“The standard situation before the coronavirus was one of living in a strong hectic environment of movement and pressure with lots of stimuli and duties yet little time. In relationships this could bring about more of a situation of living ‘next to each other’ rather than living together,” says psychologist Viera Cviková. Can isolation and the lockdown improve our relationships? How can you communicate with your partner and not "get on each others’ nerves" in the current situation? This interview will cover that and more.

20. 04. 2020 08.38 hod.
By: CU Public Relations Office

1. We have found ourselves in a completely new situation of global threat than what most of us have experienced. What are we going through in the coronavirus crisis, and how does it affect our mental health?

As often happens with a new life situation, there is uncertainty and a sense of danger. And so we create scenarios in our heads that are part of each individual's response. They depend on our personality and nature. In general, we can be divided into two groups in response to new situations: some may perceive the coronavirus as a life challenge while others may see it as a threat. Depending on which group we belong to, our reactions also differ. If we perceive the situation as a challenge, we may experience some degree of concern; but more importantly we believe that the situation will end well and that we will manage it. The worse option is if we perceive the situation as a threat. In this case, we can experience intense feelings of fear, anxiety, and danger, leading to a general feeling of tension and exhaustion.

2. How can negative feelings such as fear and anxiety affect our relationships? Can they help them improve, or is it the way around?

Our emotional state is the starting point for our behaviour. We react differently in times of peace and quiet as opposed to those of tension, anxiety, and fear. The lockdown has reduced the physical distance to family and those close to us. At first glance, it may seem that this is a possibility for relationships to be strengthened, but this is not clear. It could work if everyone in the home had their own space. But if this is not the case, we may feel cramped by the close presence of others and a lack of privacy for ourselves. This feeling can lead to frustration and consequently to agitation, irritability, and aggression. It is no coincidence that during the lockdown period we have seen an increase in domestic violence. But let's not take the negative things out of context, because there are two sides to every coin. Except for the things we cannot change, life in the lockdown will be what we make of it. We have the opportunity to think and use the situation to benefit  ourselves and our relationships. Use physical proximity for meaningful time spent as a couple or a family. Relationships are developed mainly through joint activities. And it doesn't matter whether we are playing cards, riding bicycles, or cooking lunch together.

3. For couples who do not spend so much time together, a joint holiday can be a test of their relationship. What sort of test is the period of lockdown and social isolation that many are now experiencing?

Now we are getting into a different situation. The standard situation before the coronavirus was one of living in a strong hectic environment of movement and pressure with lots of stimuli and duties yet little time. In relationships this could bring about more of a situation of living ‘next to each other’ rather than living together, and a situation of less love and more alienation. One misconception is that love will be as it was at the beginning of a relationship and will last forever. However, relationships need to be nurtured and cared for just like a garden. If you do not water and fertilize it, you will have no plants. Life in the lockdown will test relationships and force us to realize how things really are in our relationships: whether it is good for us or whether we want to change something about it. We have the opportunity to survive and manage problems together, which can significantly strengthen a relationship. The recipe for managing the crisis and strengthening relationships is the willingness to cooperate, understand, and share.

4. It is essential to take care of relationships and our loved ones, as we mentioned above, but especially of ourselves. How can we maintain our mental and physical wellbeing?

The first step is to adapt to the new situation. The sooner we can do that, the better it is for us. There is little point in battling those circumstances that we cannot change. It is important to focus on how you can take advantage of the situation for yourself. One key is to have a routine create a system of daily activities which include work, good sleep, and exercise. We need to ensure our emotional balance, and the ability to share our emotions will contribute to this. It is important to have someone you can talk to, listen to and support, and who will listen to and support you as well.

5. What if someone is living alone? How can you deal with solitude?

People living alone may be exposed to more strain from being in the lockdown than people living with someone else. Research confirms the negative impact of living alone on one's health. And yet living alone has never been as widespread as it is today. It is even talked about as an impending pandemic itself. During the lockdown, a person living alone can feel more alone than ever. They can experience feelings of apprehension and fear; they can excessively think about potential threats; and they can be isolated, come to a standstill, and procrastinate. If we want to be well, we should go in the opposite direction. This means having contact with people to the extent that being in the lockdown allows and being active: organizing your time and devoting yourself to your work as well as to yourself. Doing something for others also has a healing effect. Today's situation provides a lot of space for that, and the form of help is not decisive.


Viera Cviková

In 1993 Viera Cviková completed her studies in psychology at the Faculty of Arts of Comenius University. She specializes in couple therapy and individual adult psychotherapy. She is a member of the committee of the Slovak Psychotherapy Society, and psychotherapy is her primary professional interest.