A fortitude guide for couples: 12 tips for relationships in difficulty during lockdown
For couples everywhere, spending so much more time together during lockdown is a gift as well as a challenge. Forced proximity = new opportunities. We’ve all found different ways to be together in this Covid-19, safety-first time. So, in the hope that this might help, I’ve drawn together some ideas that will help make things better.
To let some sunlight in. To make life more kind.
1) Ask open questions when disagreements arise, rather than using statements or even accusations. Gentleness in asking those question is key: “How can I help?” is better than “Why are you banging on about that again?” Obviously.
2) Check out your own emotions and write them down. Are you feeling frustrated? Scared? Irritated? Jittery? Try to find quiet time for you to lean into your feelings. Write them down: naming feelings is a powerful way to take away their sting and let them go. Feelings are transitory. They will pass and they don’t own you.
3) Trying to relax into the present, putting aside worries about the future and things outside your control. Time to yourself for a few minutes, using breathing exercises, can be a balm. If you haven’t tried mindfulness yet, do. It’s brilliant.
4) Find opportunities to do kind things for your partner (even if you don’t feel like it!). We can get caught up in our own worries; it lightens the heart when you think of something to say that makes your partner happy, or when you do something unexpected to please them. Find a poem to read them in the evening, surprise them with some flowers.
5) Consider sharing the way you feel before the temperature rises between you. It can be helpful just to let your partner know you are feeling tense or unsettled today. It gives them the chance to do something kind for you. And maybe tell you how they’re feeling too.
6) Listen calmly and non-judgmentally. Difficult when things are stressful, yet it’s a wonderful skill. Communication problems are made worse if the other person jumps to conclusions, or butts in on what you’re saying, maybe with a hostile or quizzical expression. Be brave and bold. Go first. You can set an example.
7) Speak calmly so as not to ratchet up the tension. Sarcasm doesn’t help. The aim is to reduce the antagonism, not heighten it. You probably know what doesn’t work with your partner, what riles them. Equally, you may well know what will make things better.
8) Use physical touch. When it’s the right time, reaching out to touch your partner’s hand can be the most soothing thing in the world: that’s a scientifically proven fact! A hug can make tensions dissolve. You can be the brave one to make the first move.
9) Call a “time out” if the temperature is rising too high. First find a word or phrase that you can both agree on that acts as a red light, a stop sign. Then if you feel things are about to escalate into a fully-fledged row, one of you has to say the time-out word, which is sacrosanct. You must both agree to stop and move away to a pre-arranged place for an agreed length of time. It’s a chance to reflect, take some deep breaths and resolve to approach things differently.
10) Lighten the mood by playing music, or being playful. It’s amazing how music can raise the spirits – and dancing can be even better. A joke lightens the atmosphere. A genuine smile is wonderful currency.
11) Remember needs: we all have needs, including (especially) a need for connection. “What do you need from me?” is a generous question that offers your partner a chance to open up.
12) Other tips for personal wellbeing: connect with other people where possible and safe, learn new things, donate, give a present or a helping hand to someone. All these are proven to help wellbeing generally. They will take you out of yourself and put you in a more positive frame of mind. And that helps both of you.
Please note that the above guidance is provided for couples who feel and are safe with each other. If you believe that your safety, or your family’s, is at risk, contact: 0808 2000 247 (Refuge, women); 0808 800 5000 (NSPCC, children); 01823 334244 (ManKind, men) or 0808 8010327 (Respect, men).