If you’re anything like, well, EVERYBODY, you’ve been experiencing more stress lately.
And if you’re in a relationship, being forced to be and work from home together (if you’re working), has revealed new things about your relationship, not all of them fantastic.
Maybe you’re cozied up and enjoying the extra time together. If so, YAY!
And maybe you’re discovering where the fault lines are between you and the ground of your relationship is shaking.
And double-triple-maybe you’re wondering how the hell to get any personal space right now because being around them all the time is TOO MUCH.
First of all, you’re not alone.
Second of all, If you’re more reactive than usual, don’t assume it means something’s wrong with you, your partner, or your relationship.
How each of you responds to stress might be very different, so the extra spats you’re getting into could be your different stress styles duking it out and not you.
To set yourselves up to come through self-quarantine feeling more loving and connected instead of breaking apart, it’s time to slow down and ask each other these five essential questions:
1) What are you most scared about right now?
One of you may be freaking out about money, and the other about the specter of losing a loved one to COVID-19.
You don’t know what your partner’s main fear is until you ask, and it’s easy to assume that they’re freaked out about the same thing you are.
And then, when they don’t react to your scary thing the way you expect, it’s all too easy to jump to thinking they’re doing this whole pandemic wrong.
By finding out what scares each of you most, you build space into your relationship to understand each other’s reactions in the moment when either of you is confronted by your biggest fear as it shows up in the news, social media, or conversations.
You create room to understand and comfort one another when that fear comes up, instead of judging.
This leads us to question two . . .
2) How can I help?
Once you know your partner’s biggest fear right now, then ask how you can help or what they need from you.
Don’t assume you know what they need, because what they need may be different now because of heightened stress and uncertainty.
In the past, maybe it worked to come up with a 5-point plan. Now, that may get you a slammed door and the silent treatment.
In the past a hug may have done the trick. Now, they might need to hear you say you’ll be there through this no matter what and it’s okay that they’re scared.
Take time to think about it for yourself and tell each other what would serve best right now.
Do you prefer simply to be listened to and received in your emotion, or is there something they could say that would help?
Do you want to be told that everything’s going to be okay or does it work better for you for them to say everything’s fucked but somehow we’ll make it through?
Do you want a hug, or for them to draw you a bath, or bring you your favorite snack?
Do you prefer to be together or alone when you’re scared, and if you prefer alone, about how long should they wait before connecting with you again?
By telling them what you need, they get to win with you more easily! And vice versa. Everybody wins.
By talking through these things in advance, you’re each more likely to feel heard and met when you get into your next fear spiral.
And now, this brings us to question three . . .
3) What’s your typical response to stress?
Each of us responds to stress in our own automated ways, based on our history, upbringing, and brain.
One of you may speed up when you get stressed and scared, like I do, trying desperately to get everything done. The other may slow down and get more deliberate, like my partner, so that they don’t make unnecessary mistakes.
You can imagine how a speedy stress-er and a slow, deliberate stress-er can clash if we’re not careful.
Because we’re familiar with each other’s stress responses, when we notice each other ramping up, we can respond with curiosity instead of frustration.
If I start speeding up, or he starts slowing down, we’ll say something along the lines of, Hey, how are you doing? I noticed that you’re (doing your stress response). Is there anything I can help you with or take off your plate?
The next time you’re getting irritated, ask yourself if you’re stressed or if they are. Remind yourself about your different typical stress responses and get on the same team.
And now for another team-building question . . .
4) How do you want to set up interruptions if I need to reach you during the work day?
So here we are in a totally new situation, with both of you working at home, or one of you working and one of you not.
I’ve been seeing hilarious videos of partners wandering in their underwear and into the other partner’s Zoom call with their boss. Hilarious now, but probably not so hilarious in the moment.
Each of you will have a preferred way to be interrupted. What’s it for you?
For example, I prefer a text, which I respond to once I’m done with what I’m doing. I’m not a fan of a knock on the door, in case I’m recording a podcast interview or on a call having a tender moment with a client.
I generally like to be left alone while I work, connecting with my partner when I emerge from my cave. Sometimes I even have to take a bath to transition to hanging out together, which he also gets.
He gets it because we’ve talked about it. When he has to, he contacts me, but otherwise leaves me alone so as not to interrupt my creative flow. Sometimes he checks in on me and brings me a yummy snack when I’ve forgotten to eat.
That’s love, in my book. He wins big with that one.
So what level of connection is best for you throughout the day and what’s the best way for you to be in touch with each other as situations arise that need handling? Talk it out.
And then surprise each other sometimes with treats.
Speaking of treats, here’s question five . . .
5) How much and what kinds of touch and physical connection feels best to you these days?
Just like with stress, you and your partner may have very different physical needs right now.
Some of you may want to cuddle your stress away, others may want to fuck it out, and still others may feel too prickly to be touched at all.
There’s no right or wrong way to be intimate with each other right now, there’s only your individual preferences and what stress evokes in your body.
But the surefire way to have everything feel wrong is to pressure yourselves and each other into it having to be a certain way.
Hopefully by now you’re feeling some understanding for one another and some more space to be who and where you are. That’s the perfect place to begin a conversation about touch, physical comfort, and sex.
Find out what you each want and stay on the same team as you talk through how to meet your physical needs.
If you look creatively at the situation from a place of teamwork instead of trying to bend the other to your will or abdicating your desire out of frustration that you can’t have it, both of you can get your needs met and feel more connected, instead of less.
Above all, remember that we’re not in a normal time right now. Be curious with one another and gentle with what you discover as you talk through these five questions.
If conflict happens, take a break, step away for a while, calm down. Remember what you appreciate and love about your partner. Remember that you’re a team and the thing you want to fight is your stress and fear of COVID-19 and its repercussions (instead of each other). Then, when you’re ready, approach the topic again from a calmer space.
If you need additional support to navigate the minefields being revealed by this time, find a professional and start working with them. Now’s the time to have more support, not less. Should you be interested in speaking with me about supporting your relationship in coming through this time more loving and connected, book a call.
For more on how to navigate stress with each other, read this article I wrote on relationship dynamics.
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