It’s ok not to be ok.
Lately, meaning the last year since the pandemic started, I’ve had a serious influx of couples looking for therapy. The pandemic has created a sort of alternate reality in which relationships — couples or families — continued to grow on their own, without much contact to others or outside of home.
Whatever challenges that were present in those relationships, had been to an extent buffered by being able to socialize with others, working outside of home, having hobbies, traveling, going out, etc. Sure, there might be some trouble in communication, some lack of intimacy, some disillusionment on the way couples treated or cared for each other but all of that was easier to overlook when we could shift our focus and attention into something else.
Well, turns out it is harder to turn a blind eye to those challenges when we don’t have anywhere to look, or be at. Naturally, those struggles started to become more apparent, and they started to feel consequential. Now more that ever, I’ve heard couples say, “Either this gets resolved or I can’t continue [our relationship] anymore.”
This is where I will say, “Let’s Slow Down.”
“Let’s see what has been going on:
When did you [both] started feeling stuck in this struggle?
How have you tried to get out of that conflictual place?
What feelings are being left unsaid OR what needs are being left unattended? What would make you [both] feel that you are being listened to, feeling understand, and cared for?”
My experience working with couples — especially this last year, is that most need help slowing down and having a safe place where they can talk, be heard, feel understood, and learn or expand the ways that they are caring for each other and their relationship. And most importantly, to feel validated in knowing that experiencing challenges in a relationship is quite normal.
This last part tends to confuse my couples.
“Wait, what? Having problems is normal and ok? Seriously?”
Yes, seriously. Being misattuned [with each other] is quite common, and not a sign of a relationship not working.
Couples arguing, AND being able to resolve an argument shows me that:
a) Partners are able to continue being present in a conversation that is probably making them feel overwhelmed BUT are able to soothe and regulate their emotional and physical reactions well enough to keep being engaged in the conversation or argument.
b) Partners are probably attuned to each other and the way they are reacting to the argument. This attunement is allowing them to continue talking in a way that still feels safe and where each partner feels listened to.
c) Partners are probably able to soothe and comfort each other. They know that the argument might hurt some feelings, and they know how to care for that pain.
- this is the MOST important part:
knowing how to care for each other’s pain
Sue Johnson beautifully stated, “Love is a process that constantly moves from harmony to disharmony, from mutual attunement and responsiveness to misattunement and disconnection — and back again.”
If you are one of those couples, that have been struggling to feel connected to each other, and that have noticed that your problems seem to have gotten more intense during this past year — slow down.
First: Take time away from each other to calm down. Arguments will not magically go away, but taking a break and coming back later — when you feel calmer — will allow both of you to look at the problem, and each other, from a different perspective.
Second: Try to figure out what is it that you are trying to communicate about: is it a practical, tangible thing? i.e. Groceries that need to be bought?
or, is it a feeling that needs to be shared? i.e. Feeling alone at having to do the groceries by yourself [again]?
Third: Try to figure out what your emotional needs are — what is it that will make you feel heard, understood, listened to, and cared for when you feel alone (for example). Share it with your partner in a very transparent way.
Assume that they have absolutely no idea how you feel and think, so make it painfully clear to them.
The more we allow ourselves to be understood, the easier it is going to be for our partners to understand us.
Fourth: If all of the above fails, look for help. My suggestion would be to try to find a therapist — or at least or a neutral source — that will know how to guide you in figuring out these struggles and help you find a way back to each other.
Be patient with yourself and your partner. It has been a challenging year for everyone. If you have seen that your relationship has suffered throughout, know that part of it is normal. The global circumstances have created a lot of uncertainty and stress — we are not meant to live isolated, and our relationships, and our partners, are not meant to bear the brunt of eveything that happens in our daily life. We are meant to share, socialise, and experience outside of our relationships as well. An once again, what’s important is NOT the lack of arguments but rather, how you connect and repair what was hurt.
As a side note: If you have been having problems that are related to abuse, physical or emotional betrayal, or conflict that escalates too quickly and feels dangerous, please do not hesitate to ask or look for help and safety.
Originally published in Medium – click here