No matter the constellation, these are challenging times for relationships.
People who don’t live together find physical distancing hard, they feel lonely – and uncertainty about the future of the relationship can bring a lot of anxiety.
Process your 7 stages of grief
Almost all of us are are now going through a grieving process about the loss of things in life that we were used to. There are seven stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance. These aren’t linear stages and are different for each person. It is useful to recognize these stages because they help us with framing and identifying what we may be feeling and moving on.
Close the distance gap
Be creative with finding new ways of connecting that aren’t limited to physical contact can help your minds feel closer than ever. Try to think how to move to testing phase. The testing phase helps to dial down expectations and just cherish the things you have together. Satisfying craving for touch has a semi-acceptable substitute in video and audio love making. Describe what you’d like to be doing with your hands, mouth, etc. to your partner and let them touch themselves that way, and take turns. Watch your partner in the shower. Have a nice conversation before going to bed.
Some couples enjoy writing long emails, some like cooking or watching movies together.
Figure out your love languages
It’s a good time to learn about relationships in general. A wonderful way to start your journey might be an exploration of the love languages you speak. It’s always beneficial to learn your partner’s love language and to try to “talk back” in the same language whenever you can. Failing to pay attention to this usually creates a lot of tension in relationships. Check out this article about the 6th love language as well.
Also, it might be a good time to educate yourself about non-violent communication. More on that later in this article.
Navigate boundaries in close quarters
People who live together experience different sets of problems: they lack alone-time and time to regroup after inevitable conflicts. Being too close to someone tends to exaggerate negative perceptions about their characteristics or habits. In addition, working from home and dealing with kids can truly be overwhelming.
If you became short-tempered because of all this, here are some suggestions for you.
1. Arrange for time-off. Negotiate as best as you can who goes in which corner and when this can happen.
2. Actively explore ways to relax yourself: whether through deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga, meditation, visualization, guided imagery, or self-hypnosis. You can use anything that occupies your five senses to ground you. Every time you feel overwhelmed, deliberately try to sense your surrounding for at least ten seconds. The more you do this, the easier it becomes to calm yourself down. Self-soothing is an important skill in a relationship, regardless of circumstances. If possible, visit nature, sit next to a river, listen to the sounds. If you’re at home, take long baths, listen to your favorite music or spend time cooking a nice meal.
Also, you can literally talk yourself into a calmer state. Try practicing this and see what happens.
3. Beware how loss of freedom affects you and how it translates into blaming your partner. Learn about your anger. Everyone feels angry from time to time but your reaction to the anger is something you learned in your family of origin – it is a manifestation of our inner conditioning. Think of this: there are two main ways parents criticize their children: one is by pointing out empathetically that a specific behavior is wrong and the other one is by attacking and shaming the entire little person. The latter often gives results much quicker but it comes with a huge emotional cost: those kids develop very sensitive ego and they often identify with the aggressor and start using toxic behavior they learned from parents. On the contrary, addressing specific behavior requires much more patience but is highly rewarding and creates healthy relationships between parents and children. It helps kids easily learn from mistakes without the feeling of being “not enough”, a characteristic seen all too often in people who have problems with relationships. Reading a few articles about it can really help you to have more emotional choice.
Remember that this is time to protect and not to sabotage your relationship. Choose to use time to deliberately help yourself grow as a person the best way you can.
4. Conflict resolution. The following paragraph from the book When Anger Hurts (McKay, Rogers & McKay) is well worth quoting here:
[In resolving conflicts] you’re not trying to make your spouse feel bad. You’re not trying to prove your spouse wrong. You’re simply trying to fix what’s wrong. The problem-solving attitude assumes that conflict has no moral dimensions. Instead, conflict is a matter of opposing needs. Disagreements are best resolved when each person’s needs are assumed to be legitimate and important. That way you don’t have to argue about whose needs are bigger, or more justified. Since both parties have an equal right to want it their way, problem solving becomes a matter of acknowledging and factoring these needs into a mutually acceptable agreement.
Accept that needs are real!
All needs, however irrational they might seem, are legitimate and important. Remembering this at all times is crucial for shifting your attitude from blame towards creativity. It might take some weeks or months for this to sink in but it’s probably the single most important thing to do for your relationship in this situation.
Before starting to talk about emotions, make a habit to check the level of irritability of both of you. If you’re too irritable it makes sense to try to calm down first or start the discussion the next day.
Also, there’s a huge demand for online courses about non-violent communication at this time. You might want to explore that as well and use those life-changing skills in years to come. In those courses people learn how to uncover, honour and meet basic human needs at the core of any conflict. Treating others and especially yourself with compassion is done by developing a new vocabulary for articulation what’s going on inside you instead of resorting to violent communication patterns. This course teaches people how to recover from an argument quickly, repair the damage and feel more connected afterward. Please read this reddit page for a summary of non violent communication.
Even if you just broke up but you’re stuck together, practicing new ways of relating will help you to get through this crisis, as well as to bring your better self to a new relationship.
5. Find time for sex and explore your intimacy in new ways.
Practice healthy communication
Learning to communicate better will also reflect in your sex life. If you practice expressing your needs in your relationship, it should also help in bed (or shower, or kitchen table, or balcony 🙂 ). As you may have seen in the news, sex toys are selling better than ever, so consider exploring that as well. It also helps to do non-erotic self-pleasure practice daily, something I prescribe to almost all of my clients. This practice is about being with your body every day from five minutes to an hour or two if you feel like it. Scan your body, become aware of how it feels and ask it what it needs in this moment. It might need warm shower, light touch or a massage, movement or a tasty treat. Cultivating the connection with your body is a very grounding practice. If you are concerned with your body appearance you can use this practice to finally start loving it. You might be surprised that this will motivate you to exercise and eat healthy – and in a much more effective way than your inner critic does! By learning new ways of relating with your body you can reduce shame you feel around your sexuality as well.
Ask for help
If you feel you need help with all this, a therapist can help you if you two (or three, four…) agree to accept correcting interventions:
- stopping attacking behavior
- help with repairing damage done by partners
- guidance on expressing emotions and needs
- teaching how to use the body in self-regulation and body language in communication
- addressing and healing a variety of sexual dysfunctions
- working on accountability
- support with repetition of skills