What a year this has been!
It didn’t spare couples any more than it spared singles.
There’s the COVID breakup, the COVID divorce…
There’s a COVID baby bust expected…
And then there’s all the singles stuck at home with no support network.
Many of us are facing financial uncertainty. Many of us are stressed beyond belief. Many of us are anxious and depressed.
We’re worried about our elderly. We’re grieving the loss of the memories we missed this year. We’re sick and tired of all the political news.
And we just want it all to end.
This year will come to a close, but what we’ve experienced over the past 12 months will shape us forever.
Life is not going to go back to normal. There’s a new normal now.
So isn’t it worth taking a moment to think about what this past year has taught us about life, love, and who we want to be?
Here are the 3 love lessons I learned from 2020 and how I believe that will shape 2021.
Love Lesson #1.
Relationships Breathe When You’re Apart
In ordinary life, you don’t spend 24-7 with your partner.
The less you see each other, the more you value the time together you DO have.
You can overlook your partner’s faults, because you know you’ll miss him when he’s not there.
But what happens when you spend two weeks together over summer vacation? What happens when you’re stuck in the pressure cooker of a family Christmas for a week?
Spending a lot of time together widens the cracks in weak relationships and sends breakup rates soaring. Divorce lawyers love Christmas, because it keeps them busy all January.
It’s not that being stuck at home together makes you see something about your partner you never saw before.
It’s that you’re less able to tolerate all those things that annoy you when you’re exposed to them 24-7.
You normally get a break from each other. You go to different jobs. You spend a good chunk of your day apart.
But when you don’t have that break, and there’s no escape from each other, you’re faced with the truth about your relationship. Is this really it? Can you cope with this forever?
Because he’s not going to change. This is what you’re stuck with. And it’s up to you to decide whether you can live this way or not.
Love Lesson #2.
Financial strain breaks up marriages.
This isn’t about different financial philosophies. It’s not about you being a saver and him being a spender.
It’s the stress of not having enough money to live comfortably on. Fighting about your budget, who’s working more, who’s spending what they shouldn’t.
If we want more people to get married and stay married, research shows, then make sure they have enough money to live comfortably.
When times are tough and there’s not enough to go around, people don’t walk down that aisle. Marriage rates drop during economic recession. Who wants to burden a new marriage with debt and struggle? Why not save up for a nice wedding and a comfortable first year?
And for couples thinking about parenthood, money also plays a factor. Many couples postpone having a child until they’re financially secure.
Love Lesson #3.
Tough Times Turn Us Inward
When times are good, we’re generous with our hearts.
It’s easy to love your neighbor when you have enough.
But when you’re struggling to survive, when you don’t know what the future will bring, then your first priority is making sure there’s enough for you. You need to get yourself okay, and then you can think about other people.
When tough times hit relationships, couples turn into individuals.
Each of them is thinking about their own future. What they need to survive.
And they may decide that this relationship is hindering them or holding them back from getting what they need.
Have you noticed how often people turn on each other when things get stressful?
Instead of pulling together, they pull apart. They start to see each other as a threat rather than an ally.
If you see your partner turning away from you when times get tough, then you’ve got a rocky road ahead.
What you want is a partner who turns toward you when life falls apart.
You want a partner who can remain tapped into his generous heart even when he’s worried about himself. Someone who knows you’re not the enemy and apologizes if he accidently treats you as one.
But not all guys can do this. They see themselves as a lone ranger, out to defeat danger on their own, and they don’t want you there. They could do it better on their own. They see you as holding them back.
That’s not partnership.
Love Goals for 2021
So what do these lessons teach us about what we can do differently in 2021?
First and foremost, I hope this past year has taught you that you can’t afford a partner who turns on you when the chips are down. You can’t afford someone who thinks that he’d do better on his own without you.
Either you’re a team, or you’re out for your own interests, and you’ve got to choose.
Next, I hope you realize that forces beyond your control affect your relationship. Who would guess that the economy affects marriage, divorce, and birth rates?
Too many people believe that the success or failure of a relationship comes down to two people. Basically, if they really wanted to keep their marriage together, they would.
But couples don’t live in a bubble.
Relationships are affected by many, many factors, including seemingly irrelevant ones, like whether you have friends who divorce.
Your relationship will be different in good times than it will be in bad times.
And those bad times are more indicative of how you’ll fare over the long term, because those hard times keep coming back.
One study found that the couples who thrived during the pandemic kept a lid on their personal conflict and found ways to help each other deal with stress.
They took responsibility for each other. They recognized that they had a part to play in each other’s mental health and wellbeing.
I want to add here that you can’t shoulder that burden on your own.
If you’re the only one helping your partner, and your partner isn’t doing his part, then your relationship is lopsided. That’s not sustainable. You’ll burn out.
(I talk about the effect of stress on relationships in my book The Pleasure Principle. Learn more here.)
The final thing I want you to remember is this….
This quote comes from the magnificent Esther Perel. She writes:
Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.”
When you have long blocks of time together, whether you’re at home or on vacation, remember to balance togetherness with separateness.
You can still do things on your own. You can hang out in a different room. You can watch your movie on your tablet while he watches his own movie on his.
You need time apart to breathe. To give him the opportunity to miss you. To give yourself the opportunity to miss him. To give yourselves something to talk about when you come back together.
I hope your relationships thrive in 2021, whether you’re single or happily coupled.
Take the lessons you’ve learned from this year and put them to use in the next. We can all be better because of the suffering we’ve gone through.
Wishing you an amazing new year with hope, happiness, and joy…