Since lockdown measures were introduced in March, our everyday lives have altered significantly.
The way we work, the way we buy our shopping, the way we engage and communicate with our families. It is all different now.
Another element of life impacted by social distancing measures is many of our relationships.
Could, however, the general population learn something from how Armed Forces families maintain a healthy loving relationship?
When lockdown rules were put in place, some couples who lived apart were faced with two options: try and stick it out at a distance, or alternatively take the plunge and move in together.
This second option was given with 36 hours’ notice. If you and your loved one were going to do it, you had to do it immediately. A big decision to make at the best of times.
Trying to find a positive spin on the conundrum perhaps, the option of suddenly moving in with each other was mooted by the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jenny Harries, as a way to “test” a relationship, suggesting couples could co-habit for the duration of the lockdown on the basis of it being a temporary arrangement before making a more long-term decision later.
In many relationships, there is evidence that other types of issues have manifested as a result of the lockdown, not least in the bedroom department.
Bookmakers’ odds back in March predicted that 2021 would see a baby-boom akin to that of the post-war years. Some bookies were suggesting that the enforced extra time together between partners living under the same roof would inevitably lead to one thing alone: more bedroom action between lovers.
However, something quite different appears to have come to pass if behaviour analysis, research, polls and surveys by several “sexperts” and industry professionals is anything to go by.
One voice casting doubt on any so called post-Covid-19 baby-boom is the man in charge of Durex condoms, Laxman Narasimhan, who has announced that sales in most markets, including the UK, were down as a result of the lockdown, perhaps suggesting that some demographics of the population were in fact having fewer intimate moments between the sheets, not more.
The lockdown is not translating into people sharing more intimate activities.
The BBC reported that Mr Narasimhan associated the coronavirus downturn in intimacy with the “manifestation of anxiety”, something Dr Alexandra Richards, a clinical psychologist based near Aldershot garrison has said is a real issue facing couples, regardless if they have been together short or long-term.
Speaking to BFBS, Dr Richards said: “It can have a huge impact on the relationship, in all aspects. It’s hard to be fully present and to concentrate, and to enjoy time together if a person is feeling anxious.”
The suggestion intercourse is down among couples is backed up with other research.
In May, a poll carried out by by LadBible found that 69% of couples said they were having less carnal moments since lockdown measures were put in place.
Dr Richards added: “Not everybody is the same, for some people sex and intimacy can be a nice relief from anxiety. But other times, people just can’t switch off their heads. If your body is unsettled, if there’s tension in your body, it’s going to interfere with pleasure.”
If intimacy is down nationally due to social distancing or because of matters related to Covid-anxiety, should we expect the same to be true in military relationships (relationships where one or both partners serves in the military)?
Or are those couples better prepared for some of the tougher consequences of the coronavirus lockdown?
According to Dr Richards, the answer lies in the adaptability of relationships where military service is a factor.
“I think military couples have to be very flexible and adapt to changing circumstances. That level of uncertainty, military couples know well.
“Military couples have experience of missing each other and then making better use of the time or appreciating the time better when they are together. I think civilian couples can learn from that.
"Being together too much can cause couples to get a little too used to each other.
"A little separation allows for there to be a chance to miss each other, to value the time spent together.”
Deployment is a factor in any service relationship, and, to help with that, married couples and military spouses are often provided with information from the unit to support the relationship (and if children are involved, the whole family) to help adjust to operational and deployment circumstances.
An operational tour can last up to seven months. But even when operations overseas are less likely, uniformed men and women can find themselves posted abroad for anything from exercise to adventurous training.
Under current Ministry of Defence rules, couples who are not married or civilly partnered are not entitled to service accommodation. But this is set to change in the future.
There is currently a pilot scheme trialling “flexible” housing for military couples who are in long-term relationships or who have children but are not married or civilly partnered.
Although the trial suggests the rules may change, currently they have not. So even when a posting is ordered within the UK, the issue of distance becomes a sudden reality that couples must overcome.
Dr Richards says that distance-related factors in a relationship are challenges that can be overcome, but this is something that requires negotiation.
Speaking to BFBS, she said: “I wonder if it comes down to what your expectations are and what you’ve committed to together?
"Military couples go into a relationship knowing there will be time apart, as opposed to a non-military relationship, which might need to be negotiated. It’s about shared values and your commitment to being together.”
With the general reduction in love-making among couples, as indicated by research, fall in contraceptive sales and via the polls, Dr Richards suggested that partners affected by distance could look to other options when trying to share intimacy. This could include things like sexting, the writing of fantasies in emails or, perhaps, by using video conferencing and smartphone technology which can provide a modern take on sexual encounters at a distance, activities that were once limited to mere phone calls. Dr Richards said:
“There are all kinds of creative ways to share intimacy if you are both not in the same place.
"Having conversations and sharing fantasies. Couples often share ideas and have conversations around that, there will be limits with privacy though and people have to be mindful of that.
“They might set up a private email address so those kind of conversations can take place. It’s nice to create a bit of separation from other email accounts that are used for banking or for emails with other family members. People send photos, again though, they have to be mindful of security. But a lot of people use those methods.
“There are even high-end technology products, things like toys that you can use that are activated via the partner from a distance digitally."
Our Girls' Tackling The Crisis Together But Apart
The Armed Forces have been in a central supporting role throughout the crisis. Early on, military personnel were instrumental in the building of Nightingale hospitals and in the delivery of PPE from around the globe.
For one military couple, duty has had to come before relationship.
Major Chantelle Miller and her wife, Staff Sergeant Tara Miller, have had their normal jobs as regular serving members of the British Army put on hold while being re-deployed in key roles tackling the pandemic.
Staff Sergeant Tara Miller has used her medic skills as a first responder with South Central Ambulance Service, while Major Chantelle Miller, a member of the Royal Military Police, has been working as a military planner in Cardiff.
SSgt Miller said: “Since we’ve been married we’ve been apart a lot.
"Chantelle has been deployed in Afghanistan and Georgia, but this time is so difficult because she’s only two hours up the road and we can’t see each other.
“Because she’s doing such an amazing job, it’s worth it being away from each other.
"Her whole reason for joining the military was to be able to help people.
"Being able to help people in Cardiff, which is where she’s from, is great and I know she loves that fact.”
Four Top Tips For Military Couples To Overcome Distance Issues
Captain Becky Collins is the British Army’s only uniformed clinical psychologist.
Here, she gives her top tips for military couples (where one or both partners are serving in the military) to overcome barriers such as distancing as a result of deployment or other service requirements.
One - Communicate Honestly
Firstly, with the partner about any thoughts, emotions, difficulties and even the good things that are going on. Communicate all of that honestly with your partner. Sometimes we underestimate our ability to problem solve if somebody is struggling and perhaps we struggle to understand our ability to help our partner. But also, we tend to overestimate our partner knowing what we are thinking without us telling them. So, that’s why it’s really important we communicate honestly with them.
In terms of the military, it’s also about communicating honestly with your chain of command.
For example, if you have got any difficulties with your posting and it’s impacting upon your family life, communicate with your Unit Welfare Officer.
And then it’s about communicating honestly with other agencies like the Army Welfare Service (AWS). If you are struggling as a couple, the AWS might be able to offer you couples’ counselling.
Two – Be Present
What I mean by that is be present in your relationship.
Make contact when you can, whether that’s phone, FaceTime, texts, writing.
And that’s on both sides. Make sure that you make time to be present with your partner. And within that, give up dates in your life so that they feel present in your life even though you are not there, then when you do have the opportunity to go and see them face to face, take that opportunity.
If you have got a long weekend and it’s possible to travel then take that opportunity when you can.
Three – Tap Into Your Social Support Network
This applies to both your civilian support network, people like your family or friends, especially if you have children, but also the military side of things. So, get to know what’s available from the military that can support you.
People like the AWS or the Unit Welfare Officer. If you can understand how they can support you, once you know ask for it. Don’t hold back.
Four – Don’t Ignore The Top Three Tips!
If you don’t follow the first three, you risk your partner not really knowing how you feel or what’s going on while you are away, while you are apart.
If you are not really present, you will probably miss each other more and that might make you feel more stressed or low.
And if you don’t tap into your support network you might end up feeling like you are on your own.
Capt Collins was keen to stress that all couples are different, and that although her top tips are intended for everyone, they might not work for every relationship.