For most of us, life feels extra challenging right now.
One of the ways we might be experiencing this heightened struggle is in our relationship with our domestic partner. This makes sense given the increased time spent around each other in close proximity.
Little irritations and pet peeves have a way of becoming (or highlighting) the bigger issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, or possibly are easier to let go in different circumstances.
Thus, you might find yourself in a perfect storm situation.
The more urgent and necessary getting along with your partner becomes, the more anxiety you might feel to “fix” it.
While each couple’s situation is unique to them, there are some simple ways to improve relationship satisfaction and ease tensions during this time.
ONE: Communication is more than key; it’s your lifeline.
While some of you might find this sounding dramatic, and to others it might be stating the obvious, I believe that we can all agree to some extent.
I wouldn’t doubt you’ve texted, made calls and Face-timed more than usual with those who are at a physical distance from you, so why is it that we neglect to communicate, or communicate directly with the person closest to us?
It’s probably because of fear. Fear of disagreement or starting an argument, fear of getting hurt, fear of vulnerability. Yet, by giving into the fear it continues to grow and we find ourselves further disconnected from our partners and hurt by the separation of intimacy that results. How do we effectively communicate? “I statements” and the “Dear Man” skill from DBT’s interpersonal effectiveness might help.
TWO: Respect each other’s differing needs…without judgment.
If your partner’s self care is watching old sports highlights because he can’t go to any live games, and yours is a Zoom wine date with your girlfriends, so-be-it. Neither of you are wrong.
THREE: Keep in mind you’re both doing the best you can at all times.
This might mean you need to work on increasing your frustration tolerance for the times when you know your partner is just “having a day.”
It might mean your partner needs more understanding from you one day, while you need it from him/her another day.
Perhaps coming up with a mutual agreement for practicing flexibility might be helpful. If you’re having a really challenging day and need some space and the night off from cooking dinner (when it otherwise might have been your turn for meal prep and childcare), have a system in place for what that means for your partner logistically.
FOUR: Create new opportunities for connection & intimacy.
The challenges associated with being pushed into new situations and circumstances are what create opportunities for change and growth.
Maybe there are games you and your partner can play to learn more about each other and connect on a deeper level you wouldn’t have chosen pre-quarantine.
What are the things that you’ve discussed doing together for so long “if only you had a weekend at home together?” Get creative and be curious.
FIVE: Humor helps.
Placing a slight smile on your face (especially when your urge is to yell at your partner) and finding the joy in a situation is the quickest way to improve the mood between you and your partner.
Maybe you’ve been practicing yoga for some time and trying to convince your partner to join you in the past was impossible. Show off your yoga moves now and be open to the laughter when your partner falls over attempting to do a handstand.
It’s also important to reflect on why you’re together right now (love, companionship, family) and highlight the strengths in your relationship regularly.
While we’re all “in this this together” globally, we’re in it “together” in our individual bonds and need that connection and support more than ever when we’re in the eye of the storm.
If you are needing more support to grow through these challenging moments, contact us. We’d love to offer you support.
**Written by Nikki Eby, M.A., MFT, ATR-BC, staff therapist at One Heart Counseling Center.