubble so you can stay at someone else’s place.

“Whatever your situation, remember this is not going to be forever. And try to keep yourself healthy. Looking after yourself—getting exercise, eating well, having supportive friends—is critical so you can stay strong.”

This sounds traumatising!

“Divorce is known as the second-most-traumatic life experience after the death of a loved one… But there are things you can do to dial down the negative emotions and take your control back. While you’re dealing with what’s going on, plant small seeds of what the future could be and what you want it to be.

"Divorce is known as the second-most traumatic life experience after the death of a loved one"

“Throw some colour on that blank canvas so you’ve got something to move towards — rather than it being a black hole. Coming to somebody like me will help you with that process: as well as working on where you are now and getting back in control of your life, it’s also about planning for the exciting future you want.”

To learn more about Sara Davison’s work, visit her website here

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