Yep! This “Sheltering-in,” “Safer-at-Home,” “Quarantine” time has been tough for a lot of couples! So, if your partner is getting on your very last nerve you are not alone. This virus and all the changes it has made in the very fabric of our daily life, can put a lot of strain on relationships - weather from excessive time together while sheltering-in, or working from home in close quarters, or fear of getting sick or watching your loved ones get sick, or financial worries, or just the sheer lack of distraction. I am seeing more and more couples crack under the pressure. Here are some tips to help you and your love move from revenge and punishment fantasies to Post Traumatic Growth (or at least something like that).
1. When your partner is really pissing you off, take a breath, calm your nervous system down and take a mini-time out before responding. Give yourself some space. This is one of the things couples are really missing right now – space, both emotional and physical. We are in close quarters without our usual time apart and distractions. While giving yourself some space…. don’t relive the irritating thing that your partner did. Don’t go over and over them in your mind, and don’t start planning your rebuttal or attack. Instead allow your body to relax, so that you can move out of Fight-Flight-Freeze mode and so you can reengage your cerebral cortex. This allows your full brain, not just your emotions to approach and resolve the problem.
2. Ask yourself some good questions…Could my upset with my partner be caused by my own stress or anxiety? Is it possible I am taking my anxiety out on my partner? What is my part in this struggle? Have I taken the time to listen? Have I tried standing in my partner’s shoes to get a broader understanding of what’s going on? …. And the list could go on and on…. My point is that rather than going with the anger, ask yourself some questions to find out what’s underneath your anger. Try to see the situation through your partner’s eyes.
3. In expressing your feelings to your partner try using “I” statements. For instance, “I get anxious when ….,” rather than “you make me anxious.” Or “I need a little alone time right now to regroup and center myself,” rather than “Please, get out of my space you are making me crazy!” See the difference? When we own our feelings rather than blame our partner, things go a whole lot better and feelings don’t get hurt as often.
4. Even though you and your partner may have lots and lots of time together (maybe way too much) make sure that you are carving out special time for each other not just quarantine time i.e. stuck in the same apartment together. For instance, you could plan to sit down to a nice dinner each night without cell phones just to talk, or take a walk together each morning, or plan ‘date days’ once a week COVID-style. COVID dates might include an evening at the Drive-in (so cool and retro that they are popping up all over the place), or a Beach Day, or a mini-vacation to a local hotel or Airbnb. You get the point…add in special times….make some memories in this crazy time.
And, of course if these tips for listening, self-reflection, and leaning in don’t do the trick, there is always couples therapy. in person (yes, therapists are essential workers) or via Zoom. Therapy during this time can also provide lots of topics for deep date conversations and personal introspection. Good luck on this journey!