Surviving Relationship Fatigue

Recognize signs of stress and learn how to maintain a healthy relationship even through a global pandemic.

Living with a partner in a pandemic certainly has its advantages—you have someone to socialize with, someone to help with daily chores, and the potential for physical intimacy that many have missed out on for the last year and counting. But living with a loved one without the ability to take space or to relieve stress the ways we normally would has taken a toll on romantic relationships.

Relationship fatigue is on the rise, in part because this particular crisis has partners frozen in space together 24 hours a day, with no room for personal processing. And while some partnerships have thrived away from outside influences, divorce rates have increased globally as couples have been locked in one-on-one.

“There’s a lot of fatigue in general out there right now,” says Registered Psychotherapist Diane Gibson. “I don’t know if anyone is an expert on relationships in a pandemic, but I think what’s important is we communicate our needs and acknowledge that everyone is experiencing it differently.”

Loving your partner and wanting to show up for each other in difficult, unprecedented times takes work.In this article learn about some of the signs of stress you may be experiencing at home and some of the things you can focus on to bring some ease and joy back to your partnership.

Signs of Stress

Much as we each experience the pandemic differently, so too do we exhibit stress on an individual level. Here are some of the main signs of stress you might recognize as causing friction at home.

Heightened Emotions

When we’re burnt out or depressed, emotional regulation is not always available to us, which leads to outbursts of emotions that we often know are unwarranted. And what better target than the partner who left their dishes in the sink yet again? “Fatigue is a big sign of stress,” says Gibson. “Some people are snappier, some people are more withdrawn.” The issue now is the lack of follow-up on those emotional moments. “What I’m seeing is increased fighting, but it’s the lack of repair, the lack of saying ‘what just went on there?’”


“Communication, of course, is a great sign of a healthy relationship,” says Gibson. “Not only what you’re saying, how often you speak, but how you are talking to each other is vitally important.” Under stress, miscommunication runs rampant, causing spikes in tension. When emotions are heightened, awareness around tone and body language also goes out the window, which can start any conversation off on the wrong foot.


Some people need space when stressed, others need connection more than ever—sometimes that need for connection presents as an overdependence on your partner, who likely has only so much to give themselves. “There’s got to be a level of personal agency during these times, meaning we cannot expect our partner to be there for us 100% of the time,” says Gibson. “It’s an impossible ask and if that’s your expectation you will be disappointed.”

How to Combat Fatigue

Being a good partner in times of stress takes work and self-awareness. Here are some areas you can both focus on in order to show up for yourself and each other.

  1. Communication: Finding the energy can be hard these days, but open communication can stave off many issues before they happen. Being open to different perspectives and being a generous listener can make all the difference in how you connect with one another. “Much of the time we think our partner has the same needs and feelings that we do,” says Gibson. “But in a lot of circumstances, we want or need different things at the same time.” That potential for disconnect is more pronounced the more time we spend with one another, so be mindful of how you communicate and be open to hearing your partner tell you when you’re crossing the line. “Be influenced by your partner—hear them when they say ‘what’s going on?’ Instead of engaging in a fight, instead of getting defensive, stop and think about it.”
  2. Fighting: Not that fighting is always a bad thing. In fact, quite the opposite. “The absence of fighting is not a sign of a good relationship,” says Gibson.” “The big difference is how we fight.” Disagreements will naturally occur, but it’s how we act during and recover after, that matters. “Are you being respectful, are you leaving contempt out of it? Sarcasm and talking down is all very hurtful,” she says. The speed with which you’re able to recover from a disagreement is also a very good and healthy sign. Asks Gibson: “Are you able to laugh at yourself, bring humour into it a little bit? If it gets heated are you able to bring the temperature down quite quickly?”
  3. Differentiation: Differentiation is the act of balancing autonomy and attachment—of knowing yourself, and understanding how you like to connect with others. This comes in very handy when partners want different things—for instance, if one partner craves closeness, and the other needs alone time. “Neither of those is wrong,” says Gibson. “So how do we manage when our partner differs from us?” One way is to quite simply remind yourself that you don’t have to want the same things all the time in order to be happy. “Tell yourself: this is OK,” says Gibson.. Then ask yourself: “What can I do to give me what I need and to give my partner what they need and not take it personally?”
  4. Interdependency: Stressful times often find us shouldering an emotional weight, but the beautiful part of a relationship is the ways in which we can be there for each other. Enter interdependency, which means sharing emotional intimacy while maintaining your sense of self, and engaging in personal agency. Not needing the other person desperately, but wanting to care for them and receiving the same in return. “Interdependency is really important,” says Gibson. “It’s OK to need each other. It’s OK to be a soft place to fall for your partner.” Even with all the tension that relationship fatigue can bring, the aspect of caring for one another equally is a great way to reconnect. “We have a culture that celebrates independence, and interdependence includes those things, but we also need to be soft.”
  5. Sex: Either it’s happening, or it’s not, and many are experiencing lowered libidos during COVID. This doesn’t need to be a point of contention, but rather another opportunity for communication. “You have to figure out what works by talking with each other,” says Gibson. “Don’t expect mindreading.” If you’re feeling rejected by your partner, say so. And, of course, there are many ways to be intimate without having sex, if neither of you is in the mood. “Let’s not confuse sex with touch. If you’re not having sex and both saying ‘I wish we would but we’re both so tired,’ make sure there’s cuddling, touching,” says Gibson. “Sex is going to come down to whatever works.”

Finally, no matter where your relationship stands, a little support can be helpful for anyone. Virtual therapy is more accessible than ever, and can provide you with the tools you need to be happy and healthy at home. “Make an investment into your relationships,” says Gibson.

“It’s so normal to have problems. You don’t have to do this alone.”


Diane Gibson

Diane Gibson is a Registered Psychotherapist who has been offering relationship and family counselling for more than 8 years. She works with couples and individuals who are struggling with any aspect of a relationship such as disconnection, poor communication, infidelity, polyamory, sexual identity, sexuality challenges, life transitions, illness, parenting/step parenting or any other relationship issue. She works collaboratively with clients to determine where change needs to happen so one can live a fulfilled and happy life. Her Inkblot direct referral code is: DMGIBSON.