In Hump Day, award-winning psychotherapist and TV host Dr. Jenn Mann answers your sex and relationship questions — unjudged and unfiltered.

By Dr. Jenn Mann
Updated Apr 01, 2020 @ 12:30 pm
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DEAR DR. JENN,

The coronavirus has pushed my already fragile relationship past its breaking point. My boyfriend and I have been sheltering in place for over a week and it has been non-stop conflict. I want out and have been thinking about how a breakup is necessary for a while now. The problem is, we’ll be under the same roof for the next month at least, which makes the situation feel impossible. What do I do? — Immunocompromised Relationship

DEAR IMMUNOCOMPROMISED,

You aren't alone. Family law attorneys have seen a dramatic increase in couples filing for divorce since the virus hit. There are social media accounts dedicated to corona relationship problems. I've seen a dramatic increase in conflict and tension amongst couples in my own practice ever since cities around this country issued stay in place orders.

Whether it’s job loss, conflicts over the division of labor or co-parenting duties, increased substance abuse — or just a relationship with cracks in the foundation that can’t handle the stress of confined quarters — couples are melting down for many reasons right now.

This is par for the course. While there are some couples for whom this experience will only bring them closer together, for most couples, it’s the opposite. That’s because at times of high stress, we tend to see an increase in conflict and a decrease in higher level relationship skills — like communication, recognizing each other's triggers, and anger management. In other words, at the time when you most need your best relationship skills, you are least capable of implementing them. This only exacerbates the problem.

One Last Try?

If you are a couple who has historically had conflict but, when you were able to utilize communication tools, you did well, you may want to give the relationship one more shot. While you are trapped in the house together, pick up a book that can offer you some concrete relationship skills and tools — it’s cheaper than therapy and you’ve got nothing to lose.

Another option is actual therapy. More and more therapists are open to doing tele-therapy during this difficult time. You can potentially do couples therapy with a licensed professional while you sheltering in place and hopefully, get your relationship back on track. If your relationship is valuable to you, or ever was, it can buy you a lot of peace of mind to know that you gave it your all before you walked away.

I'd recommend avoid making a major decision, like a break up, until this crisis passes or is further along. Of course, if you are in any danger, you need to safely remove yourself immediately. If that is not the case, and you can ride the wave and attempt to turn things around, go for it.

How to Break Up During Quarantine

If you decide that you are truly done with the relationship, you need to have the breakup conversation. The next question becomes logistics. If you are quarantined together and cannot leave, you need to figure out the rules and boundaries that you will both follow. Will you continue to sleep in the same bed? Are you going to still hang out and watch your favorite shows together? Does anything change in the relationship financially? I recommend scheduling a relationship business meeting on your calendars to figure this all out.

To have to continue to live with someone post break up is extremely challenging, especially during these stressful circumstances. If one of you can safely go to stay with family or good friends, emotionally speaking this is ideal. (Of course, be sure to follow current guidelines for self-quarantining before potentially exposing your loved ones to the virus.)

Here’s What You Can Expect Post-Breakup— and How to Cope

Dealing with your garden variety breakup can be devastating enough. Throw in an invisible potentially lethal virus that is spreading at a rapid rate, an inability to get tested for said virus, lost jobs and economic uncertainty, being isolated in quarantine, fears about food shortages, a lack of our usual creature comforts, anxiety over losing loved ones and well, you can multiply that normal breakup stress level by a thousand.

While there is not a lot that is predictable these days, here are a few things that you are very likely to experience post-breakup. Here, what to expect and how to cope during this unprecedented global pandemic.

1. You will be lonely.
This is par for the course in a normal breakup. But going from being a couple to being single at a time when we are forced to isolate is going to make you feel more alone than ever. Try to use this time to think hard about who you want in your life and what kind of relationship you want for yourself.

2. You will be forced to feel your feelings.
You won’t be able to do the things people usually do post breakup — meet up for a drink with a guy you met on a dating app, hit the gym or nail salon, or have your girlfriends come over to console you. The good news is that this inability to escape will expedite your grieving process.

In the meantime, you’ll need to utilize your support system from a far. Your friends and family are trapped in their homes and are probably more available than usual. Use FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom to make face-to-face contact and get the support you need. This is no time to do the 'I am an island' thing.

3. You will feel off balance.
As a friend of mine who is mid-pandemic breakup said to me recently: “Breakups are unsettling...and f*ck, so is the end of the world..” Oftentimes, our partner’s presence helps us regulate our own emotions, and when that person is gone it is more difficult. To top that off, all of the other things that tend to help us self-regulate our emotions — our morning Starbucks visit, gatherings of friends and family, sports events, dinner parties, etc. — are gone. Its important to understand that your emotions will probably be all over the board and you may have trouble calming yourself down. Show yourself compassion in this time and know that you will eventually find your new equilibrium.

4. You will think about the worst-case scenario.
You’re going to wonder how you will handle it if your soon-to-be-ex gets the virus, if you do, if one of you is incapacitated or dies. Our brains are wired to come up with worst case scenarios. Try to let it go. Staying in a worst-case scenario obsessive circle does not help. It only raises your anxiety.

5. Turn your over-analyzing into self-discovery.
After a breakup, you are likely to analyze, obsess, evaluate, review, and dissect. You will spend a lot of time going over every red flag, significant conversation, and fight you ever had. Try not to “what if” yourself. Instead, use this time to examine what your patterns are in relationships, what in your past may have led you to make unhealthy choices, and what you can take away from this experience to have a better relationship next time. I truly believe there is no such thing as a wasted relationship, as long as you learn from it.

Bottom line: Even when they are the right thing, breakups are painful. If you follow through with your breakup plan, make sure you stay focused on good self-care. Whether your turn to journaling, reading self-help books, or teletherapy, use this time to focus on your own healing process.

The coronavirus pandemic is unfolding in real time, and guidelines change by the minute. We promise to give you the latest information at time of publishing, but please refer to the CDC and WHO for updates.