A step-by-step guide to help you build your relationship while isolating and social distancing
It’s you and your partner together 24/7. Gone is the absence that makes the heart grow fonder. And you are driving each other crazy.
Yes, it’s a bizarre time, and you are wondering what to do, how to survive, not only your life but your relationship.
Calamities have befallen you. Worry and stress. Grief and loss. Restricted freedom of movement. Your equanimity is gone. You are no longer calm and balanced.
Little things begin to annoy you. You and your partner keep bumping into each other. You bump elbows, both head for the bathroom at the same time, one of you is on the phone and talking too loudly. Maybe your partner (my husband) walks down the hall too slowly, and you are (I am) in a rush (to where?). Yes, I’ve been annoyed by seemingly minuscule situations too.
Your partner may be taking the brunt of your frustration. The stress may be so high you are blaming instead of valuing. Your relationship may be disintegrating. You can build your relationship instead of breaking it.
Step 1: Take a look at your actions, at your behavior, at what you are actually doing
Actions are pretty easy to identify. They are what you are doing. They include attitudes, tone of voice and physical actions.
How are you acting/reacting/being?
g. Something else?
I don’t show my reaction initially. I wait until I figure out what is occurring for me and then I decide if I want to let it go or talk about it.
Step 2: Take a look at your feelings
Not everyone is great at identifying their feelings. Understanding what you are feeling is a critical relational skill. If you have trouble identifying your feelings, imagine someone you care about in the same situation. What are you feeling for them? It is often easier to feel for someone else than for ourselves.
What are you feeling?
g. Something else?
I was feeling annoyed and impatient.
Step 3: Why are you feeling what you are feeling?
What is happening, that is causing your feeling? (This is an interpretation of the difficulty — we’ll look at this down the page a bit.) This is the more obvious view before we get down into what is happening on a deeper level. How are you being inconvenienced or put upon from your perspective?
Unpack the feeling and what is causing it.
a. I’m annoyed because you are nagging at me.
b. I am overwhelmed because I cannot fix this.
c. I am upset because I need my space.
d. I am angry because you are getting on my nerves.
e. I am sad and feel I cannot get your support or participation.
f. I am sad because you are annoyed with me.
g. I am angry because I feel like things never work out for me.
h. I’m impatient because I can’t get any alone time.
i. Something else?
My feelings were caused by feeling restricted by my husband.
Step 4: What is the more profound feeling underneath the immediate feeling?
This feeling will be about you and your needs. For example, I felt annoyed because my husband was walking down the hall slowly, and I wanted to move faster. I felt restrained. When I looked, I saw I felt impatient because I was in a hurry although there was no reason for me to be in a hurry. My underlying feeling was a fear of not getting to something I felt I needed to do.
What is the deeper feeling underneath the more surface feeling?
a. I feel abandoned and the deeper feeling is sadness and grief.
b. I feel no matter what I do it isn’t enough for me, so I feel sad.
c. I feel no matter what I do, it isn’t enough for you. I feel disappointed, sad and angry.
d. I feel no matter what I do I’m not good enough for me. I feel sad and angry.
e. I feel no matter what I do, I’m not good enough for you. I feel sad.
f. I feel restricted and that means I’m not doing what I need to do. I feel anxious.
g. I feel as if the world is out to get me. I feel afraid.
h. Something else?
Underneath I was anxious about getting some work problems solved. But initially, I didn’t know this.
Step 5: Is it true? I mean, is it really true?
Even if a situation is difficult, we may be able to take it less personally. Or perhaps there is a way to see beyond it? Maybe there is something to learn from this. Maybe what we are reacting to isn’t really true, but rather a habit of perception that we have.
Is it true?
a. At times I am emotionally abandoned, but not all the time. So it is partially true.
b. Even if I feel deep down I am not good enough, it is not true.
c. Even if it seems whatever I do isn’t enough, it isn’t true. (If you truly feel you don’t do enough, you either need to do more or make peace with what you are doing.)
d. Even if it seems the world is out to get me, it isn’t true. While it is possible you have to deal with unfair laws or prejudices, it is unlike the world is out to get you. (If you believe this is true, you may have some extra work to do on your beliefs.)
e. Even if I get annoyed, it doesn’t mean this situation needs to be annoying.
f. Something else?
I am sometimes restricted by the situations of my life. Yes, I may have felt restricted at that moment, but is my husband truly restricting me by walking down the hall slowly and blocking my passage? No, this does not qualify as a restriction. So no, it is not true.
Step 6: How do you interpret what is occurring differently?
In other words, what beliefs are causing you to react to your partner, and how can you change these beliefs? Maybe you are being called upon to do something different. Whether it is to communicate differently, speak your truth, or look for the positive or opportunity in this situation with your partner.
How do you look at this differently?
a. Realize there are cycles in life, and sometimes we don’t have the freedom we wish for (home isolation, for example) and this is not my partner’s fault.
b. Realize all relationships have ups and downs and we can get through this if we choose to respond differently to each other.
c. Know you are enough even if you don’t always feel like it.
d. Realize our wills are limited and something bigger than us is occurring.
e. See this time as an opportunity to practice gratitude when it is not easy. This is building new muscle.
f. See this time as an opportunity to learn to be supportive of my partner.
g. See this time as an opportunity to change how you relate to challenges. You don’t have to move so quickly to anger. You can cultivate patience, compassion, vulnerability or something else.
h. See this as an opportunity to ask for comfort from your partner or find a way to self soothe.
i. Something else?
I realized my annoyance is mine and that I need to find another way to engage with my life. I don’t have to be annoyed. My partner wasn’t trying to annoy me. He is just slower and that is okay. This is an opportunity for me to look at how I rush around and how I need to slow down. It is also an opportunity to look at how I put too much emphasis on my work life and not enough on other aspects of my life.
Step 7: Take this opportunity to find new ways of engaging
In my case, there was nothing I needed my partner to change. I simply needed to see the big picture of the love and support we share and let go of a moment of frustration which was meaningless.
What can you do differently or how can you engage differently with your partner?
a. I can look at what I appreciate about my partner.
b. I can have sympathy for my partner if they are in a tough place.
c. I can reach for my partner and provide emotional support.
d. I can tell them what I’m struggling with and ask them to be supportive of me.
e. I can tell them I love them.
f. I can tell them I am there for them.
g. I can tell myself I am enough.
h. I can tell myself this time will pass.
i. I can have a heart to heart about what is difficult for me and what I need.
j. Something else?
I told myself that I need to refocus on what is truly important.
We create our relationships
Some people and couples will get through these times more effortlessly than others. Perhaps they already spend a significant amount of time together and have worked through the difficulties that arise between them. Or maybe they are making use of this time by reading, learning, or have found something else to do which feels nourishing.
Often people who get through this kind of stress more easily are less reactive. They tend to support their partner emotionally and vice versa. They take responsibility for themselves.
They realize they have a role in creating every situation and there is something to learn, gain or do about the situation. They know how to build relationships.
Some of us need more support to build relationships
Other people will be in situations with more stress or more hardship. They need more support. They need to know they will be okay. And they don’t have a map showing how to get from where they are to where they wish to me.
There are many paths to enlightenment. There are practices and teachings. For me, emotional pain caused me to turn inward and question who I was, what I wanted and how I could get there. It was that simple. I didn’t want to be in pain.
The value of challenges
We often aren’t instructed to see the value of the challenges in our lives. We also aren’t usually taught that every moment of our lives offers us a potential opportunity. The challenges of our lives can teach us to look deeper. They can cause us to say, I need to do something different because this is too painful. Challenges make us question ourselves, our partners, and our choices.
By looking within and questioning, we learn to create our lives. We learn to change our reality. We learn we can build relationships. We began to witness instead of being merged with our response to life. This allows us to align with more than we are currently able to express. We become the person who makes life beautiful even when our situation is challenging. Looking within will take us much further than reacting or blame.
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