Protecting your relationship in the shadow of Covid-19
From a blog by Professor Scott Stanley
Dr Scott Stanley is a research professor at the University of Denver who conducts studies on marriage and romantic relationships. He advises how to protect your relationship during this pandemic.
Covid-19 raises new challenges for our most cherished relationships. There are three keys that my colleagues and I have stressed in our work to help couples. They are simple to remember and potent. They may help you, now.
Do your part.
Decide, don’t slide.
Make it safe to connect.
My focus here is on a relationship health campaign, the relationship you have with your spouse, mate, or partner. These ideas will also apply to any relationship that matters dearly to you.
Do your part
Covid-19 has introduced massive uncertainties and stress into our lives. So many things feel out of control because they are. As ever, we do best when we focus on what we can do in our relationship over what we think our partner should do. You can influence your partner but you can only control yourself (if you are in a healthy relationship). To be sure, there are times when one partner needs to confront, challenge, or nudge the other about their behaviour. That can also be doing your part, but, in day-to-day moments, we do best to focus on what we can do to make a difference.
Decide, don’t slide
Covid-19 presents a massive transitional moment. At home, routines are disrupted, and roles that had worked great for years may not work well now. With disruption, it’s time (and opportunity) for discussions and decisions. You do not need to talk about everything or even most things, but it is worth talking about the things where not sharing can lead to consequential sliding. You don’t want to lose options without making a choice.
Here are a few ideas.
Who does this or that in this present time?
How does working remotely affect you as a couple?
If one of you is still working outside the home, how does that affect you both or the family? Is there added risk and concern? How can you work together coping with that?
What does positive time together look like, now?
Money, income, debt—what will it have been better to make decisions about?
If you think about it a bit, you will know what should be on your list. Realize that decisions can be re-decided as things change. That’s a strength, not a weakness. And, slides can be converted to decisions you both share.
“Decide, don’t slide” also pertains to moments where you could either let something hurtful happen, decide to let something go, or even do something to show you care.
Many are on edge and worried. Fuses are short. One says X, the other hears Y, and off you go into an argument or, almost worse, a missed opportunity to connect. In these moments, sliding is the easy but costly path.
One person can use a 'time out' to stop a slide to the bad side: “I’m not at my best right now but I know we should talk about this. Can we a little break and come back to this in a bit?” That can work, especially if the “come back” part happens. It works all the better if both partners have decided to use the strategy and use an agreed-upon signal for when taking a time out is the smart play. One member of the team should not keep dribbling on when the other is trying to get a time out called.
Don’t try to “decide” about everything, but look for the moments and at the issues where deciding beats sliding.
Make it safe to connect
Types of safety can describe the foundations of good relationships. Physical safety is freedom from fear, physical harm is control. Emotional safety is being able to talk and share, to feel accepted; it’s having and giving support and acknowledgement. It gets at what most people want deeply in their closest relationship. It’s also easily damaged.
Change, worry, and exhaustion create the perfect conditions for nasty comments, criticism, cold distance, or avoidance—all things that damage emotional safety. Escalation, where little arguments grow to big conflicts, is a hallmark of a couple not being able to maintain emotional safety.
You make it safe to connect by doing your part to make it so you both feel heard, loved, accepted, and secure. That means communicating well, reigning in the harsh words, listening, and showing care. Here are just a few more ideas:
Do you struggle to communicate well under normal circumstances? Learn to do that better.
Cut your partner and your children some slack. React less. Listen more. More margin, less edge.
Get good at some form of time out.
Hug more (observing proper social distancing, where appropriate)
Consider this pandemic the moment in your life where you have the opportunity to raise your game as a couple and a family. Three keys. You might need only one to get through the gate.
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