Lockdown has had a huge impact on our everyday lives.
And it may have even taken its toll on your relationship.
Even without lockdown, navigating through life while trying to maintain a healthy relationship with your loved one can be challenging.
But when times get too difficult to manage – local professionals including counsellors and psychotherapists can offer you a helping hand.
One such relationship expert is Belfast-based psychotherapist, MBACP accredited, Vicky Clarke who has more than 13 years of experience in the field specialising in relationship issues, anxiety, women’s Issues and psychological and emotional abuse in relationships.
Throughout lockdown, she has been helping her clients via telephone sessions, using WhatsApp, Skype, Messenger, Facetime and Zoom, offering guidance on issues including toxic relationships, divorce, stress and dealing with narcissistic personalities.
We caught up with Vicky to ask her some of our biggest questions on relationships – here’s what she had to say.
If lockdown has had a detrimental effect on a couple’s relationship – what ways are there to rebuild it?
“The best way to rebuild it is to calmly communicate and be real with each other – even if it hurts the other person.
“It’s an important talk, so time has to be created and not fitted in between the dishes, homework and Coronation Street.
“Accusations and blame have to be avoided and a pre-talk agreement that it would be a solution-focused exercise should be made.
“This talk should be aimed at taking stock and to see what you both want going forward, and if it is to be together – finding a way to make this happen.
“Sometimes, we can get lost in being one half of a couple while being yourself, but ideally you will encourage each other, to have your own identity, interests, desires and be accepting of each others differences.
“So maybe you find that little mannerism that was once ever so cute, now, in fact, very annoying – but are you giving the minor negatives too much power?
“After all, control and criticism is destructive, and has no place in a relationship unless you intentionally want to weaken or destroy it.
“Couples can rebuild their relationship by concentrating on the good points and bypassing the bad if they are minor.
“It’s also good to go back to what attracted you together in the first place, ask what makes your partner happy and unhappy, and try to fall in love again with the person you once had butterflies for.
“It’s also important to make an effort with your appearance – possibly giving the tracky bottoms a break for a day, shaving the sandpaper off, splashing on some Old Spice, maybe even buying an ‘I love you’ card or make breakfast in bed.
“The tiny efforts makes all the difference, and gestures can speak louder than words.”
How has social media impacted modern-day relationships?
“Social media has created extreme ease to meet others with a simple keyboard click, so it has helped people start relationships – but it has also helped to destroy them.
“While social media is not responsible for creating extramarital affairs – it does provide a much easier way to start and hide one.
“Unfortunately, it can also be used to stalk someone if you fall out – you may have attracted a wrong character but didn’t realise until you finished with them.”
How do you feel about dating apps?
“Online dating has its challenges, and lockdown has created more – but dating apps are an excellent way to get to know some basic details about someone before you meet them.
“However, it has gone far beyond the hope of a date. People have become more liberal in expressing their needs and wants to complete strangers, which runs a small risk of being seedy and dangerous.
“Some apps are used purely for ‘hook-ups’ and if a person is emotionally detached and can handle this, it will meet their needs.
“The rest of the lonely heart brigade tend to join sites to ‘match’ with someone with similar wants in a relationship.
“There are of course the rejections – and it can seem quite callous being chosen based on looks and a half decent profile blurb.
“This form of meeting someone new would not be suitable for those with low self esteem as there are guaranteed knocks and let downs along the way, but perseverance can pay off and the online dating etiquette tends to become less daunting with practice.
“Online daters have to use wisdom, and ask a lot of questions from the beginning, and If something doesn’t sit right…run!
“I’d also recommend video calling your possible suitor within a few weeks – now that this is the new norm – if you can’t meet in person in a public place. Catfishing is rife, so beware.”
‘The same issues reoccur in every relationship I’ve been in – where am I going wrong?’
“If there is a negative relationship pattern, it’s because the vital screening time at the beginning of a relationship wasn’t explored enough, and emotions took over.
“It can also be down to you having low self-worth and turning a blind eye to red flags you see in the person you start to date, as you either fall in love too quickly and/or want the relationship so much that you will turn a blind eye to the hurt that you know is coming your way.”
What does a healthy relationship look like?
“Relationships can be very rewarding when with the right person, but can also be a living hell on earth when abusive.
“Some people spend more time picking their new car than their partner, and the character is the part that often gets overlooked unfortunately. The character is what will not change over time, but the rest will.
“A healthy relationship is available to everyone if they spend the time in the beginning getting to really know the person before falling in love and committing to them.
“A healthy relationship accepts each other’s differences and there will be equal regard for the other’s wishes, respect, and open communication (even if it’s difficult).
“A daily effort is made to please the other partner, through desire to do this, and not control.
“They will keep their romance alive by keeping a date night in the week, and encourage each other to have their own individual interests and friends.
“There will be similar core beliefs and values and plenty in common, yet enough individuality where they don’t become immersed in the relationship.
“Intimacy will be regular and an effort to look good for your partner is a must, as is… not taking each other for granted.
“The key is to treat your partner like it could be your last day together, and treasure every moment.”
How do you build trust in a relationship?
“You can build trust through time, and by checking you aren’t carrying mistrust baggage from previous relationships.
“It is understandable to expect ‘that’ to happen again – especially if you have been cheated on or badly hurt before.
“And in these cases, you will have to learn to trust yourself, that you will be OK no matter what happens.
“Fear of being hurt is what prevents us from trusting others, but the key is to know that no matter what happens, ‘I will be OK, I can deal with this if it goes wrong, and ultimately I’ve got me!’
“Being alone can be a massive issue for some and this is deep rooted in their early years relationships and can be dealt with in therapy.”
What are your top tips on how to get over someone who doesn’t love you back?
“Firstly, accepting that it is over, is very important, and realising that you deserve someone who wants you just as much.
“I would recommend a time of finding the new you, don’t lock yourself away, and find new interests/hobbies (which could also be called distraction) but is in fact self-investment.
“Do something you always wanted to but was held back for various relationship reasons.
“Step back from the relationship you have left, and look at what was wrong with it, or when it started to go downhill. T ake off the rose tinted glasses and learn from it, and grow.
“It can be seen like a time of bereavement, when you lose a relationship, and it takes time to heal, but each day you are getting closer to that. There will always be positives from any area of life that doesn’t work out for us, and this is one of them.
“And hold onto hope, as there could be someone more deserving just around the corner.”
What are the signs that a relationship is over?
“Typically there will be a lack of interest, scarce texts and calls when apart – and excuses created to not spend time together.
“There will be strife, little laughter, and arguments galore, and everything you had in common in the beginning of your relationship will not be enough anymore.
“Everything they do will be annoying, and you will wish they would simply vanish into thin air.
“You will notice others and fantasise about meeting some new.
“A relationship should add to your life and make life easy. If it’s constantly difficult, and you can muster up the energy (as it is simply exhausting) it’s time to take stock and evaluate what you really want in life, and recognise when it’s time to move on.”
‘I’ve been with my partner for a long time – how can I keep the romance alive?’
“Relationships are like anything of value – you need to protect it, value it, nourish it and ensure it can grow. What you put into it, is what you will get back.
“At your peril, don’t ignore date nights – even if it’s indoors. Switch off the phones, light a few candles, play some romantic music, and truly listen to each other as you both go over the places and things you did together in the early part of your romance, recalling the carefree fun times.
“Do small romantic gestures at least once a week if you can manage it, a ppreciate your differences and admire the positives, and remind him/her daily that you love them.
“Keep intimacy alive – even if its cuddles and holding hands – and ask yourself regularly ‘how can I make Sam feel important, special and loved today?’
“Effort will always pay off and t he key is not to take each other for granted or the love you have from your partner.”
How can I tell if he or she is the one?
“You can’t until you really get to know them deep down.
“It’s important to thoroughly check out the person you are contemplating spending the rest of your life with by taking a practical approach.
“Chemistry and lust will only last for so long – and it’s when you are together for a few years that true loves starts to show.
“All the effort in the beginning, the grooming and the best side will fade, and the bad habits will pop up. But this is when you are both being real and are truly together.
“Good questions to ask in the beginning are:
“1. Do we have enough in common?
“2. Are our core beliefs and values similar?
“3. Do our characters clash? (Are you positive and he/she negative? This could be draining after a while).
“4. Does he/she add to your life and make your life happier?
“5. Is the relationship easy or riddled with strife?
“If you are ‘putting up’ with someone because he looks like a Greek God or she a catwalk model but has little conversation, manners or consideration to offer – remember the looks will fade in time.
“Many failed relationships exist because the character compatibility was never explored enough before the couple fell in love and made life long commitments to one another.”
What are the signs of coercive control in a relationship?
“The problem with this is no one can spot this in the beginning. It is usually very subtle and the control is administered through time and drip by drip.
“You may or may not realise you have become keen to please your partner for a quiet life – or equally became desperate not to upset them.
“There are many clever manipulation tactics used in these types of relationships and often the victim can feel they are isolated and no-one will believe them or they are ‘sensitive’ or just ‘taking things the wrong way’ – as they have heard this often from their partner.
“The victim doesn’t realise it is happening or the extent of the damage done until they leave the relationship, as they will be mentally exhausted.
“Without realising over time, you will have become submissive, controlled, isolated, compliant and accepting blame for things that are not your fault.
“Control can be taken over your friends and family, your finances, time out shopping for groceries, what you wear, make-up, what time you eat, and anything that can be part of an everyday life.
“The control exists because of deep rooted insecurity in the abuser, and they can’t face rejection or being left.
“Characters will not change so hanging around because you are hoping for change because you still love him/her is not realistic.
“If you are in a relationship like this, you will be drained with the constant drama, and effort you have to make to maintain peace.
“Love is not, and never will be controlling, and the best form of love is being free to be yourself, and accepted for who you are.”
What advice would you give to someone who is trying to leave an abusive relationship?
“Remember why you are doing this (no matter how much you love this person) and share this reason with your closest supports – warts and all. Tell the worst parts, so they realise the need to protect your next move.
“Leave quickly and suddenly – if possible while he/she is out for a while, without giving any prior indication, so you can minimise further abuse or worse.
“Cut all ties, including financial, and make yourself uncontactable to the person you are leaving, and just before you do, warn your family and friends very clearly not to give out your details.
“This is quite a complex area as all abusers aren’t the same, and some are very clever at revenging rejection.
“Some will go as far as trying to destroy the life you have built, but thankfully not all are motivated to do this.
“The most important thing is to stay safe. Ideally have an unknown address to go to so you can heal and recover in peace.
“Abusers tend to not let go easily, (remember it’s about their insecurities of being left in the first place) so don’t underestimate how much you need to disappear for at least the first year, unless you have a court order in place to cease any contact, but they too are often breached, with little court consequence.”
Vicky recommends the following websites for those in abusive relationships:
When should a person stop trying to cope with a difficult relationship by themselves and seek the help of a professional?
“A person will reach a point of ‘that’s enough’ and will know when they are ready to do something about it.
“Going through months or years of psychological games and abuse can create indecisiveness and a lack of emotional strength to take positive steps for change and healing.
“But when it start s, a good therapist will help them find strength again and empowerment and restore the clients negative self-belief, and damaged self-esteem.”
Are you a lover of Style, Beauty or Interiors? Maybe you want the latest tips on keeping fit, eating right, organising your home and staying well, not to mention all the latest showbiz goss and the craic around town then follow Belfast Live’s brand new lifestyle page Be.
You can find us on Facebook ,Twitter and Instagram.
What relationship advice would you give to your younger self if you could?
“I would advise myself to take it easy and not rush into relationships for the sake of having one.
“I would also prepare myself to dig deep for a diamond, as there are a few out there.
“And I would definitely get myself educated so I could watch out for sociopathic narcissists.
“Hindsight is always a great thing, wouldn’t you agree?”
If you’re interested in speaking to Vicky about counselling and psychotherapy email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit www.talkingtherapyni.com or click here to view her Relationship MOT page.
If you are Belfast-based professional in the healthy, beauty, fitness or food and drink industry and would like to be considered for a feature, our Be team would love to here from you. Send an email with a link to your professional social media account to email@example.com.