COUPLES' THERAPY

Harper's Bazaar Australia|June/July 2020

COUPLES' THERAPY
Brooke Le Poer Trench ruminates on the trials and tribulations of too much time together
Brooke Le Poer Trench

RIGHT NOW, I am sitting in my office (aka bedroom), dressed in my work clothes (aka pyjamas), ruminating on a fight I just had with my husband about coconut butter. This is already an obnoxious thing to bicker about: luxury health foods. He observed (aloud) that I had not picked any up from the supermarket following his text message (sent from the backyard) yesterday. I responded (passive-aggressively) that he might be able to find some at the wholefoods grocery shop around the corner (see what I did there?) from our house. And so it went on for 10 minutes (with wide-eyed children watching), until I left for work, which used to involve a nice dress, a few coats of mascara and a 20-minute bus ride … and now consists of 18 steps and one lunge (to get up on the bed, you see).

This is our new normal. We are both lucky enough to be able to work from home. We are spending 24-7 together. And I hope I’m not alone when I wonder, Are we going to make it to the other side of this thing? The fact is that PP (pre-pandemic), my husband was a rock in times of crisis. Of course, when I say ‘crisis’ I’m talking about fairly pedestrian things that seemed stressful at the time: kids with broken arms, lost passports and house renovations. He is a port in a stormy sea. And that’s in part because we are so very different, which means that when I feel out of control, his pragmatic way of dealing with things is often welcome.

Only, right now, while this has all the low-level anxiety of a crisis in our minds and bodies, there is no actual problem to solve. Nothing is lost. Nothing is broken. Everyone is healthy (and for that I am so very grateful). We have toilet paper. And yet everything is upside down. And I find myself increasingly bothered by things that worked well a few weeks ago. Mundane things, such as who does which chores around the house, are now a point of contention. And it seems I’m not alone.

Leah Ruppanner, an associate professor of sociology in Melbourne specialising in family and gender dynamics, says isolation means many couples are now observing each other’s daily routines, which can lead to tension. “Everything is back on the table for negotiation,” she says, noting this could be a good thing. “We know that many women often do the bulk of the work at home, and so this is an opportunity to re-evaluate what’s happening and make that division of labour more even.” Like most relationships, mine thrives on a kind of 80–20 rule. Most of the time we are living our own lives, kept busy and provided with purpose by our work, exercise regimens, family and friends … and we keep each other company at night and on weekends. We also do couple things, such as meet for a drink and not talk about the kids or bills or (yawn) real estate. We spend time together in clothes with structure and remember what it is we really like about each other. How are we going to do that now? How do we create space for each other when there is none? And enjoy each other in the same way?

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June/July 2020