We are never angry because of what others say or do. It is our thinking that makes us angry.
– Marshall Rosenberg, Author of Non-Violent Communication
“How are things going on the home front?” takes on a new meeting when the “home front” is the only front you have. We’ll soon start spending more time away from home, yet our relationships have been tested in past couple of months.
It’s sweet to hear someone say they appreciate that his or her mate is home with the family and not traveling so much or spending so many nights at the office or entertaining clients. Important needs are being met in some couples with a standing “game night” ritual and it didn’t take a vacation to have everyone together.
Yet if we interfere with each other’s routines, patterns, and physical spaces, being home and working from home can increase the emotional pressure on a relationship.
Understanding the sources of relationship tension, the barriers to intimacy, and feelings of disconnection provide opportunities to grow, both as a couple and individually. Working through challenges now can help you prepare for the empty-nesting or retirement years that are coming. Given the limited efficacy of couples’ therapy, maybe one of the purposes of the virus is to help sapiens work on our relationship skills.
Here are three practical moves you can make to shift from just surviving extended periods of time at home to thriving in them.
Separate spaces – Humans are designed to be with one another, yet we need our own space. Designate times for solitude, such as: separate Sundays; no talking before 8 AM; no nonessential interruptions when the office door is closed, let’s meet at 5:30 on the patio for a glass of wine.
Take a Break – When you are at three or more on the five-point anger scale, mutually agree to take a break, “Let’s get back together in an hour and continue talking.” If you notice either of you are being critical, getting defensive, feeling contempt, or stonewalling your partner (all of these are red flags that danger lies ahead per couples researcher John Gottman), take a time out.
Just Listen – Often all we really want is to be heard—no problem-solving, no sharing your story, no philosophizing, just holy listening. Some couples use an old-fashion egg timer that looks like an hour class that lasts two minutes. You flip the timer over and get two minutes to talk while your mate just listens.
Two Secret Ingredients
Relationships are complex systems and I hesitate to ever boil down a successful one to a few variables. Yet there are two touchstones my wife Tricia and I consistently come back to in our 30-year relationship.
First, the foundation of our relationship is our friendship. We have a deep knowledge of what Gottman calls each other’s “Love Maps,” our inner psychological worlds (I recommend using the Enneagram if you want to invest in this area of your relationship).
Second, after a lot of valuable time lost to tension, silence and blaming (mostly on my part) we are individually responsible for our emotional triggers and we take ownership of our reactions to what the other says and does. This means my upset is about me, not about her. Gottman’s red flags mean it’s time to look inside and ask, “How am I feeling and what beliefs, wounds, or unmet needs are causing those feelings?”
Realize Your Relationship Potential
If the coronavirus teaches us anything it will be about the importance of relationships of all types. The pandemic can serve as a global relationship workshop someone signed you up for, use it to add new, productive communication skills and expand your relational range so you can be the compassionate and awake partner, parent and leader you know you can be.