The UK couples breaking Covid lockdown to avoid breaking up

Since most of the UK went back into lockdown on 5 January, people have once again been forced to “stay at home, save lives”. But with “pandemic burnout” on the rise many say compliance is proving increasingly difficult.

People in relationships who do not live with their partner have been in a tough position throughout the pandemic. Faced with the prospect of breaking lockdown or breaking up, many couples have opted for the former.

“At the start of lockdown, my girlfriend and I agreed that we would continue to meet and stay over at each other’s houses despite the Covid restrictions,” says James, 23, who lives in north-east England. “We both understood that not spending time with each other would have made it impossible to maintain our relationship.”

James and his girlfriend live with their respective parents who he says were accepting of their arrangement and did not raise any objections.

James, who lives approximately 10 miles from his partner and stays with her “several nights a week”, is not alone. 40% of people – rising to 71% among 16- to 29-year-olds – don’t live with their partner.

Lucy, 19, from Shropshire says “there’s been an unspoken social pressure to break lockdown rules in order to remain in particular friendship circles. Things have got really divided between those who flaunt their rule-breaking and those who condemn their peers by saying things about ‘being responsible for people’s deaths’ on social media.”

But Lucy believes she is one of many who is simply choosing to break the rules in silence. “I feel I have to or I’ll be socially excluded once lockdown is over.”

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Not everyone sees breaking lockdown rules as selfish and many say they do so primarily out of concern for themselves or others. “I struggle with depression and I know experiencing social connection is an important part of maintaining my mental health,” says Lucy.

Damian, a 59-year-old learning disability nurse from Lancashire, admits feeling compelled to break lockdown to aid friends facing significant mental health issues.

Out of concern, Damian allows a friend (who he says lives in a crowded home with family members he does not get along with) to use his house as a “safe space” and he says the friend visits twice a week. “I’m absolutely aware that this is against the restrictions but my professional training and life experience made me feel like this was the right thing to do. To be honest I still think it’s the right thing to do.”

“If you assume Covid is the only thing that presents a health risk right now you’re mistaken,” he says. “I’ve lived on my own all my adult life … but other people aren’t so well adapted.”


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