With the invisible threat of the coronavirus amongst us, most of us are in some form of lockdown or isolation. On the one hand we have those who live alone, and with social distancing measures in place, missing their loved ones, feeling lonely, and experiencing ‘skin hunger’, where they are longing for that hug of a loved one. And then we have those who might say they feel trapped in their homes with their loved ones.
The way we did life is no longer the way we do life. Some lost their job, many are having to do their job in a new way, and others have front line responsibilities. We are juggling the many roles we have in the same space, at the same time. With these many changes, uncertainties, and perceived lack of control, it is no wonder most describe going through an emotional rollercoaster, with sensations such as grief, anxiety, fear, despair, hopelessness, anger, and frustration.
Steering relationships can be challenging in the best of times, let alone now that we are together 24/7, and there is in essence a magnifying glass on our own reality. We are confronted with what is good and bad without escaping it, which can also accelerate any situation.
Please find below a guideline as to how to come together and become the best possible team, to face COVID-19!
1. SURVIVING BEFORE THRIVING
Imagine that you and your loved one(s) are on a boat in the middle of the ocean, and a huge storm is about to hit. COVID-19 represents this huge storm. For some it rocked their boat harder than others. By being in this boat together, you need to tackle this storm first and foremost, to keep your boat afloat. Start by making a commitment to your partner, becoming the best possible team to ride out this storm, to protect your boat (and the loved ones in it). When a storm hits, you don’t focus on making your relationship stronger or creating more pleasantries in your boat at that stage. It is about surviving before thriving.
WHAT YOU NEED NOT WANT
First of all, we need to ensure that our primary needs are met. We need to stay safe and protected, have food on the table, a roof over our heads, and ensure we stay in good emotional and physical health. It is about focussing on what we need, not want.
MAKE DECISIONS FOR THE GREATER GOOD
In order to be a strong team and build trust, the decisions you make are for the greater good. It is the best possible outcome for all. Not just for one individual but for all members in the boat.
WORK WITH WHAT YOU DO HAVE
Focus on what you do have, not on what you do not have. When you are in the middle of a storm, you work together with the tools, the boat, the masts, the strengths you have right there in front of you. You don’t go, “We can’t do anything without a better steering wheel”. You don’t wait until you get to land and be able to get one. Same here, instead of focussing on what you have lost, try to work with what you do have.
TIP: CHANGE YOUR LANGUAGE
It can be useful to change your language. Many are focussed on what we have lost, which can feel paralysing
Instead of saying: Without this…, I/we can’t do…
Try to say: With this…, I/we can do…
2. FLOWING BEFORE GLOWING
Getting a healthy flow/routine happening as soon as possible can really make a difference. As a couple right now, it is not about making sure you glow, it is about making sure you flow.
On any given day, we all have many hats to wear. For example, as a mum of 4, when I am with my children, I put my parent’s hat on, when with my husband, I put my partner’s hat on, when at work, I have my work hat on. And if there is a chance it all, I might put my intimacy hat. These roles are acted out at different times and at different places.
The problem now with the restrictions, is that most of us need to put these hats on at the same time and all in the same space. And if we do have kids, we now also have the additional hat of home-school teacher to wear!
REDEFINE YOUR 4 W’s: WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN
It is important to get into a new kind of normal, a routine/flow that benefits all. Redefine your 4 W’s quickly; Who, What, Where, When. This means discussing and defining; Who does, what, where, and when?
HAVE REGULAR CHECK-INS
This new schedule is not set in stone. Have regular check-ins to make sure the new flow is working for everyone in the household. You could have a check in Friday evening to discuss if it is working for everyone, and how to go about it the following week.
Remember the seesaw principle. It can be nice to sometimes just do your partner’s role for them just because you love them. It all needs to get done, if you have a spare minute why not do it.
3. CURIOUS NOT FURIOUS
In difficult times it is super important to be able to handle problems and arguments in a constructive way. However, when we get upset, we cannot think clearly, and it can cause couples to go into a downward spiral. We tend to just defend our own point of view, and not listen to theirs.
It is useful to know that we have an emotional (old) brain and a rational (new) brain. The old brain, emotional brain, is with us for longer. We have it when we are born, and it protects us against danger throughout our life. It gets triggered when we feel ‘unsafe’, and then we respond with the fight/flight/freeze response.
Then we have our rational brain, which is our thinking brain. It isn’t fully developed until we are about 25 or so. You can only use one brain at a time.
When we are in a stressful situation or difficult conversation, our old brain can get triggered. And even though we are not in imminent danger, we still respond with the flight/fright/freeze response. This is referred to as flooding. When one partner floods, it often also triggers the other person to flood. This means you then have two 2-year-olds fighting, solely relying on their emotional brains, just like toddlers do. Both not using their thinking brain, which is not effective when we want to get to a solution.
You are both now just defending your own point of view and this can lead to arguments and it will just go into a downward spiral. So how can we make sure we prevent flooding? Or stop flooding from when it is happening.
Your partner is struggling, they are in pain. Often, this has nothing to do with you, you are just there, in their path. You are the one who is receiving the flooding response. You can depersonalise it and e.g. see your partner like a bee that stings you. The bee didn’t set out to sting you, but you were there in its way.
COMPASSIONATELY & CURIOUSLY LISTEN
Really listen to your partner with compassion and love. Be curious about why they see things differently. Try to see where your partner is coming from. Why are they seeing it that way? Don’t get angry that they don’t agree but be curious as to why. Stop the right fighting, when one wins, you both lose. You are not more right than your partner, it is just different. Their perception is their reality, and your perception is yours. Be curious to what their reality is.
FROM PROBLEM TO SOLUTION
Many mention the problem, for your partner to then figure out the solution. Now try to leave out the problem all together and simply ask for the solution. Your partner can’t smell or mindread what you want or need. Just ask for what you do want, without mentioning what you don’t want. If your partner mentions their problem, try to look behind the problem and see what it is they are longing for.
If you feel like you or your partner are flooding, call a TIME OUT and start again half an hour later or so, don’t leave them hanging. It takes at least 20 minutes for the emotional brain to settle down and for you to be able to switch to your thinking brain.
4. REFLECT NOT CORRECT
This is not a time to point out mistakes. This is a time to appreciate and to be grateful for what we do have.
There is a huge magnifying glass on everyone’s relationship, everyone’s realities are highlighted because you are in the same space 24/7. This can accelerate the good and the bad. It really is a time for appreciation and gratitude instead of criticism. Reflect on what is and was good. Don’t correct but reflect.
SWITCH THE TAPE
You might catch yourself noticing all that is wrong in your partner, or all the wrong they do in any given day or have done in the past. Let’s start with SWITCHING THE TAPE, from bad to good. Instead of scanning your environment for all the bad things he/she has done, lets’ scan for the good. Notice what you do have, what your partner does do well and…
Express gratitude, not just for what they do, but especially for WHO they are.
TUNING YOUR HOME FREQUENCY
What does a happy household look like? It is not just about communicating in the right way, keeping the peace, doing things constructively together. Tuning the mood into the right frequency can be so important. Injecting it with joy, laughter, and lightness, instead of heaviness or darkness.
It can be useful to look at how you can influence the mood in the home or the relationship. What can you do to tune your couple’s mood into a frequency that is happier, lighter, softer, more loving and caring? Think about what you bring to the table. Where are you being difficult, what can you do better, where can you be nicer. We can behave in the right way, talk in the right way, but still not signal in the right way. For example, when you wake up in the morning, kiss everyone good morning with a smile, turn some music on, and ask them how they slept, this is tuning the frequency in the right direction.
5. CONNECT NOT REJECT
In order to withstand the stresses these times bring, the fear, despair, hopelessness, we need our connections. It is through connections to our loved ones that we can withstand this. War survivors also talk about this, that it is through the connections with their loved ones they found reason to stay alive and keep going. We need to move towards each other, not away from one and other.
With being home together, it can be seen as an opportunity for more time to connect as well. Why not take advantage of that.
Let’s not forget the importance of intimacy. It can play a big role in order to feel connected. That your relationship is more than a partnership, more than a solid friendship. It can help you feel desired, loved, happy, connected and strong.
MINIMIZE CONNECTION BLOCKERS
Although we may have more time to connect, we might still avoid this by the many day to day connection blockers. Blockers are things we do that ensure we avoid truly connecting with our partner. Often, we aren’t even aware of them. There are many things we can still do in the house to block out our partner, like focussing on the cleaning, the dishes, watching Netflix, or being on our devices.
ACTS OF KINDNESS
It can be very useful to ask yourself every morning; ‘What lovely thing can I do for my partner today?’ and then to do it. Think of the acts of love you can give your partner that day. Increase each other’s bank account of love coins. They can act as reserves in stressful times. By giving them flowers, romancing them, giving them compliments, holding them tight.
BUILD A BRIDGE TO INTIMACY
There is a special part of the brain that is responsible for our intimacy. Often in stressful times we don’t turn on that part of the brain. So then instead of a ‘sexy’ mindset, we have a ‘worried’ mindset. And some couples have expressed not feeling like being intimate at all during this time.
It is important to tackle your own well-being first. Make sure you sleep well,eat well, exercise, manage your stresses. When you feel good yourself, it helps with feeling desire(d).
Then it is important to realise that with desire; when we don’t use it, we lose it! Intimacy can bring us closer together and can also serve as a stress release. It might feel daunting when you feel disconnected to go there but think of it as building a bridge. It might mean getting out of your isolation track pants and starting to feel sexy again, by having a lovely shower, putting on something that makes you feel good about yourself, thinking sexual thoughts throughout the day, and starting with small intimate approaches like hugs and kisses.
Another example of building a bridge might be closing the physical gap between you. If you are both on opposite ends of the couch, moving towards kissing each other again can feel very daunting…But when you suggest having a bath together, or a massage, then one thing may lead to another. That could be your bridge to further intimacy.
6. BALANCING NOT CHANGING
Change can cause a lot of anxiety, so when things are already a bit rocky it is not about changing more. It is about keeping consistency where possible.
However, our whole home dynamic has changed. We might feel like our boat is a bit rocky, a bit out of balance. It can make a difference to recognise where the imbalance is and to rectify this.
TOGETHERNESS vs INDIVIDUALITY
Research shows couples need a healthy balance between togetherness and individuality. By being with each other 24/7 this balance may be skewed towards togetherness. Find ‘me-time’ and respect each other’s invisible boundaries. You may need to find ‘me-time’ in the same space, respect that even though there isn’t a physical boundary, it was their time, without interruption.
DOING vs BEING
Without being able to leave the house regularly, you are surrounded by constant reminders of what more can be done. There is always more washing, more work, more dishes, more cooking to be done. With less activities outside the home you might need to press the STOP button yourself and find time to relax without focussing on what needs to be done. Try to just BE not DO
NOVELTY vs ROUTINE
In the home you are reminded of your routine, we most often get the novelty from outside the home. The new exciting adventurous activity, like our holidays, theatre, museums, rock climbing. Research shows that when we do something new and novel it can help us feel more attracted to our partner.
TIP: BUCKET LIST
Each write down 5 things you can do together in your home that are new and novel. This can spice things up, make you feel more attracted to one and other. For example: having a picnic in your garden, paint a painting together, getting all dressed up for a night in together, trivia night with friends on zoom. Each week pick at least one out of the hat and make it happen.
KEEP LOVING, yourself and others!