How to Get Along When You Can’t Get Away From Each Other
As a Coach to Couples,Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist and a DBT Therapist I have witnessed the struggle many couples have over life together. Problems often include:
- How to share household responsibilities (Can you believe taking out the trash is a THING?)
- How to get more help and support with the kids
- Difficulties being able to count on the other when it comes to schedule and priorities
- Struggles about spending and saving
- Trouble because one partner doesn’t get along with the others parents.
In addition, it has been astonishing to me how little time couples spend together, particularly two career couples, even with young children. It often seems like they live parallel but very different lives.
So when, in the spirit of social distancing and doing my part during the COVID-19 crisis, my practice temporarily moved online last week I found what couples were doing in the midst of a PANDEMIC rather surprising.
This has led me to share things couples can do while they both work at home and spend more time together than they ever imagined- often while tending to wiggly kids who are not in school, and all while watching the world change right before their eyes. It seems that even in a Pandemic, couples still desperately want to improve their relationship.
Realizing We Are both in Reality Together: I think our busy lives mislead us into thinking own life is reality but we are all actually in a single reality: The Universe IS the Universe and onward it goes regardless of what I d0.
If you had talked to my grandfather who was a young boy during the Great Depression he would have dialectically pointed out that the lack of food was very painful and that the love was abundant in his small town and close-knit family with whom he shared many fun times.
Most of us have never “hunkered” or “bunkered” and a lifestyle that binds us to one another against a common enemy or condition has just not been part of our reality until now.
This past week I saw couples sit (huddle actually) closely together in front of their screen to talk to me. They looked into each other’s faces as they came to the realization that the Pandemic we are in is real (Radical Acceptance) and that this is the person they want near them.
Just the week before they had sat on opposite sides of the couch and wept about how alone they felt. Talking about this with me, becoming aware of their partners uneasiness, comforting the other with a gentle rub on the back, was for some of them a new experience of solidarity.
Paying Attention to the Other Person in Small Ways: Mindfulness of Others is a skill in Dialectical Behavior Therapy and in my groups or sessions with couples it always amazes me how much reluctance there is to really notice another person and for a time give up on trying to figure out their motives and make up stories about what they are up to.
Of course any one of our assumptions could be true but if we actually want to get along and improve life for ourselves and those we live it with it is effective and practical to just give the other person the benefit of the doubt and try to understand their point of view.
Mindfulness of Others is the only way to get accurate information not only about what the other person is saying and meaning, but it is also the only way to hear and experience any love or good wishes coming from them.
If you don’t pay attention, you’ll miss it. Willing to be mindfully aware of your partner is like opening a vault to their thoughts and desires which also means that the love you wonder about might be there too.
Being Willing to Do What Works: In DBT being willing to do what works is rolling up your sleeves and doing what the situation calls for. The couples I have worked with report that seeing their partner dive in to do what is needed is better than the best sex they have ever had because it builds trust and closeness.
It stokes a kind of loving appreciation they never thought they would feel for the very same person they fought grievously with only hours before. Being brave, can-do, attentive, and doing what is needed without expecting fanfare is tremendous gift to a stressed-out partner.
Finding the sore spot and soothing it, filling a gap even if it might not be how you would have done it on your own, not only communicates that “I am with you”, it also is extremely validating to the other person. Like a nurse who brings you the ice needed for an injury, a partner who figures out how to solve a problem and then solves it is appreciated even if words of appreciation are difficult to formulate.
Doing what works builds layers of trust in a relationship like Phyllo Dough in a pastry- strong, and capable of holding and withstanding a lot of outside stress. Being willing and effective is also “Making Lemonade out of Lemons”. It is the foundation of resilience.
Of course, the success of efforts like this will only work long term if the behaviors are reinforced and encouraged. Couples need to learn how to encourage one another and themselves and also how to tolerate the distress of disappointment when their partner isn’t effective.
In my experience the couples that seem to make it are the ones who can extend a hand not just when the other needs aid and assistance, but also when that same partner is not doing their best. Grace and Mercy extend the lifespan of couples.