One of the most frequent comments I hear these days is: “I’ll bet your practice is really busy with all these couples stuck in the house with each other.”
Because my practice focuses on relationships, I do have a front row seat to what is going on for many couples. Since the shut down, one thing has become clear. This pandemic has had a polarizing effect on the couples I am seeing.
Many have said: “This has given us a new perspective—a new sense of what is really important. The things we were so upset about just don’t seem that significant now.”
Others report: “ Everything that was causing problems before has intensified. Being around each other, day after day, is bad…..and getting worse.”
Now, one thing everyone can agree upon is that this situation has swept through our lives like a tidal wave, right? Finances, jobs, concerns and anxieties about our health and the health of those we love, schedules, plans for the future, and particularly our relationships have been powerfully impacted.
Grief and fear overwhelm many people who wonder what will happen next—will I, or my loved ones, survive? And if we do, what will the future look like?
As a couple’s therapist I want to speak to only one aspect of all of this. What can you do to make certain that your relationship today (or any relationships to come) is stronger, more satisfying, and makes you feel more content and secure than you do presently?
So where do you begin to make your relationship stronger?
First, sit down with someone with whom you have an important relationship (whether you consider that relationship to be good or bad). Talk about what each of you would like to see come out of this experience for the two of you. Don’t wait for this to be over before you examine its effect.
Now is the perfect time for you both (partner, spouse, child, parent, friend) to commit to the practice of:
Forgiveness, Patience, Tolerance, Empathy, Open communication, Acts of kindness
And a willingness to abandon:
Judgement, Criticism, Defensiveness, Disrespect, and Blame.
No, of course this isn’t easy. It will require more than a single non-specific commitment to something that ”sounds good”. This initial commitment is just the first step in many, many conversations and great effort — small successes, failed attempts, restarts, and victories.
Secondly, be specific. Name and record at least one thing each of you feels you can do with regard to each of those positive practices listed above.
“ When I get frustrated with ______________I will try to discuss it from a place of patience and kindness.”
“When you are upset about _______________ I am going to listen more and not make suggestions unless you ask for them.”
“Even though I don’t enjoy _______________ I am going to remember that its important to you and try to be less critical of negative”/
Structure and Discipline are essential for positive relationship changes
Unless you are very specific, you will not see much success. Structure and discipline are what’s most important if you want to see change.
For years I said: “I want to get into better shape. I’m going to exercise more and eat healthier”
That sounds like a great plan, doesn’t it? It’s sure to work! Except……do what exercises, when, and how often? Eat more of what, and less of what? Without those specifics, its not a plan — its just wishful thinking.
Don’t most of us know what we need to do in a general way to improve ourselves and our relationships? “I need to be more organized. I should be more patient. I need to stop procrastinating. I need to drink less. I need to listen more. I should spend more time with my partner.”
Until we have an articulated plan that can provide us with specific structured direction and the discipline to act on that direction nothing will change.
This is a difficult time. Everyone knows that its tempting to give in to lethargy, grief, despair, boredom, anxiety…..and in the process let go of self-care, care for those we love, and to abandon the very things we know can provide strength and relief to ourselves and our loved ones.
Make this the time you focus on healing the relationships you have at hand. Make a decision for peace and satisfaction by growing closer. Make your relationships stronger, more satisfying, and more secure by eliminating the things that create distance. Make this entire experience something you remember not as being terrible, trying, and miserable — but instead as the time you grew closer, found new ways to express love to each other, and was the beginning of a stronger and more fulfilling relationship between you and those you love.