The stress of the last year and a half has frayed many relationships. Couples may not agree on their risk tolerance in relation to COVID-19; lockdowns, quarantines, and travel restrictions may have us feeling cooped up; and our social lives outside of the home, and the support and sustenance they normally provide, have been severely curtailed.
If this sounds familiar, then My dear colleague Dr. Ian Kerner’s CNN article, “Turn rupture into repair: How to navigate relationship arguments in the ‘new normal”” may be of assistance. I was glad to be tapped for my advice, along with more than a half dozen other colleagues.
Namely, I offered counterintuitive advice to take the flight option of the fight-or-flight response.
We know the body takes about 20 minutes to calm down after the fight-or-flight response is activated. I suggest: “Tell your partner that you’re not in a space to contribute to the discussion in a useful way, suggest taking a break with offering a specific time to come back to one another, and then return to it when you’ve both cooled off.”
You could workout or go for a walk, jump rope, call a friend, or meditate. Consider any activity that doesn’t bring you immediately back to the argument.
Couples therapist Barbara Gold offered the next step which I agree with: “But don’t ignore it. If a quick repair isn’t possible because one or both of you is agitated, make a plan to talk about it as soon as you’re both ready and able. Sweeping things under the rug is not the solution to stopping conflict.”
Kerner outlines seven other techniques to help you return to the relationship and begin repairing it. You can read the CNN article here. And here are a couple extra that I use with my couple and found effective:
I suggest my couples have a “couples jar.” Anything that needs further conversation or to be revisited will go in that jar, so the next time you go for a walk, or have your weekly sessions with one another or your couples therapist you can take it out and make an attempt to discuss and resolve it. The conversation goes back in the jar until it is fully resolved from both of our perspectives.
This is very helpful because you know there will be a time for you to come back to the issue so you won’t have to carry it around with you and let it cast a shadow on every moment of the coming days!
It is also important to put away an hour a week (not asking for too much here) to connect and discuss any issues that need resolution. Like going to a therapist once a week. Don’t go over an hour. Having a time limit will help you preserve presence and consistency of energy throughout the hour.