These past few months have been a struggle for everyone. And yet for some, it has been more difficult than others. This reminds me of the first sentence of Anna Karenina which now rings more true than ever.
All happy families are like one another; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. Leo Tolstoy
Interpreted this can mean that each unhappy family brings different baggage from their own families of origin. Two households merged into one from four parents and siblings. The unhealthy dynamics that played out, inside this home [of origin], were interpreted individually. When a crisis hits a family, each member deals with it in their own separate ways. Thus, bringing all of these family parts, of each couple, into their own domain and without therapy to support these persons, you will have nothing but chaos during this virus (though the relationship started out this way, the virus is just adding to the mess). You are stuck with each other 24/7 and you aren’t retired. One or both of you may be without a job. You may or may not have children, either way being in an uncomfortable situation with someone you are not happy with; it can’t be easy. If you were happy with your partner pre-virus, you are probably doing fine now. If there were lingering problems or elephants in the room; it is much worse by now.
Don’t hesitate to reach out and contact a local therapist. Working on your relationship is important to the commitment that you began on your wedding day. It is why you chose to say the vows and stand before your friends and family. In regard to your budget, it is a less expensive option than considering divorce and in regard to your values wouldn’t you rather work things out with the one you love than just give up? Because deep down inside, you do love this person and you have been through many things together. Challenges make a relationship stronger as long as both are willing to do what it takes to turn things around.
I have been trained by the Gottman Institute and use these techniques when I work with couples. We start by learning the “Seven Principles to Making a Marriage (or Relationship) Work” (This is also the name of Dr. Gottman’s bestselling book). These seven principles are:
- Building Love Maps – getting to know one another’s world.
- Share Fondness and Admiration toward one another. Is there something that the two of you are really good at and especially enjoy doing? Hobbies, music, art, try to use this time to go back to those fun things that you now have a lot of time for.
- Turning toward each other instead of away. Listening to what the other has to say; making eye contact.
- Trying to keep a positive perspective and some examples of this are finding humor in that which causes stress and from self-soothing in times of stress as well.
Self-soothing – taking deep breaths when you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed. Taking a walk to get away from the conflict or just going to your room to get some space.
- Conflict is dealt with by validating the other person’s response. Finding relevance in what they have to say and having a dialogue about the issues of concern.
- Honor your Dreams both individual and couple. How can you use this time to research the future? Do you want to return to college? Are you both hoping to travel somewhere? Do you hope to have a new house in a few years? The pandemic will end and so use this time to start creating goals for the future. Put together one year and five year goals. This will help you to envision what you want and keep you in a positive perspective as well.
- Family Rituals – things that are sacred to you and your partner and/or you and your children.
And, according to Dr. Gottman, what gets in the way of all of the above is the “4 Horseman of the Apocalypse of the Relationship.” These four horseman are: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness and Stonewalling.
- Criticism is finding a flaw in your partner’s personality. Your stupid, your crazy, you’re a bitch, etc… it is also known as counter-attacking or whining. The antidote for this is to have a Gentle Start-up. Find a new way to ask for what you want (e.g. Honey Do List).
- Contempt is a way to take criticism to a whole new level and I find that this happens when people are becoming very bitter toward one another and now the instigator is wanting to really put an emphasis on your behaviors. It is also the “snake in the grass” comments which you can see in gaslighting or someone is trying to sound nice but your instincts are telling you something is wrong with what they just said. These comments can be interpreted as “I am better than you.” The antitode for this is to describe your own feelings and needs and make “I” statements rather than you statements.
- Defensiveness or a “tit for a tat,” you did this to me and now I am getting back at you. I see this very often with abuse survivors. Having had to grow up in a household where they were constantly trying to be heard. Now, with your partner, you are trying to stand your ground. The antidote for this is to take responsibility.
- Stonewalling is when one person is talking and the other person is NOT listening. The antidote for this is self-soothing, though I believe self-soothing can be used for any of the four horsemen. It never hurts to console one’s self with some deep breathing or a walk. However, when you are needing to walk away, make sure you to communicate this and set a time to come back and discuss the conversation.
You can do one of three things when you are dealing with relationship angst. One, continue to do the same thing over and over again; hoping to get a different result. Two, see a couples counselor and work on the marriage. Three, get a divorce. We live in a society where everyone seems to choose the third option because it seems easier to start over again rather than working with what you have. However, if you have built a foundation of trust and commitment than you have invested in an amazing relationship and don’t the two of you deserve to at least work through this obstacle? Marriages aren’t meant to be easy and perfect; you have to work at this. Relationships are no different, except you don’t have an official or legally binding contract. Even if, in the end you choose to walk away, therapy is the answer to learning from that relationship so that you can have healthy closure between the two of you. If there are kids involved this will be a good thing overall so that you can parent them like a team once you dissolve the marriage.
There are two resources that I love to share with people who are coming to see me for couples counseling. I have already mentioned the Gottman Institute and so you can learn more by going to their website and taking a look at all that they have to offer in their estore. I also use Dr. Gary Chapman’s work: The 5 Love Languages, as an adjunct to the work I was trained in from the Gottman Institute. Both are amazing resources during these difficult times.
Don’t give up, toughen up and get support for your relationship. You will be glad you did!