Surviving time together
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori,
My husband and I truly do love and respect each other, but I worry about being isolated together for weeks on end. We’re both very independent and invested in our careers, but as of now our work is fairly limited and we have an abundance of time on our hands together. The first week went well, treating it as a mini vacation to relax together, but already I can tell we’re starting to grate on one another. Can you give us some tips for how our relationship can stay strong through this?
Qualms in Quarantine
Lori and Jeff: It’s important to recognize that we’re all likely to feel more vulnerable right now—physically, emotionally and financially. In times of uncertainty and upheaval it’s natural to feel frustration, fear, irritation and helplessness. Having these feelings isn’t an issue, unless we aren’t dealing with them. We need to talk to our partners about what’s going on inside of us. By bringing emotions to the surface, we give ourselves the power to process them and minimize the chance of taking our negative vibes out on one another.
Jeff: One feeling that is particularly helpful to look at is anxiety. When we feel anxious and have a good idea as to why we feel that way (upcoming deadlines, stressful situations, impending challenges), we get nervous. Manageable anxiety and the resulting nervousness can actually be helpful in getting us ready for action—to study for an exam or practice for a public speaking gig. When we get anxious, but have no real certainty or understanding about what’s causing the anxiety or how to control or fix the situation (as with this virus), we feel afraid. Fear arises from the anxiety of the unknown and can be paralyzing. In these kinds of situations, try to focus on what you can control—your daily routines, your internal narrative, how you show up as a partner. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed by what’s happening in the world but know that you’re not alone in feeling that way.
This is the time to focus more on the fundamental aspects of your relationship. Strengthening and reinforcing the foundation will help you both come out of this challenging time stronger and better equipped to handle the uncertainties brought on by times like these. Try to focus less on stability—coming out the other side the same as when you went in. Instead, emphasize resilience, where weathering the storm has made you stronger and more able to adapt to the next challenge that comes, regardless of its size, scope and impact.
Lori: What’s at the source of the grating? When we’re irritated by our partners it’s usually because of one of two dynamics: 1) they are mirroring something back to us that we don’t love about ourselves, or 2) we have a story about them impacting us negatively in some way. In either case, the solution is to look within, and figure out your own stuff. Start by identifying specifically what it is about your partner’s attitude, choices or behaviors that are irritating you. Maybe they’re mopey or complaining while you’re trying to stay positive. If that bothers you then you need to acknowledge that your optimism is fragile, and get in touch with your real feelings. Or perhaps you have a story that they’re getting their needs met and in some way you aren’t. If that’s the case, your work is in advocating for what you want, setting boundaries, and also recognizing the compromises they’re making as well. Independent, successful partners can have a difficult time receiving help, and in circumstances like the present, can find themselves drained and not having the energy or patience for others’ needs. The solution isn’t pushing each other away, but in finding the courage to ask for more mutual love, care and support.
Lori and Jeff: Most couples don’t have practice in spending this much time together without the distractions of the outside world. You’re probably going to feel more and see more deeply into yourselves and each other. While this might be unfamiliar or uncomfortable, it can also be a silver lining in this global storm; an opportunity for more intimacy. The key to really harnessing this gift is being proactive in creating balance—balance between time alone and time together, feeling and doing, and maintaining and growing.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.