There is no doubt that the social isolation, loss and uncertainty of the Pandemic has taken its toll on relationships. Here are some ways to help keep your relationship strong and safe during this time:
- CREATE a “Culture of Appreciation.” We have a negativity bias in our brains which makes us more inclined to hold onto and remember the challenges, disappointments and hurtful words or actions of another. Relationship expert, Dr. John Gottman explains that we can offset this by looking for and expressing gratitude for the things our partners are doing right as well as qualities we admire. This helps protect our relationships during difficult times and makes it easier to make repairs. Instead of bringing up problems in a blaming way which often pushes our partners further away and often leads to further frustration, through expressing appreciation we can help motivate them to do more. Helping clients who are frustrated with their partners’ lack of support or contributions around the house to move away from focusing on the problem to looking for and reflecting back the good usually helps shift the dynamic and leads to increased closeness and cooperation. As an added bonus, research shows giving appreciation feels good to both the giver and the receiver. Try creating a culture of appreciation in all of your relationships, including the one with yourself and notice life become more joyful and problems easier to manage and solve.
- RECOGNIZE your own limits. Remember you can care without carrying the responsibility for everyone. Set boundaries before you build resentment or pull away. Ask for what you need. Each of these is easier said than done. There are internalized beliefs and adaptive strategies we develop often in childhood resulting from how we are treated or what was modeled for us. You may need help to heal old wounds and become consciously aware of attachment patterns and protective parts. Learning to set and hold boundaries is a common goal for many psycotherapy clients, especially women due to societal messaging about women being caretakers.
- TURN towards one another. It Is easy in times of uncertainty and competing demands to go into survival mode and automatic pilot. It is important to make time for one another to stay connected emotionally as well as physically. Put the distractions away and get creative to come up with ideas for quality alone time. When’s the last time you made each other a priority? How often do you eat a meal just the two of you or really talk to one another about your hopes and dreams or fears and worries? Turning towards one another requires both planning and being present to the moment to moment bids for connection. Do you think your partner knows you are there for her? Does he feel seen and valued by you? Practicing mindfulness can help us be more present in our relationships.
- ROOT into your present safety often. This Pandemic is traumatic for all of us. The lack of control, signs of dangers and added isolation can trigger old trauma reactions. By doing body scans and grounding and discerning between past and present, you can help prevent emotional hijacks or fight, flight, freeze, submit or defend reactions that can escalate conflict or lead to distance in the relationship or staying in an unhealthy or unsafe relationships. Our “Mindful Mondays” Video Series on our FB page guides you through mind/body exercises. If you use these exercises and are not feeling safe because of verbal or physical abuse or controlling behavior by your partner, please reach out for help. We cannot change or rescue another person. We cannot please them into treating us with love and respect. We can help you look at your options and choices and guide you to additional resources in the community to help you with safety planning and crisis management.
- CHECK your self-talk. Core beliefs and thinking traps can distort our perception of reality. In times of stress, we can recreate old attachment patterns, even if they are unhealthy. What is the story you are telling yourself? Does it match your actual lived experience? Be careful not to project your feelings and assumptions onto your partner. “When in doubt, check it out.” Negative self-talk can also impact how worthy you feel of your partner’s affirmation and affection. Self-compassion practices help us remember and reclaim our self-worth as our birthright and be more open receiving love and validation from others. Toxic shame from childhood trauma may require a trained professional to help you better understand and slowly transform.
- REMEMBER in a healthy relationship, you are on the same team working together to solve problems and meet mutual needs. You won’t always agree but you can seek to understand and create compromises. A helpful phrase for times like this is: “It’s not you, it’s the situation.”
We’re all in the same storm, just not in the same boat. We provide virtual couples counselling to help you get your relationship back on track.
For more relationships tips, check out our 3 part blog series: “The Gift of Zero Negativity”
Nicole, Registered Psychotherapist, FCC