Relationship “Hygiene” in the Time of Corona Virus
Now is the time to check in with how you behave in your intimate relationship. We are all going to spend lots of super close “together” time in the coming weeks and (hopefully) not months. Do you want to work together as a team or be in a together in a miserable, disconnected space?
Everyone of us is anxious and worried about what is going on. Now more than ever we need to be emotionally available to one another, and soothe each other in the face of this unprecedented scary moment. Especially in our intimate partnerships, we need to soothe and support one another.
By relationship “hygiene” I mean how do you communicate? Does one of you yell, make lots of noise, blame or criticize? Does the other shut down, go silent and withdraw? It is time to discover what your communication style is around your emotions in your relationship and intentionally shift. By “cleaning” up your commuincation, you will grow your connection, creating a deeper love and trust between you.
At the end of this, as a friend joked the other day; there are going to be lots of babies in 10 months and or lots of divorces.
Let’s talk about what you can do to create a calm, caring and safe space for you and your partner. This is a fantastic opportunity to find a way back to connection, compassion and love. You will have ample time to do this.
First some basic rules of engagement. Don’t call one another names. Try very hard not to use “global words” such as always and never. (Most things rarely happen always or never). Figure out your negative cycle. (I will say more about this in a bit).
If you are angry or frustrated and want to explode, express what is bothering you. You might be full of anxiety and your way of expressing it is with anger. Do your best not to criticise or blame your partner, and don’t call them names. Use “I” statements and core words.
Core words are about your emotions. If you are angry, you can say “I am angry that you are on your cell phone”. Even better is “I need your full attention for a few minutes and when you give that to me, I feel calmed and soothed”. Or even, “I feel disconnected and even a little abandoned by you when you spend time on your phone instead of with me”. “I need you and your full attention now and then because your attention calms me down”.
A few days ago I took a walk in the park and ahead of me was a couple and she was berating him for long periods of time! She called him a moron loudly and went on and on about all that he got wrong. He didn’t stop her, fell silent and kept walking. I felt so badly for them both!
Their negative cycle is based on her pursuing him; blaming him and criticizing him. Most likely she is totally anxious and upset and her way of expressing this is by attacking him. He is a withdrawer and shuts up in the face of her onslaught. What she actually needs is love, compassion and connection. Pursuers tend to be deeply fearful of abandonment. Every time he shuts down, she might feel that she is unloveable and that she is being abandoned by him. She is actually looking for him to soothe and calm her. Unfortunately, she doesn’t know how to ask for her needs to be met.
As a result of her attack, he shuts down. He avoids his own feelings as well as hers and says nothing hoping to keep the peace. In the end they both feel lonely and disconnected from one another.
It is easy to say this is her fault. However, they both need to see their own part of their negative feedback loop.
If he could step back and have radical compassion and see that she needs to him (hard for him because he sees anger and feels that he can’t get it right so he shuts up). For her she could use “I” statements about her feeling and then ask for him to show up for her emotionally. Hopefully she, as the pursuer might shift and see that her words land on him as an attack causing him to shutdown.
If you are a pursuer, try not to attack your partner with criticism and blame and or name calling. You will only push them away. Instead, check in with your feelings and express them in a way that your partner can take in, (not an attack) with clarity about your feelings. For example: “I am so anxious and scared, I want to crawl out of my skin I am so worried. If you hug me and hold me I can calm down and feel close to you”.
If you tend to avoid feelings, in yourself and your partner, take this time to connect and express them. Many of us were not taught how to identify and organize our feelings as children. You can always learn! Now is a great time to get started.
When you feel numb or distanced from your partner. Check in with your “numbness”. Is there a sad or disconnected experience in that place? Do you feel alone and unworthy in the numbness? Often buried in the withdrawer is a sense of feeling like a failure or of deep inadequecy. Find compassion for that part of you that is lonely, disconnected and feels not good enough. You may find other feelings start coming up when you take that time. Be ok with your feelings coming up. You have spent a lifetime avoiding them. This time allow them in and give yourself permission to feel.
Once you learn to identify your feelings, start to use your words to express them. When you are in a negative loop with your partner even a statement of “I am overwhelmed and flooded right now, I can’t feel my feelings. I feel like if I say one more word, I will only make you more angry. If feels like I just can’t get it right. What I need is a few minutes to gather my thoughts. I will be right back. I do not want to abandon you. I just need time to calm down”.
Of all the gifts you could give yourself and your partner during this time inside, and sheltering in place, is checking in with your feelings and expressing them with care and clarity. You really can shift and “clean up” your communication!