An old adage says that crises reveal who we are, and this is true as well for who we are as lovers. Relationships are hard enough without stringent requirements of navigating a pandemic added to holiday pressures on top of everything else.
Now, couples counseling was not my field of expertise as a psychotherapist. But some communication tips that hold true for long term partners work even better for those whose relationships are at the beginning stage. Here's what I know works for those who really want to make their relationship work.
Ask, Then Really Listen
Both building and sustaining a relationship takes two-way communication. Asking your partner how they truly feel, what they really think, and to share pieces of their history and daily experience that you haven't been part of creates emotional closeness. Long term couples know that making time to catch up with each other keeps the relationship vibrant. Couples lucky enough in 2020 to be living together are deepening their relationship by simply talking to each other more fully than since early courtship.
Lovers who can't get together right now due to covid concerns may be surprised that the same communication advantages can be facilitated by texting, emailing, and phoning. Physical distance doesn't have to put emotional distance into your relationship. The key is in sharing verbally, and in really listening. Ask follow up questions. Keep conversation going, even if that means changing the subject.
Attend to Process
Years ago a friend of mine introduced me to the concept of relationship maintenance. In essence this done by talking about HOW we are talking about something, or about HOW and WHY we are treating the one who means the most to us. Most of the time when we communicate with friends, family, and lovers alike, we talk about the WHAT. Taking some time to talk about the HOW and WHY can keep interpersonal frustrations from becoming relationship ending fights.
I recommend bringing up the concept of relationship maintenance as early in the relationship as possible, but it's never too late to get started. Attending to how you are communicating with your significant other, and why you are doing it the way you are, may take increasing your sense of self and other awareness.
For example, I once had a colleague who would arrive at work by issuing an kind of emotional weather report. He'd walk into the office and say, I'm having a terrible day and feeling really irritable, so if I sound abrupt or angry, just know it isn't about you. This told us the why behind the how, and gave us all the chance to adjust our interactions for the duration.
Another example comes from a friend who is in the habit of asking for reality checks. She would say, Hey, can I check out something with you? Lately I'm noticing more sarcasm from you than usual, and I'm wondering if I'm doing something that's frustrating you, or if there is something you're worried about that I could help you think through? This approach showed a willingness to take responsibility for whatever might be in her power to change while also offering a sounding board if wanted. It takes some awareness and tactfulness to get reality check phrasing effective, but is well worth using it.
Good Manners Count
Contrary to what some may think, good manners are still a good idea in relationships. Sometimes the closer we get to someone, the more we relax the use of common courtesy and basic manners. It's as though we take the other person for granted and forget to use one of the earliest lessons we were ever taught -- to say please, thank you, and I apologize. Whether you just met, or rekindling a previous relationship, or have been together 30 years, the magic words still go a long way in creating a client of mutual and enduring respect.
Here are two neat little secrets about relationships -- mutual respect sets the stage for unshakable trust. When we have a genuine respect for our partner, we naturally don't want to act in a way that risks distrust. Please, thank you, and I'm sorry also make forgiveness easier when we need to ask for it.
Little is more important in time of crisis like the prolonged Covid 19 pandemic than having clear and kind communication. Saying what you mean, meaning what you say, being direct and kind in your choice of words, asking for and providing clarification, taking responsibility, and talking things through on several levels will help lessen the stresses in relationships.