Subscriber OnlyHealth

Should I end my strained relationship amid the Covid-19 pandemic?

Ask Roe: I lost my job and some friends over Covid, should I also lose my strained relationship?

You have an opportunity to think about what you want your future to look like, and how you want to reboot your life when the world starts to reboot into normality. Photograph: Getty

Dear Roe,
Covid has had a huge impact on my life; I lost my job and lockdown meant I've lost contact with some friends. Now, my relationship of two years is getting strained. But surprisingly, I am quite happy about the changes. My job was stressing me out for a very long time and the "friends" I have fallen out of touch with had been increasingly flaky and selfish for a few years. Now I'm thinking of ending my relationship but my sister and close friends are telling me not to take on another life change during Covid because it could get better
when this is all over. What do you think?

This letter is short on details, particularly about what’s going on with your relationship which would usually make me wary of responding. However, your letter is very interesting on a particular aspect of Covid that will take a long time to materialise fully in our lives but is worth thinking about: what in normal pre-Covid lives was actually good for us, and what were we just settling for because we were too scared to explore other options?

I read recently that sometimes the easiest way to cut down on a habit or behaviour that has become undesirable or excessive or stressful – eg over-reliance on social media, frequent online shopping, and so on – is to eliminate it completely, for months, to the point where you are no longer reliant on it. Then, if you want, you can slowly reintroduce it into your life, but only in ways that are actually empowering and enjoyable. Eliminating it completely shows you that you can live without it, and means you can completely restart your relationship with it and feel like it’s serving you, rather than controlling you. (Note: this isn’t referring to addiction, which needs proper professional help.)

So much of life around Covid is difficult but, it sounds like for you, the time away from your job and unsatisfying friendships has given you space to re-evaluate what actually makes you happy, what you were just settling for out of habit and safety, and what you actually want to bring back into your life – and this job and these friends aren’t on the priority list.


Exciting opportunity

It sounds as if amid a difficult period, you have an exciting opportunity to think about what in your life is actually serving you, what you want your future to look like, and how you want to reboot your life when the world starts to reboot into normality.

When it comes to your relationship, I think your sister and close friends are highlighting that during Covid, many individuals and relationships are feeling the stress and weight of it all, so your partner and your relationship could simply need more grace, support and open communication. Maybe putting in some dedicated work and effort into this relationship is the empowering shift you’re seeking. But if you are realising that the relationship has always had problems and you want to be single for this transformational stage of your life and you feel this could be empowering and exciting, then don’t let other people’s fear hold you back.

I’ve also been reading a lot of poetry during lockdown, and I’ll give Mary Oliver the last word on this one, because it’s a question always worth considering: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Roe McDermott is a writer and Fulbright scholar with an MA in sexuality studies from San Francisco State University. She is researching a PhD in gendered and sexual citizenship at the Open University and Oxford

If you have a problem or query you would like her to answer, you can submit it anonymously at