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Couples in Lockdown!

There is, literally, no getting away from it – you’ll be spending a great deal of time with your partner right now. And, if you have children, you’ll also be doing a crash course in teacher training too!

Money concerns, lack of physical and emotional space, worries about the future, can test the most placid of loving partnerships. So, along with washing our hands and social distancing in the outside world, we must watch for the hazards within our loving relationships and use this challenging time to strengthen our couple resilience.

Listen to John Gottman on u-tube talking about his research into couple relationships and what makes relationships work. He identifies the Four Horsemen of the relationship Apocalypse. Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling and Contempt, these behaviours forebode the end. And no wonder. Every time we criticise our partner, defend ourselves with a harsh rebuttal, turn away from him or her, every time we make a snide comment, we inflict an emotional hurt. If couples chip away at their partners often enough, they have a house full of chips: a harsh living environment, devoid of empathy and compassion.

So, here’s the challenge – How do we create a relationship that help us thrive as well as survive? The research into successful relationships have many of the following features.

  • Appreciations…. Even when most of you wants to scream in frustration think of something you like or appreciate about your partner and find a time to tell them. Every time s/he does something for you or the family, say “thank you.” It’s so easy to notice the stuff they do that we don’t like but make a habit of noticing what it is you do like. Try and make an internal rule – 5 appreciations to every 1 complaint.
  • Restore and repair. All of us behave in ways that are hurtful, sometimes unknowingly. Find a regular time to talk to your partner about such times, listen without getting defensive and be up for hearing their experience. If you have something you want to complain about deliver it with gentleness and goodwill. Let them know what you found difficult and what you would have preferred them to have done differently. A restore and repair ritual will keep your relationship clear of clutter.
  • Share your internal experience. Therapist Pia Melody described intimacy as the conjunction of truth and love. Let your partner know if you are fearful or vulnerable and let him or her know if you are full of joy. Say what’s worrying you and what you are hoping and wishing for. Say if you are missing spending connected time together or want more playfulness in the relationship. Listen to what is going on in your partner and what they hope and wish for too. Do a daily check in.
  • Do you know what triggers your past distress? For example, if you were not listened to as a child you might get really angry when your partner doesn’t seem to be listening. Get to know each other’s triggers. You may be an adult now but such slights still sting in the present. Tread gently round old bruises.
  • Find time to play and start each day afresh.

Finally, you do not have to do this alone.  If you and your partner are having difficulties, get help. It could be a wise older adult, another couple who have come through challenging times themselves, or a couple’s counsellor. Sometimes it helps to have an outside view and to talk in a supportive neutral space.

Lockdown can be a time of fear and stress but it can also be a time of connection and love. Choose compassion for yourself, your partner and your family and you will come through.