1. How to manage to stay close with your partner in these extraordinarily challenging times? On an individual level, one might start by noticing what effect the lockdown has had on you physically, mentally and emotionally. By this I mean, how do you cope with the changes that you have had to adapt to in your work life, with those you care for, your personal life, your need for autonomy/need for others? How do you cope with the news? What happens when you go outside your home? For example, how do you feel after shopping: queuing with a mask on, following a one-way system, perhaps having to be more patient and accommodating than normal? What might you be carrying back with you invisibly on returning?
2. How does this affect your physicality, your posture, your energy levels, how you breathe?. What feelings do you notice when you take stock of all you have been through personally, as well as the impact the pandemic has had on people in your circle? How might this affect your contact with your partner? Can you be compassionate with yourself? Can you find space in the day for physical exercise and/or some sort of personal practice that helps to relax you: yoga, Qi Gong, meditation, even journal keeping, can all help.
3. One thing that has made a huge difference to my relationship with my partner is the ‘talking stick’. I am not wishing to offend anybody by cultural misappropriation, so I formally acknowledge with the greatest respect those Native Americans who had the wisdom to dream it into existence. I am talking about a natural object one literally grasps in one’s hand, it could be a feather, a stone or a stick that confers the right of one person to speak without interruption for as long as they need whilst the other actively listens – by that I mean, tries to grasp the feelings, the meanings and the heart of what is being communicated. The listener then takes a turn to speak, and there may be several rounds. What emerges can be delicate, raw, upsetting to hear, often surprising, incredibly moving and wondrous. What I have gained from this is insight into my own and my partner’s idiosyncrasies (now under the spotlight), how each person can feel unacknowledged even though both of us felt we were putting plenty into ‘the house’. How we can hide from discussing our own relational taboos, what we are feeling towards each other, how attracted we are to them, who seems to be spending the most and on what. In this arena the invisible has a place to be heard. There has been so much that I would never have known without this practice. This is a forum for sharing from the heart primarily, I would suggest, not a place for reproach or critique. ‘I feel’ statements are better than ‘you always say/do’. It is a place to start again from the present moment, to humbly open to each other without expectation. Changes are profound when we feel truly ‘heard’.
4. I don’t know about other people, but I am a tactile person and am used to hugging my friends, and this has obviously become harder nowadays. Oddly, it did not seem that obvious to me that I might be missing physical contact, and might benefit from hugging my partner if they are open to being hugged! We now enjoy hugging each other when one of us goes out of the house.
5. Variety adds spice to your relationship, which may run the risk of becoming boring, static or repetitive. Hours spent in front of a TV screen rarely create connection. One idea is to get creative. On an adventurous evening, take ten minutes to write down suggestions for activities that you both enjoy that have helped you feel closer in the past, but no longer happen – perhaps dancing to music, composing poetry for each other, a massage. Be as inventive as you like; encourage each other to take risks. Dare to be seen differently, even take the time to dress as if you were someone very different. Change the lighting, break out of the conventions and the way you ‘normally’ see your partner. There still may be hidden parts of ourselves waiting patiently to emerge at any age. When this has opened up a space for ‘new’ or more spontaneous interaction you could go on to spend time making a more personal list of activities, a wish list that you would like your partner to do for you. Include fun and humour within this, it might not always be exactly what you had hoped for! The important thing is that you both are willing to explore new possibilities which can lead to greater intimacy and real appreciation.
6. Spending so much time together will inevitably raise questions over whose role is it to do particular tasks in the house and in every aspect of family life. This may be the time to stop gender stereotyping and having assumptions over who normally does what. I don’t necessarily want to do all the repair tasks – I prefer the idea of sharing all that needs to be done, and why would my partner always want to clean the bathroom? If one partner is busy working in one corner of the house they might acknowledge the sheer effort the other might be putting into looking after the kids over months. Equally, it is not necessarily easy to hold multiple zoom conferences in your makeshift office come bedroom. Just showing appreciation for each other as often as possible makes a huge difference. It can also be about accepting that either of us may not be as competent as the other in one activity and learning to make compromises.
7. It is useful to agree a preferred personal space and to honour that as far as is practical. It may be that this space has to be swapped at different times of the day, especially if it is the calmest place you have. This might need negotiating but it is worth going for clarity and fairness.
8. We have all been used to getting some of our needs met by going out to other places, seeing people, or working elsewhere. What can happen when these needs are displaced is that we can feel frustrated, low, uptight or depressed. It is important that we recognise our partner’s needs, and are mutually supportive of each other’s wishes to connect with groups reflecting current interests and things that add value and meaning to our lives. The happier and more fulfilled we feel as individuals, the less stress is placed on the relationship. If both partners feel more content, then your relationship will naturally improve.
9. Lastly, if possible, spend time together outside your home. Go for walks, cycle rides exploratory journeys to places that you have never been to before, maybe a couple of hours from where you live. Let nature give you a backdrop on which you might both feel awed. Conversations can emerge spontaneously – you may have a sense of the pressure to play a certain role, ‘the practical one’ or the ‘giver’, being taken off you. A shared sense of discovery and bonding may emerge during these times away from any domestic pressures, and hopefully they can provide you both with the opportunity to really enjoy each other.
If you feel like you need help and support with relationship issues and want to find effective strategies to bring you together, then you are welcome to contact me to arrange a one to one consultation: alanbrucecounselling.com
For more Information: https://www.alanbrucecounselling.com/