Spending more time than ever with your partner? Stuck at home, feeling like you are on top of each other? Not having that special time to reunite at the end of the day and checking in on the day’s events? Noticing a surge in defensiveness, withdrawal and criticism? Well, you’re not alone. Stress and anxiety are peaking and with it comes relationship strain. Here are seven tips for surviving (and even thriving) in your relationship during quarantine. Here are seven ways to help each other get to calm!
- Ask for what you need
- I’m going to start with this one. It is just so vital especially when we are breathing down each other’s necks. I wish we were mind readers, but we are not. If you need space, ASK for it. If you need connection or reassurance, ASK for it. It also helps to mention how you are feeling. Getting in touch with your sadness, fear or anger often leads to what you need: “Honey, I am feeling frustrated and need some space.”
- Judgement to curiosity
- Time to listen. It is time to put your agenda to the side for a moment and listen to understand your partner. You’ll have your time later. We as a society are really good at talking and getting our point across. And not very good at getting each other. In your relationship, there is another person with their own needs and dreams. It can really help if you can move from judging your partner to wondering what is going inside when they appear upset or frustrated. Mirror or repeat back what your partner is saying and ask them how they feel about it. I bet you will avoid a whole bunch of misunderstanding and fighting when you lead with curiosity and empathy.
- You both can’t be crazy at the same time.
- This is big. If you two have taken the “off ramp” and are escalating, it is time to take a break. I don’t care what is being said. I don’t care how right you think you are. When both of you are in an elevated state and in the “kill or be killed” part of your brain, nothing productive is going to happen. Research suggests a twenty minute time out to be back to calm. Have a signal you both come up with like a raised hand and spend some time apart. Come back after twenty minutes and see how much better your conversation will go.
There is a hormone called oxytocin (also known as the snuggle drug) which makes you and me feel safe in the world and helps us get to calm. And oxytocin is secreted into our bloodstream when we are physically touched by a loving other. That’s probably why you are hearing about an uptick in domestic violence. When we don’t feel safe, we aggressively act out. So, more touch is needed in your relationship especially with all the social distancing and the minimal chance of human contact. And it’s not just sex. Make time for hugs, massages and holding hands through the day. Even a hand on your partner’s shoulder for a moment as he does the dishes will go a long way.
“Is now a good time?”
Asking your partner this question is a great way to manage stress and anxiety. It is really important to respect relationship boundaries. My suggestion is to ask if now is a good time when you want to talk about relationship issues or air frustrations. If he says it’s a good time, great, go ahead. If it is not a good time, set the timer for twenty minutes or so and come back to have this talk. I bet one of you has a fear of being blamed, a fear of too much intimacy and quick to feeling overwhelmed. This tip can really help both of you show up with your best self and have a great conversation!
“I’m in it for the long haul.”
And I bet there is one of you who needs to be reassured, does not like a lot of time apart, and feels like a burden. One antidote when things are not going well is to tell your partner that you are in this for the long haul. This is a wonderful way of getting him or her to calm. Deep inside and lurking behind the surface is a fear of being left behind. Say, “you couldn’t get rid of me even if you wanted to” when things are heated. It might lighten the mood and more importantly help your partner’s nervous system settle.
Repair after rupture
A hallmark of good functioning relationships. We are all a lot more impatient and terse with our partners these days. There are going to be times when you say insensitive things. Well, here are two ways to get you back to connection and solid footing. First, offer an apology in the moment or later when you feel you said or did something regrettable. Make it heartfelt: “I’m so sorry for what I said. I can see that you are sad and upset.” Second, if you are the injured party, say something like “wow” or “ouch” to notify your partner of the pain. It is your partner’s job to put down what he is doing and tend to you. I don’t care if what was said was intentionally hurtful or not. This is about returning to connection and emotional safety and safeguarding against resentment and unaddressed hurt feelings.