Getting through the pandemic as a couple
Natalie and Sam have been braving the pandemic, hunkered down, working from home, in close proximity for the last many months. There is no opportunity for them to miss each other, as there they are, together, all the time. The welcome distractions and escape valves that normally fill their busy lives have been stripped away.
This forced togetherness is causing the fault lines to show up and pushing couples over the edge. Here are some ways to build bridges between partners when, because of the circumstances, connections are fraught.
Create an island for yourself
Build some time, alone for yourself into your day, away from your spouse. Allocate a time and place in your house to recalibrate and refuel in solitude. Discuss what you both might need during your self-imposed time-outs! For Natalie, retreating to her cosy corner near the window in her apartment after a long day of working from home, is what works. She makes a lovely camomile tea, puts on her favourite music and unless there is a real emergency, Sam knows not to disturb her for the 30 minutes she is in her quiet spot.
Getting to know them, again
If you have been married a while, you have created a working template in your mind of who you think your partner is and what they will say or do. You are no longer curious or connected to them and react from a projection of who you think they are. During this time, put that away and Rediscover who your loved one is! For example, be curious and ask, what they meant when they say something? What are her dreams? What’s really hard for him? What do they want for themselves in the next 5 years?
Your partner is showing up for you everyday, in a myriad of ways - leaving the red skittles in the pack for you because you like them, showing you funny video clips to make you smile, listening when you are upset, cooking your favourite meal and the list goes on. Most of us, take these everyday small gestures for granted. Do pause and notice the countless ways your spouse is showing up for you, and express gratitude to them for it. A simple ‘thank you’ or ‘you’re so thoughtful, thank you for the water’, or ‘thank you for hearing me out yesterday, you are so kind’ is always nice to hear.
Turn towards each other, consistently
The human brain is wired for connection and belonging. Everyday our partners turn to us, through small acts, verbal or non-verbal, called ‘bids’ – waiting for us to respond to them. According to Dr. Gottman, “when you reach out to your partner for connection and the bid gets recognized and responded to, there’s a small deposit made in the emotional bank account of your relationship”. According to research, partners in successful relationships turned toward each other’s bids 87 percent of the time, versus, 33 percent of the time for people in unhappy relationships. For example, when Natalie says: ‘The sky is such a beautiful colour today’.
Her partner can respond to her bid in a few different ways, any of which will work -
- Continue reading the paper and murmurs, ‘Yeah!’
- Looks up, and says, ‘It sure is! What beautiful colours!’
- Looks up, puts the newspaper away, walks to the window, and says, ‘Yes, it is. Reminds me of the gorgeous sunset on our beach trip last year.’
Ask for what you want
Natalie is upset that Sam does not help at home and as soon as she sees him get off his work call she angrily says to him: ‘You never help around the house! You’re really lazy, and I’m so tired. I have asked you so many times and you just don’t bother….’ Sam, who is tired from the long day and call, answers defensively, ‘I do help! And you’re one to talk, I keep asking you to put those bills in the proper place and you don’t !’ and the argument continues.
Couples spend most of their time complaining and talking about what they don’t want. Instead, clearly state what you need. The chances, that your needs are met, are way higher, when you are clear and specific. Ask gently and without criticism.
Not this- ‘You never help around the house’
Say this- ‘Could you please wash the dishes after dinner?’
Not this- ‘ You are always watching tv’
Say this- ‘I miss our chats, could we please have a 10 minute chat after dinner and then you can watc tv?’
Not this- ‘ You’re so insensitive and cold!
Say this- ‘I’m really sad right now, could you please give me a hug?’
As you both navigate this unchartered terrain, do remember the words of Simone Signorel, “Chains do not hold a marriage together. It is the threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years.” Let this article be an invitation to start weaving threads of connection together.
The author, Priyanka Bhatia- Mahendru, is Gottman trained and works with couples as they try to navigate their relationship. She helps them build a relationships that works and is supportive of each other.