The pandemic may not be over as yet but its impact is slowly waning. However, this two-year period of inactivity, being too close (for comfort) to family members, digital workplace and lack of socialising may have changed a lot in our life which includes our relationships with people – be it our spouse, children, friends, neighbours, and even office colleagues. While some headed for separation with their partners as a result of ‘over-interference’ or lack of ‘me-time’ or changed expectations from each other – all due to spending too much time together, many ex-lovers patched up as they helped in time of crisis. Many got to spend the much-needed time with children and pampered them while others also resorted to beating and screaming at them out of frustration. We missed socialising with our friends and colleagues during lockdown and work-from-home, but the change in scenario has not changed the habits we formed in the pandemic years – many of us now find more solace in Netflix than endless chit-chat sessions with our friends. (Also read: Why women continue to stay with men who cheat; expert offers insight)
As end of Covid pandemic is in sight, we asked experts about impact of Covid pandemic on our relationships.
RELATIONSHIP WITH SPOUSE AND CHILDREN
“There’s no doubt that the past year has been tough on everyone. But for parents who have had to juggle work and child-rearing, it’s been especially challenging. One silver lining of the pandemic has been the opportunity to spend more time with the children. For many parents, working from home has meant more quality time with their kids. And that’s been a blessing,” says Dr. Chandni Tugnait is M.D. (Alternative Medicines), Psychotherapist, Life Coach, Business Coach, NLP Expert, Healer, Founder & Director – Gateway of Healing.
“On the flip side, though, being in close quarters with a spouse or partner 24/7 can put a strain on even the healthiest of relationships.For some couples, being together 24/7 is a dream come true. But for others, it can be a bit too much! There’s no doubt that spending more time together can be wonderful, but it can also be overwhelming at times. If you’re not used to being around each other all the time, it can be tough to adjust. And if you already have a busy lifestyle, with both adults working from home and taking care of the kids, there’s often little time or energy left for quality couple time, adding work into the mix can be even harder. As a result, some couples are finding themselves arguing more than ever before. That said, there are some upsides to working from home with your spouse too! For example, you can team up to get things done more quickly or take breaks together throughout the day,” says Dr Tugnait.
Dr. Shweta Sharma, Clinical Psychologist & Founder, Mansa Global Foundation for Mental Health says the blurring between the boundaries of workspace and family life proved to be unhealthy for marriages and many headed for divorce as a result. It also led to clashes in parenting styles when both the spouses stayed together under one roof 24/7.
“Every relationship needs a slight personal space where they can be themselves. WFH affected interpersonal relationships badly, both partners are sharing professional and personal conflicts in the same space which is not healthy for any relationship. Couples with kids are having even more issues as there is constant conflict in their parenting style and invisible compilation to prove their points right. These are some core reasons to have an increased rate of divorce or separation in the last two years,” says Dr Sharma.
“Out of the many pandemic blues, work-from-home is a scenario that is silently eating up our work-life balance and we have no clue about it due to our comfort zone. No doubt people get to spend a lot of time with their loved ones and can work from their place of preference but it has changed the equation with kids and spouses. Imagine you are on a video conference with your colleagues and your kid is crying loudly in the background,” says Dr Sanjay Gupta, Sr. Consultant- Internal Medicine, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram.
No time and space for sexual intimacy was also one of the reasons many couples drifted apart during pandemic.
“A changed routine impacted a couple’s sex life. When the kids were constantly around and things were generally more stressful, it made an impact on decision making and time spent together as a couple. All of these things led to conflict in a relationship,” says Dr. Jyoti Kapoor, Senior Psychiatrist, and Founder, Manasthali.
RELATIONSHIP WITH COLLEAGUES
Our relationship with colleagues and bosses too has changed as we do not meet them regularly. There is a sense of detachment from colleagues while productivity has remained the same.
“There is a strong psychological impact of out of sight, out of mind proverb. All human beings follow a sense of belonging naturally for which regular physical interaction is required. This interaction enables us to understand human behaviour more significantly and indulge us in real bonding. Now people are only focused on the work and not ready or prepared to understand another human as there is no personal behavioural observation. There is a need for team interactions or getting together for better team bonding. When people know each other, they become a proper team, a team always ready to handle all the challenges by understanding every individual’s strengths and weaknesses,” says Dr Shweta Sharma.
“The first thing to note is that, while we may not be physically present in the office, productivity has not decreased. Instead, working from home has increased the productivity in our PJs, with only our pets or families for company. And while this set-up has its perks (hello, no more small talk in the elevator!), it also comes with some challenges. One of the challenges is that the increased productivity comes at a cost: our relationships with our colleagues are suffering. But it’s not all doom and gloom. There are ways to stay connected and build strong relationships remotely through regular check-ins, making time to socialize and keeping in touch,” says Dr Tugnait.
“If you go back 3 years from now, going office used to be fun. Meeting colleagues, sharing lunch with them, going on outings and having a great time together motivated us to look for new projects. Working with colleagues made interactions easy. Introducing new joiners to people and making them comfortable is a plus point for productivity. Work-from-home has snatched this drastically. We no longer know our team’s strong or weak points that once helped us tackle any task under pressure,” says Dr Sanjay Gupta.
RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR FRIENDS
Many people lament they do not share a deep bond with their friends anymore and feel isolated post pandemic. We cannot blame work-from-home alone, it could be a change in our habits that is affecting our friendships.
“We aren’t meeting with our friends as often as we used to before as our routines have changed.
In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to get caught up in our own lives and routines and let friendships fall by the wayside making us forget about the people who matter most to us. We get busy with work and other obligations, and before we know it, months have gone by without seeing our friends,” says Dr Tugnait.
“Wfh also affected our friends as most of the people staying back in their hometown now and busy with other things. People who are going to regular offices also withdraw themselves from social interactions. But it’s not only because of routine change and location change, it’s due to many psychological reasons. The last 2 years impacted badly on our emotional and mental health, many people are still struggling with internal anxiety and depression. They don’t want to show their conditions to their friends hence withdrawing from frequent social interactions. Some people find it difficult to be back into social groups as they don’t want to leave their comfort zone designed into these two years. Some are still struggling with grief and don’t want to share openly due to the stigma to be called a weak person. So it becomes easy to give an excuse rather than confront your friends,” says Dr Shweta Sharma.
“Friendship has always been credited for its proven health benefits, including a longer life and better physical and mental health. But COVID and isolation have taken a toll. In an ongoing study, researchers from University College London surveyed more than 70,000 people and found that about 22% said their friendship quality worsened — and that was after just 7 to 30 days of isolation. People were affected negatively by not being able to keep in contact with friends. However, researchers feel this negative impact of the pandemic on friendships, by and large, will be fleeting,” says Dr Jyoti Kapoor.
RELATIONSHIP WITH NEIGHBOURS
“Neighbourhood always meant to have sharing and caring bond but covid came with strict restrictions on sharing part. The fear of being contaminated stops frequent interaction between neighbours as a social animal. Now it’s become a mechanical relationship where people are maintaining routine greetings only. That dependence on neighbourhood decreased as maximum people learned to manage their households on their own due to safety measures, and the social psychology behind these neighbourhood relationships. So when necessity decreased neighbourhood is in literal meaning, they stay nearby you but without any personal bond,” says Dr Shweta Sharma.
“We may not be meeting our neighbours as frequently as we used to before as our habits have changed in all these years of pandemic. Due to slogging at work, we rarely leave the chair or bed that we are so comfortable with. There is no clue about who is living right next to our door. Earlier, people used to interact with neighbours on morning walks or during a visit to the local market. Small gatherings for snack and tea was a great way of spending time with them,” says Dr Sanjay Gupta, Sr. Consultant- Internal Medicine, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram.
“Our neighborhood served as an extended family in past. The social community is essentially the neighbours with whom we used to celebrate festivals, invite over for family functions, share gossip and find walk partners, diet partners and do car pools etc. Covid has increased social isolation leading to loss of sense of belonging which is important for well being,” says Dr Jyoti Kapoor.
HOW OUR CHILDREN’S RELATIONSHIP CHANGED WITH THEIR PEERS
“Pandemic affected children most, and severe behavioural issues are coming regularly. They need to shift from the old household, sometimes due to parents’ financial constrain or sometimes parents’ relocation out of new job opportunities after covid lay off. Their peer group changed, and the school changed which was supposed to be their safe space. As a young mind, such changes are hard for many kids. Online classes made them internet addicts or tech addicts and now it is becoming a challenge to get back into the usual school routine. They don’t want to do handwritten work or sit for long hours in image class. Children need counselling most with behaviour modification and poor interpersonal relationship issues,” says Dr Sharma.
“Just as adults do, children may experience grief at leaving behind friends, favourite places, and beloved routines. This is normal and should be expected. Acknowledge your child’s feelings and talk about the things they miss. Help them stay in touch with their friends by setting up regular video calls or playdates (if possible). Also, try to create some semblance of routine in their new home.
Making friends takes time, no matter what your age. And during a pandemic, it may be even harder for kids to find ways to connect with others their age. Give your child time and space to warm up to the idea of making new friends; don’t force them into social situations before they’re ready. You can also help by joining community groups or signing them up for after-school activities when it’s safe to do so,” says Dr Tugnait.
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