How to hold it together with your loved ones in tough times
The other day, my husband and I had a “discussion.” Not a big one, just one that we often have – one marriage researcher, John Gottman, would call it one of our “perpetual” differences.
We ended by saying we loved each other but we also drove each other crazy.
Then my husband quipped, “Well, at least we’re driving somewhere!”
For us, with our voluntary quarantine being necessitated by serious illness in our home, driving somewhere is progress!
Even if you feel free to move about during these tough times, there still is enough stress out there to cause friction in the best of families and couples.
So how to cope? How to keep the spark alive when things are … shall we say, difficult? I am writing this in hopes that your relationships will be ones that will make it through 2020 not just intact but improved.
Here are my marriage therapist best practice tips to keep romance alive and partnerships vibrant and loving during tough times:
Remember dating and how fun that was? Well, guess what? Even old married couples do it regularly to keep their relationships fun and fresh. There are literally thousands of ideas online if you need prompts. And, even if you are mostly homebound, like us, there are certainly ways of having a special time. Part of the trick here is to dedicate a special time to your partner – no electronics, just the two of you. Even if you’re home you can have a special meal and watch a movie or play a game or two. Be creative and know relationships thrive with time and attention.
Likewise, make sure you are connecting to others even if it’s difficult. Even as a couple, even if you are not comfortable going out and connecting, there are great options. You can meet another couple across from your firepit, for example and chat. Or at separate picnic tables at a park. Or at an outdoor restaurant. Or you can have a virtual game night with others. There are as many options to connect as there are people to connect to, and it’s good for couples to have deep, meaningful friendships with other couples.
Watch your disagreements. Be aware that in today’s high-tension times, everyone’s patience may be shortened. Be as graceful with your partner as you can. They probably feel as stressed and anxious as you yourself feel. Talk about it. If talking gets too hot, call a time out and come back to the discussion later. Remember, your partner is NOT the enemy. The old adage is true: Try not to let the sun go down on anger. Try to at least cry truce before bedtime.
A reasonable exercise for solving an easily solved problem is to look at it as a fried egg. The yolk represents those things you do not feel you can compromise on, and you want it to be as small as possible. The white is all the things pertaining to the argument that you would be willing to compromise on. If you actually write this out, you may find there are many things to compromise on and you are not as far apart as you feared. This is also John Gottman’s problem solving approach.
If the stress and anxiety of missing normal activities – such as travel – are upsetting to you, consider sitting down with your spouse and dreaming a bit. Where would you like to go? If you don’t have a bucket list, develop one. If you do, prioritize it. My husband and I are accustomed to traveling several times a year and have already cancelled several vacations we had planned. Although that’s sad, what’s kept us more positive about it is to think about what might be possible in the future. Forward looking is more helpful than present distress.
Consider going over old pictures, putting together a scrapbook of a memorable moment or reading old journals to reconnect in new and fresh ways. Many of us take lots of pictures but look at them once or twice. This can be a great bonding activity that helps you remember good times and anticipate good times ahead.
Get outside together, not just separately. Take a walk, ride a bike, sit on a deck, swim in a pool. Do something that is active and lets you talk freely without thinking about it.
Keep the lines of communication open. Remember, you can be each other’s chief advocate, primary therapist and most important support. Be honest with each other. Talk about your stress and anxiety or your feelings of overwhelm. You may find your partner feels the same, or has some good coping ideas you can adopt.
Get help if you can’t make it work. Online couples therapists like the ones at Sanctuary Christian Counseling are there to help. Couples therapy is actually pretty amazing online, and, with our secure and confidential online platform, you can even receive couple or family therapy from separate locations. We are also doing some limited face-to-face therapy.
In any case, don’t suffer alone. We can help you restore the relationship, connection and success you once had, or develop new strengths and opportunities for growth. Give us a call or email.
Sanctuary Christian Counseling
9974 Molly Pitcher Highway, Suite 4
Shippensburg, PA 17157