"At some point the sound of the other person breathing makes me want to hurt them."

Have you felt this in your relationship? If you're keeping married or living with your partner during a pandemic, you almost certainly have. With free space limited and social connections becoming even more sparse, many romantic relationships have become our only physical ones, and perhaps our most strained. 

On the Jennifer Zamparelli show on 2FM, resident sex therapist Rachel Cooke talks this week about sex and relationship therapy, and why so many more couples are turning to therapy in lockdown.

"There are loads more couples that are really struggling", she says. "Whether people have kids or don't have kids, most people are absolutely sick of the sight of each other from spending so so so much time together.

"Then for the couples who are living apart, that comes with its own set of challenges, whether they're apart for various reasons in the same country or if they're living in different countries."

With more stresses on our collective plates than many of us have experienced before, it's often our closest relationships that bear the brunt the most. "People are feeling so much more stressed in themselves, which usually translates into the romantic relationship as well, whether that's about health, finances, worrying about other family members and friends", Rachel says.

In times like these, space is important – now when getting space from each other has never been more difficult. As Jen says, "being able to miss your partner is important". She knows first hand how important healthy distance from your partner is, having done long distance with her husband Lau, and remembers how much they would savour their time together when they eventually got it. 

Getting out for walks and exercising with your partner is a great way to destress together, but Rachel says that we should be sure to make time for the same activities on our own. "Make time for stuff, which is really hard if you've got kids, if you're both working."

"Just being out of eyeline or not being able to hear your partner. It really helps to calm your nervous system. At some point the sound of the other person breathing makes me want to hurt them!"

Culture plays a part, too, Rachel says. "In some countries it's much more normal, expected, seen as very healthy to spend shedloads of times together. But often, a lot of those cultures are more based around community and family than nuclear family – two parents and the kids just living in one household. That's only come about in the last 100 years. 

"It doesn't work that well for a lot of people, because it means you only have a very small number of people to be interested in, annoyed by. It's too few people for most of us."

"We have to be able to get some space, to not feel so merged with our partner. It can go into ... co-dependency, this sense of 'we don't know where we end and the other person begins'. We can forget the differences in our personalities, our interests, our hobbies, our beliefs."

So how do you know it's time to try therapy with your partner? 

"Traditionally it's been seen that therapy is something you do when you're already worried that it's seriously on the rocks", Rachel says. "It's now becoming more accepted that you can go to therapy either individually or as a couple at any time."

There's usually work to be done, anyway. "Most of us did not receive amazing messages from society, from caregivers about how to have a relationship, especially in this generation", she adds. "What worked well for our parents might not work well for people who are 20, 30, 40 years old now."

"If you have the money to do it and you can take the time for yourselves, I think it is an amazing thing to do. If you find someone who you click with, you're going to learn a lot about yourself, you're going to develop new skills and strategies for managing your own emotions and habits, and be able to navigate stuff with your partner."

It's not going to magically fix everything, Rachel says, as "all of the research shows that about 70% of the problems we have with partners are never going to be resolved. It's more like you find ways to be able to work around it."

As for whether or not you can gauge a couple's relationship from how good a sex life they have, Rachel says that's more complex. A few years ago she would have said you could, "but to be honest now people are so much more knowledgeable and open and aware about sex" that it's harder to tell. 

"There are some people where they can have an amazing sex life and they're able to compartmentalise and they don't get on well in other areas, and then there are people who have an amazing relationship in every area but sex and they're not particularly compatible there. It's just one category of a relationship." 

Listen back to Jen's full chat with Rachel at the link below. 

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