HOW TO NOT RUIN YOUR RELATIONSHIP IN QUARANTINE

shutterstock_1628196187

I remember reading a headline a few weeks (years??) ago that the divorce rate was increasing for Chinese couples post-coronavirus quarantine. And boy, do I get it. While some of us are cooped up alone and dealing with incredible loneliness (which is traumatic in itself), many of us are sequestered with our partners…all the time, every day, in a small space, during a time of incredible change, uncertainty, and anxiety. Gee, whatever could go wrong?

As I sit with my clients this week, I find myself often reviewing basic relationship skills, like how to communicate hurt, how to respond to a loved one's pain, and how to receive comfort. I'd like to share those tips with you now, in the hopes they will help your relationship be a source of strength and security in these troubled times. (And BTW, these tips apply to just about any important relationship — parent-child, close friend, or even your relationship with yourself!) An effective repair conversation with your partner is as easy* as 1-2-3:

Step 1. Notice what you're feeling and communicate it — vulnerably — to your partner. When something happens that makes you want to react — get critical, get defensive, pull away, shut down, nag, etc. — take a moment to slow down, check in, and ask yourself, "What am I feeling?" Anger can often be a cover for more vulnerable emotions. Honor that the anger is real and valid, but also ask yourself if you might be feeling a more tender emotion — are you feeling sad? Scared? Lonely? Inadequate? When you know what you're feeling and you can say it softly and vulnerably, it's time to share that with your person.

Step 2. When you receive your partner's feelings, your presence and care are the solution. So many of us respond to pain in our loved ones by inadvertently dismissing, minimizing, or intellectualizing. While we may have truly excellent advice to offer, it's important to remember that an activated brain can't take in any such guidance. We must first come alongside our loved ones and meet them at the emotional level vs. offering suggestions for change. In short, we must connect before we correct. We do this in 3 key ways:

a) Validation. I can totally see why that made you scared. I get it. I would feel that way, too, in your shoes.
b) Empathy. I'm so sad to know you're going through this. I feel such a pain in my heart hearing how alone you're feeling.
c) Undoing Aloneness. I'm here with you. We'll get through this together.

So, let's say your husband has just told you he felt really lonely this week when you were working a lot to keep your small business afloat. Instead of getting defensive or making suggestions for what he could do to manage the lonely feelings, try validating, empathizing, and undoing his aloneness. "Oh, sweetie, I can totally see why you've been feeling alone. I have been so busy and overwhelmed. I feel so sad knowing you're feeling like that. I'm so glad you're telling me. I'm here and I love you."

Step 3. Receive your partner's care. It's an often overlooked step, but a really important one. You're hurt, your partner is trying to repair with you — allow the repair! Notice any parts of you that want you to keep your guard up. Honor their fear that you'll be hurt again, but try to be open to a genuine effort at reconnecting. All relationships have bumps, especially when partners are stressed out (like, say, during a global pandemic). Offer as much grace as you possibly can to each other. As Maya Angelou once said, “Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.”

* Please-Don't-Sue-Me-Disclaimer: This is, in fact, not at all easy! It takes a lot of practice. Be sweet to yourself as you try to get better at this. I also highly recommend Ron Frederick's book, "Loving Like You Mean It." And of course, if you're continually struggling with any of these steps, please reach out to a therapist for help.

SUPPORT DOG FAIL

So, maybe call a therapist instead?

support-dog

THE GREATEST LOVE OF ALL

As an attachment-oriented psychologist, I've always understood and valued the importance of having safe and close relationships with cherished other people. Over the past few years, I've also come to understand the importance of the relationship we have with our selves. Every day I watch in awe as my clients find a voice inside them that is courageous, compassionate, and centered — clear about who they are and what they need, and capable of providing comfort to young parts of them that never got the care they needed. It moves me so much. Perhaps it's because I've experienced what a difference finding that voice has made in my own personal growth and relationships. In any case, I'm not sure if Whitney Houston was totally right that loving yourself is the greatest love of all, but, you know, she's definitely on to something! And in a less power-ballad-y, more eloquent way, that's what this beautiful poem is about. I hope you enjoy it and that it helps you experience the joy of connecting with yourself in a loving way.

LoveAfterLove

KNOW STRUGGLE, KNOW GROWTH

nostrugglenogrowth

"If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters." — Frederick Douglass, 1857

I LOVE this quote. At a global level, it reassures me that the things that feel so tumultuous and threatening in our world right now are normal processes, that next season's crops come after first plowing up the ground, that pain comes before birth. It shifts me from feeling afraid and threatened to feeling more hopeful—and even curious about what growth might be on the way.

I thought of this quote recently when an awful, roaring wave of anxiety disturbed my calm ocean within. With the benefit of hindsight, I see that my seemingly unwelcome anxiety was actually the start of a beautiful process of healing something deep within me. As I healed that part of me, I felt empowered and, yes, free.

This quote reminds me to just let my feelings come, to stay open, curious, and connected (to myself and my loved ones) and trust that struggle within me is actually a harbinger of growth and change. It invites me to remember that my distress is the first sign of a process working within me toward greater healing, happiness, and wholeness. It reassures me that if I stay with my distress and trust it, relief is on the other side of that wave, because "nothing that feels bad is ever the last step."

And so I invite you to sit with this quote and notice what you feel inside as you read it. Think of how often great pain, anger, or fear has come before a place of growth, healing, understanding, relief, joy, or freedom. I wonder how it would be for you, right now, to welcome something inside you that feels hard, confusing, or scary, knowing that all you're feeling is the start of things being much, much better for you.

EMPATHY 101

I assisted the awesome Jennifer Olden with one of her Hold Me Tight couples' workshops this weekend, and she shared this really wonderful video from Brene Brown on empathy. Although research continues to tell us how incredibly important empathy is to successful relationships, many of us have struggled to define what exactly empathy IS.

According to Brene, empathy has four qualities: perspective taking, staying out of judgment, recognizing emotion in others and then communicating that. "Empathy is feeling WITH people." Someone's in a deep hole, and you say, "hey, I know what it's like down here and you're not alone." An important lesson for all of is that you can't really stop someone's suffering, but you can make sure they don't suffer alone. Empathy, she says, is vulnerable because "in order to connect with you, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling."

She also emphasizes how your empathic presence is the antidote to your loved one's emotional pain vs. trying to come up with a solution. "Rarely can a response make something better—what makes something better is connection."

Check out the clip and learn more about the awesome power of empathy…while watching a judgmental antelope eating a sandwich.

BLAMERS ANONYMOUS

In EFT, we often talk about people as generally falling into one of two categories when they're feeling disconnected — withdrawers (those who shut down and pull back) and pursuers (those who criticize and, you guessed it, blame). That said, all of us have at times used blame as a way to "discharge pain" rather than finding the vulnerability to share hurt feelings or facing the fear of being out of control. Brene Brown's latest video talks a bit about her own experiences with blaming and how dropping coffee on yourself in the kitchen is always your partner's fault.

THE FEELINGS BARN

new-yorker-feelings-barn

One of my clients sent me this awesome New Yorker cartoon awhile back. Not only is it hysterical, but it's a great way of encapsulating the messages so many of us got growing up — feelings are not welcome in our family.