First of all, I highly recommend you all to read Nick Lange’s, LLPC, LLMFT blog post regarding strengthening your relationship during this COVID-19 health crisis. We should be focusing on our relationship more than just now, but during this time, it is a great opportunity to do that! Check out the link on our website at wefixbrains.com/grandrapids.
Secondly, chances are that things are going to be bumpy between you and your partner while you’re forced to spend time together. And by time, I mean all day long 24/7 and then add at least three more weeks to that (at this point, but it may be longer!), and if you’re like me and my husband, you’re both trying to balance childcare (including teaching), pet care, household chores, all while still working full time. Oh, and we’re trying to be husband and wife to each other, too (Ain’t it interesting that we often put our intimate relationship roles last?!)
It is completely normal for conflict to increase between you and your partner during this health crisis. It’s a big change away from your normal. You can’t go out to eat. You can’t go to the movies. You can’t really go shopping together. You can’t spend time with your extended family, neighbors, and friends, or even your co-workers. You really only have each other during this time. But know that you are not alone. Many couples are experiencing the same things you and your partner are.
Feel that your tolerance has been much shorter lately with your partner? This is also normal and due to the increased feelings of anxiety that you’re experiencing. Let me help you understand a little what goes on in your brain when your anxiety increases…
When we experience anxiety (or it increases), the backside of our brain can take over most of the brain’s functioning, as this is the alert center of our brain. When we are stressed, this part of the brain takes over to engage us in survival mode. This is our natural way to survive that our brain does very well and has done so for thousands of years (which is why humans are still here). But our brain does it so well sometimes that it does it when it doesn’t always need to, like during a disagreement with your partner that turns into a screaming match OR someone storming out of the room OR conflict that does both.
During this time, our prefrontal cortex (the front area of the brain) detaches in a way and limits its functioning. The prefrontal cortex is the logical, problem solving skilled area of the brain. Our back brain triggers us that “danger” is near and often goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode.
Remember your fuse being shorter? Your brain (back brain) is being more reactive due to the higher anxiety. Now apply that to your current relationship with your partner. What does it look like?… You’re probably snippy much more at your partner. Maybe you’re feeling more annoyed, or even trapped. Maybe things are turning more into screaming matches like previously mentioned or maybe one of you is quick to leave an argument.
Here are some things that can be helpful to focus on if things are too much between you and your partner right now… because it doesn’t look like we are able to break free of this shelter in place order any time soon.
This is something that I highly encourage my clients to practice. You can’t create change within yourself if you don’t know what to change. Taking it a step further, if you’re not aware of what you’re feeling and not communicating that with your partner, chances are that your behavior is much more reactive (it’s okay, we have all been there!). No one has really been in this situation before, including your partner. Try to be mindful of this! Try to be aware of the language you use with your partner. Using those “always” and “never” statements can be a trigger for others when you’re trying to communicate to others. Try to be mindful of what you’re able to tolerate yourself as well as being mindful of what your partner can tolerate during this crisis.
How often do you truly listen to your partner when they are sharing with you? How about during conflict? I’m sure some of you are thinking, “Yeah I listen to them!” But there is a huge difference between hearing what they said and listening to them. Let me ask you a different question that will provide some clarification. How many times do you listen to your partner WITHOUT thinking about how you’re going to respond or what you will say next? Listening to your partner means being fully present with your partner while he or she is sharing without thinking about how you will respond or what you will say. Don’t think about what you’re going to say to them, or how you will defend yourself, or how you’re going to blame them for something else. If you’re doing any of these things, you’re NOT listening to your partner. If you think anything during these moments, it should be “I am full here for my partner right now,” “I want to understand you,” and “I am listening and I will validate your feelings.” After telling yourself this and listening to your partner, you should then ASK if there is anything they need from you. I can’t tell you how many times we try to solve problems for others and give advice when all someone may need is for you to listen to them… Just ask my husband!
You can still reach out for assistance during this time! Just because you’re cooped up, doesn’t mean that you can’t learn the extra skills and connect with a therapist to guide you. Our office is still accepting new clients with immediate availability. Most therapists are able to offer telehealth sessions so you can connect with a professional within your own home, which is the safest way for all of us right now! Give us a call or check us out online at wefixbrains.com
It is difficult to be quarantined with someone else. Please know that if you are in an abusive relationship, there are still many resources to connect you to safe places, even during this time. You are not alone. You can reach out to the National Domestic Violence Helpline at 1-800-799-7233. Also, please be aware that computer usage can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet usage might be monitored and need assistance, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at the number listed above.
About the author:
Rosann Raftery is a Limited Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LLMFT) and LLLPC living in Grand Rapids, MI. She specializes in working with couples and families to assist them in building their communication skills, healing, and strengthening their relationships. She is available for Marriage Counseling, Family Counseling, Pre-Marital Counseling, Divorce Recovery, and more. For more on Rosanne, read her full bio.