Remember the early days of your relationship when you could not get enough of each other?
Well, now a lot of us are realising that too much is definitely enough as we are forced into spending 24/7 together.
In China, there has been an unprecedented spike in divorces where couples forced into isolation realised that they were not the perfect match after all. So how can we make sure that when lockdown is lifted our relationships have lived to tell the tale?
Dr Elena Touroni, Consultant Psychologist and co-founder of My Online Therapy explains how we can best navigate our relationships during this period of enforced time together.
“Lockdown has created a pressure cooker of emotions so dealing with stress in a relationship is perfectly normal. With health and financial security playing on our minds, home-schooling stress, concerns about the welfare of our family and friends and frustration at being stuck in the house, it is fair to say most of our tolerance levels are pretty low.
“We are hardwired to need social stimulation from more than one person. It is rare that one person can meet our every need. Couples thrive when there is a healthy balance between time together and apart.
Lockdown has created a situation where lots of our usual coping mechanisms are not available. The cathartic chat with a friend when your partner has wound you up, big decisions at work which put your earlier frustration about towels left on the floor into focus; without these normal social and environmental levellers it’s easy to lose perspective.”
So, in a situation we can’t control, how can we navigate relationship problems so we come out of this with our relationships intact? Dr Touroni shares her advice:
Avoid the four horsemen of the apocalypse
Arguing is not a bad thing as it means frustrations are being shared. John Gottman the American psychologist identified four flags that can cause relationship problems when conflict strikes. Know them and avoid them to maintain balance and fulfilment at home.
1. Criticism – strike the balance between sharing everything that’s annoyed you and bottling it all so as not to cause conflict. Share feelings but avoid inflexible ‘always’ and ‘never’ statements tagged with the word ‘you’ e.g. ‘you always ignore me’ or ‘you never listen’.
2. Contempt – defined as an insult like sarcasm or ignoring each other. Engage in mindful listening and show each other respect when sharing feelings.
3. Defensiveness – mostly deployed as a response to criticism, this is often used as a self-preservation strategy when feeling attacked. Stop and think if you feel the urge to defend and question why.
4. Stonewalling – withdrawing from a conversation even when physically present. This will only exacerbate the situation, take time to calm down and then communicate.
Feed your need for social contact virtually
Is it right to assume you’d never heard of Zoom or Houseparty three weeks ago? These tools are your virtual café or cocktail bar.
There is no need to forego the social connections with others that help keep you balanced and happy. Simply swap the physical and get digital by diarising virtual hangouts in the same way you would a trip to the pub.
Make time for yourself
Just because you’re under the same roof all the time doesn’t mean you can’t get space. Define periods in the week when you can carve out time to decompress and communicate these to your partner.
Whether it’s taking a bath, your allotted exercise time or just reading in a different room, this time can be vital to keep things emotionally healthy. Support your partner in finding time for themselves too.
Create new routines
All of our lives have changed beyond recognition in a matter of weeks. Creating new routines grounds us and provides a sense of stability in uncertain times. Routines for day to day life may seem dull but can help to alleviate frustrations around household responsibilities as well as carving out time to connect.
Although a bit of a cliché, date nights can help to keep you emotionally engaged and provide something to look forward too. Plan them in, ditch the loungewear and enjoy a special meal, film or even a board game.
Work as a team
The world is a scary place right now. We are facing the biggest threat ever to our generation and it’s ok to feel worried and anxious about that.
Anxiety automatically triggers emotional responses that can transfer to our partner and trigger defensive behaviour which can lead to conflict.
Be present for one another and provide support without the distractions of tech, tv or children.
These relationship tips will help in dealing with short-terms stress in a relationship, but if your relationship is struggling and you can’t pull it back, you can speak to someone for additional support.
Online therapy can provide you with the guidance and advice you need to manage how you’re feeling, all from the comfort of your own home.