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We have found ourselves in an unparalleled situation that no one could have predicted. The world is facing a challenge more difficult than anyone could have expected: forced family time indefinitely — home quarantine 24/7. For couples out there, you may be looking for answers on how to keep your relationship healthy during self-isolation. Because let’s be honest, being together All The Time can feel a little overwhelming.
As an online marriage counselor and relationship coach, I am now seeing my couple’s therapy couples in all different types of situations, being confronted with new and unforeseen challenges in how to manage their relationships in claustrophobic quarters. Have you experienced this too?
Figuring out new formulas to handle household responsibilities when parents are working at home, being together 24/7 in a confined space, managing the kids 24/7, are all issues that no self-help book or couples therapist has advised on previously. [Speaking of kids and quarantine, here’s some helpful advice on how to survive! Tips to Survive Quarantine with Kids.]
Compounded by the increased stress and anxiety of financial issues and general uncertainty about the future, this quarantine has the potential to make or break our relationships.
I want to share with you 12 simple tips on how to keep your relationship healthy during self-isolation as we navigate through these very uncertain times.
One of my college professors wisely told me, “The closer you come to the truth, the closer you come to a paradox.” Almost every issue in life involves embracing the dialectic, which is examining how two contrasting ideas can simultaneously be truthful, and in the paradoxical truth, a greater understanding emerges.
There are going to be times when you’ve never felt closer to your partner and when you absolutely detest them (this is normal!). In your relationship, you might get to connect and talk with each other in ways that you have never before but you might also get more annoyed and irritated than ever before! (If this is you, don’t worry – we have all been there!)
Embracing that you can have opposite feelings at the same time will relieve relational stress and anxiety that may feel pressing or hard to navigate. We do not have to choose one or the other. Embrace that your partnership is not black and white, and it is from the grey where true compatibility, trust, and partnership emerge.
This surreal state of uncertainty is the perfect opportunity to discover your ‘truth’.
Here’s were clarity around your relationship steps in – either you know that this relationship was not meant to work and this is the straw on the camel’s back, you now have the clarity to make the right decision for both of you. Or, more optimistically, the clarity you discover is around how much you really love your partner and how you are ready to jump in and give them your complete love and dedication.
This is an opportunity for clarity, whatever that might mean for you.
How will you as a couple look back at this in 5 years, 10 years, and even 20 years? My daughter’s teacher told her that this will be her generation’s 9/11. What will you tell your children and grandchildren about this time? As uncertain and rapidly changing this might seem, we are living history right now.
What do you want your memories to be? Did you learn how to live differently? Did it teach you something about what is really important and what your values truly are?
Hold onto that after this pandemic is over and let it change your life. This quarantine can be what you make it — maybe you started your novel or cleaned your whole house top to bottom, or maybe it was a time to relax and reflect.
Don’t bury your head in the sand, or become overly focused and obsessed with the crisis. There is a balance between knowing what is going on in the world and ruminating about it.
Everyone needs to focus on creating a balance. Life will go on and you will still need to function; so find plenty of time to balance your work, your relationships, and your life.
Limit your social media and time spent watching the news for the sake of your own sanity. This could be a good time to start new habits around the news, social media, and managing your own anxiety. [Here’s more on creating balance through Intentional Living – How to not Panic in the PANIC.]
How we handle challenges that life throws at us shows us who we are and shows us who our partner is.
What are you learning about yourself and your partner during this time? How can you use this to cooperate better with your partner in the future?
Using this time to gain insight into your partnership will ultimately help set your relationship up for success as you move forward.
If there is ever going to be a better opportunity to get off of the proverbial ‘rat race’, this is it. What do you want to do that you are usually too busy for? Who do you want to be that you’ve never given yourself an opportunity to be? This is your moment to jump in and work towards your best self.
As a couple, this is an excellent opportunity to become the couple that you loved, that brought out the best in both of you.
This is a time to expand who you are in the daily rituals and expectations of everyday life. Show your partner that you want to connect. Show your partner that you are worried or that you are scared or that you are hopeful. This is a great opportunity to show more of who you are. Remember to laugh, make love, and dream. [For more on creating rituals together, read: Keys to a Successful Marriage During Quarantine.]
Everything we do in life is the “so-that.” The so-that principle says, “I do ___ so-that I can/feel/know/do/have/etc.” What is your so-that? What will this do for you in the road ahead? Is this making me happier? Or richer? Are you leading your life to be rich or successful, fulfilled, loved, or happy? What is your so-that?
What existential questions is this time bringing up for you, your partner, and your relationship? I hope it brings up the fact that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. How do you want to be spending your days and ultimately, your life together?
When ask what people miss after a loved one passes away, the thing most commonly said is that they miss the little things. The everyday moments. The small annoyances. The daily habits. Choose to not let those moments go.
Take stock of your time together, find gratitude in the little things – recognize the fragility of life and the brief moments the feel fleeting but important. Honor these moments.
Unfortunately, we do not get to choose which feelings to feel. We choose to feel all of our feelings or we try to feel none of them.
You can try to control your life so that you only feel the feelings you want, but it does not work that way. If you want to live life on life’s terms, you need to choose to be open to feeling them all.
In a time like this, there will be moments of joy and moments of panic. Choose not to shut yourself down to that experience. You will regret it. Be open to sharing this experience as partners working through this time together as you work towards keeping your relationship healthy during self-isolation.
Brenda Fahn, M.A., LMFT
Brenda Fahn, M.A., LMFT helps people strengthen their marriages, their families, and themselves. She can help you enjoy your relationships with your partner and children, heal from difficult experiences, and cultivate meaning, joy, and love in your life.
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When I first started working with couples who sought to improve their communication and relationship satisfaction, I noticed a pattern in their descriptions of conflict. It centered around escalations in arguments. They would describe a situation where the more verbal and communicative partner wanted to “get to the bottom” of a disagreement, and the other more pragmatic, “laid back” personality retreated in direct proportion to the escalating frustration of their partner.
Many couples are unaware that this escalation is even taking place. The psychologist John Gottman, who several decades ago pioneered groundbreaking couples research, shares a wealth of knowledge that now informs our understanding.
What is really happening when one half of the couple retreats in the face of escalating emotion? The term for this is “flooding”: it’s a nervous system that’s kicked into overdrive. Gottman defines emotional flooding as “a sensation of feeling psychologically and physically overwhelmed during conflict, making it virtually impossible to have a productive, problem-solving conversation.”
This biological reactivity was at one time adaptive and necessary for our very survival. But that was millions of years ago when our main concern centered around escaping the jaws of a hungry saber-toothed tiger. The stress reactions that enable us to fight or flee, in our modern world, can wreak havoc on our sense of well-being. Familiar and repetitive disagreements morph into something else entirely.
Most couples wouldn’t imagine that chemistry has anything to do with their partner’s disappearance, but it really does. And knowing this can help to defuse the escalation. Stress hormones are racing, and without a predator to escape from, the brain is essentially confused by the lack of “real” danger. It quickly appoints a new target as the perceived threat: the emotional attack.
Throw in a few cognitive distortions (“He never cares what I’m feeling, he’s just punishing me by running away, again!” and “She is always on my back about something, I can’t get a word in edgewise, and I can’t think straight”)…and the die is cast.
For the one left behind doing the yelling, it feels like deliberate abandonment, meant to punish. For the one who walked away or shut down and refused to engage, a retreat to a quieter safer space seems like the only choice to make.
It comes as a surprise to the person who was on the attack that, far from being a deliberate punishment, the retreater cannot hear any more. They feel overwhelmed, and both partners’ sympathetic nervous systems have essentially shorted out. In order to reverse the emotional flooding, a time-out is essential.
It has been said that perception becomes reality. In the case of emotional flooding, this is clearly the case. If you believe your partner’s behaviors are purposeful acts meant to upset you or shut you down, your own reactions are going to be driven by those convictions. But what if your partner may not be able to handle another round of argument because their heart is pounding, their pulse is elevated, and they’re not processing the conversation anymore?
If we take a moment to suspend the doubt about the other’s intention, to open up a space for the possibility that what we think we are seeing may not be accurate…then what other ways might we be able to engage during times of conflict?
A flood does not need to become a tsunami; you can learn to equip yourself with the tools to avert that disaster every single time.
As a Couples Counselor and Marriage Therapist I work with my clients through these cycles of emotional flooding. I want to share with you tips for breaking this cycle and moving forward into a healthier, happier relationship and life.
A final thought about time-outs during conflict: the time spent away from your partner should not be spent planning your next responses, or fuming over what has transpired. A true time-out is meant to quiet the nervous system and return you to a place of peace, where you are ready to re-engage with your loved one.
You will find once you understand the dynamics of emotional flooding, you will be far less likely to end up in that heightened emotional standoff in the first place. This will make it much easier to reconnect with your loved one after a disagreement. You can use your new anti-flooding superpower to create a more secure bond and know more about what your partner needs from you.
Wishing you all the best,
Lisa Jordan M.A., LCPC, is an empathic counselor and coach who helps individuals and couples create healthy communication and connection, with greater confidence and self-knowledge. She can help you move beyond difficulties, to create meaning and life satisfaction.
No one teaches you how to have a great relationship. Documentary filmmaker Roger Nygard shares what seven years of research uncovered about what happy couples know. He’s here to share it all with you, on this episode of the podcast.
If you’re recently unemployed – you’re not alone. In fact, there are many others experiencing this same anxiety and stress due to COVID-19, questioning “what now?” Today on the Love, Happiness and Success blog we have Online Career Counselor and Life Coach, Markie Keelan, M.A., LPC sharing encouragement and tips for those looking for answers in what feels like a very unpredictable time.
Is your relationship experiencing a “new kind” of stress while you’re both stuck at home and navigating new boundaries around space, support, and relationship maintenance? Online Marriage Therapist and Relationship Expert, Silas Hendrich, M.S., MFTC shares 5 Easy Ways to Protect Your Relationship in Times of Stress on the Love, Happiness and Success blog now!
Whether you are transitioning your career, starting over, or experiencing new challenges working from home, Online Career Coach and Executive / Leadership Coaching Expert, Teena Evert is sharing her 7 Simple Steps to Your Dream Career. Find Your Focus!
This quiet time offers an invitation for introspection and new self-awareness, as well as the opportunity to create a sanctuary — both without, and within. Life Coach Olivia of Decluttered Intentions shares how, on this episode of the podcast.
The struggle between Motivation and Instant Gratification is inside us all. Here are three powerful strategies keep you motivated, and moving forward.
Stuck at home & looking for that next career move? Online Therapist and Certified Emotional Intelligence Coach, Linda Pounds, M.A., LMFT shares practical ways for working on your success by building your Emotional Intelligence through Resilience, Perseverance, Empathy and more. Read here…
Are you struggling with the transition to working from home? Online therapist and success coach, Josphine Marin, M.S., MFTC shares the same strategies she shares with her online therapy and life coaching clients for being productive and meeting deadlines when working from home. Read now!
Talking with your kids about the pandemic will feel more reassuring after implementing these four strategies that Online Marriage and Family Therapist, Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT shares in her article How to Talk About Coronavirus as a Family. Read here…
I had known Mary for several years. I had gone to 7 years of schooling with her. We had spent countless days and nights together. We were best friends. Then we started dating, and I thought that I knew her very well but within those first few dates I found both of us having to take a step back to ask some “get to know you questions.” While this feels fairly common for a new relationship, we can forget how important these conversations are to our long-term relationships as well.
Through this foundational relationship conversation, we talked about our family histories, what we wanted for our future, what are our fears, our pet peeves – we even talked about our favorite colors and foods. In that moment, Mary and I had a new beginning. It wasn’t the beginning of our story, but we started anew. This event changed our pathway and set us on a path together rather than two separate people walking next to each other. We were unified.
As a Relationship Coach and Marriage Counselor, it’s not uncommon for couples to come into our sessions feeling stagnant in the relationship with their long-term partner. With large events, new beginnings come naturally. Things like moving, new jobs, having a baby. It is an obvious time to re-adjust and re-align as a couple. But what about those times when everything stays as it is? For weeks, months or years? That is when it becomes vital to your relationship to create moments for new beginnings.
Now having been married for several years, Mary and I continue to have new beginnings and I want to share with you today a simple tool for falling back in love with your spouse.
We as individuals are constantly evolving and changing. It is imperative that we continually ensure that we know our partner and can find ways to be unified in our relationships. Just as you continue to grow and change, so does your partner. Their favorite band 5 years ago may be completely irrelevant to them now. It’s so important to create time together (even amongst busy work/career/social schedules) to sit down and spend quality time talking, listening, and encouraging one another through personal and relational growth.
For you, this may look like a weekly date night, lunch break, coffee together, or the coveted hours of the evening once the kids are put to bed. Whatever this time looks like for you, make it a priority.
In my sessions with couples I like to encourage my clients to begin asking each other questions that are both new to the relationship and reruns from years past. You don’t have to have a Quizlet setup in order for this to be effective. You can begin by covering some of the more natural areas of conversation (e.g. what’s your favorite part of your day?), and you may be surprised by the level of intimacy that can grow from these simple conversations.
Some other conversation starters for you and your partner might include:
Approach each of these questions with a curious mindset. Ask follow-up questions, ask about experiences your partner has had that has helped develop their answer, ask anything that comes to mind after your partner answers the initial question.
Too many times I have worked with couples that have been in a committed relationship with each other for years and are not able to answer these questions. Many couples have never asked these questions or any other similar questions. In those situations, we start from the beginning and ask deeper “get to know you” questions. It may feel like we are going backwards but we are truly building a stronger foundation for that couple to move forward together.
Be sincere in your interest, and show you’re listening by engaging in the conversation as it moves forward. This isn’t a game of 20-Questions, so take your time. You already know your partner, now you’re meeting them at a deeper level.
Sometimes you may find as a couple that answering these questions confirms that your relationship can succeed and flourish, that you align in many key aspects of life. Sometimes you may find that your answers are drastically different and you are looking for different things from life. If this is the case, you may decide that you can make it work despite the differences or you may find that there are too many differences to reconcile. Either way, it is important to understand your partner on this level, and can sometimes offer the clarity you are looking for.
Take this new year as a time to find new beginnings in your relationship. Whether you have been dating for a week or married for decades, there are new things to discover! Doing this will only strengthen what you already have. I challenge you and your partner to take time within the next week to do 2 things:
Taking the time to get to know your partner in a deeper way can be a powerful way to build a more meaningful connection and strengthen the love you feel for each other.
Wishing you all the best,
Hunter Tolman, M.S., MFTC
Hunter Tolman, M.S., MFTC specializes in helping people just like you reach their highest potential both individually, and in their most important relationships. He provides couples counseling, family therapy, individual therapy, and life coaching that focuses on creating understanding and fostering strong connections that support healing and compassion.
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Over time in a long term committed relationship it can be easy for couples to lose sight of the underlying friendship aspects of their relationship. Research has found that being friends with your partner is actually fundamental to a couples’ overall success and satisfaction with the relationship. Unfortunately, it’s easy lose sight of that over time.
When thinking about how to strengthen your friendship with your partner, it might be helpful to think of the qualities you admire in your closest friendships. These friendship “ingredients” may include fostering underlying trust, respect, teamwork and a sense that the other person is on your side or “has your back” at the end of the day. These qualities can also include sharing simple connecting moments like having inside jokes with one another or talking about how your day went in the evening with your significant other.
As a couples counselor and marriage therapist I have had the opportunity to work with many couples who desire to not only build this foundation of friendship with their partner, but also maintain it. Here are a few practical tips that you can use in your own relationship today!
As previously mentioned, with the busyness and demands of life, it can be easy for couples to lose sight of these necessary friendship qualities to a relationship (balancing a Career and Relationship sound familiar?). Couples may also find it difficult to set aside intentional time for maintaining a friendship. Phone conversations, for example, may become limited to shorthand speak about what time dinner will be and did you remember to pick the kids up from soccer practice today?
Even setting an intentional date night can sometimes miss the mark in maintaining friendship between couples. For example, there may be a lot of pressure to make date night grand and romantic or spending the majority of time together finding activities to do rather than simply connecting with one another. While doing fun things together is also important, it may not provide couples with the opportunity to connect in a way that fosters true intimacy and sharing with one another the way you might when having coffee with a close friend, for example.
One suggestion to avoid this pitfall is rather than setting a routine “date night” couples might focus on one time during the week that they set aside for connecting or “checking-in” with one another. Maybe you meet at your favorite coffee shop or simply have “couch time” one evening a week where you talk about how you’ve been feeling individually in addition to how you’re feeling about the relationship. This can be a great opportunity to share things that feel really great about the relationship or ways that you wish things might be going differently between you. [For more ideas on how you can set aside time with your partner, read: “How To Fall In Love Again”]
Another important component to maintaining friendship between couples is honest communication about what’s going well in the relationship and what isn’t. Part of this communication means giving honest feedback to one another on a regular basis. It can be easy to jump into defense mode when receiving feedback from your partner. Additionally, giving feedback to your partner can feel anxiety provoking and built-up resentment can make delivering feedback to your partner in a caring way difficult.
One way couples might reduce anxiety around giving and receiving feedback to one another is imagining what it would be like to give or receive the same feedback to a close friend. How would you want the feedback delivered? What would be most important to communicate to the other person? What do you ultimately need from this person in the relationship? Sometimes imagining the conversation in this way can take some of the pressure and steam off the conversation with a romantic partner when the stakes often feel much higher and more emotionally loaded than in a platonic friendship.
The importance of mutual respect in a couple relationship cannot be underestimated. Mutual respect also means that there is a shared sense of equality in the partnership; that both members of the couple know that the other takes their needs seriously and cares about making the other feel cared for and important. In a friendship, this component is often easy because without it, you wouldn’t have much of a foundation upon which to build a friendship.
One big way that couples lose a sense of mutual respect for one another is the way that conflict gets resolved in the relationship. An example of how this might play out is with grand romantic gestures. For example, a couple gets into a fight and one member of the couple buys the other a bouquet of flowers that gets delivered to the office the next day as an apology. Often times, while well-intentioned, grand romantic gestures disclude the fundamental component of mutual respect which is talking and communicating about what happened during the fight in a meaningful way.
This involves a conversation where both members of the couple take responsibility for and convey understanding of any hurt feelings to one another. These conversations allow couples the opportunity to truly move on from an argument in addition to turning conflict into an opportunity to foster intimacy, honesty and connection in the relationship while grand romantic gestures tend to sweep things under the rug temporarily.
Most couples in long-term, committed relationships struggle to maintain these aspects of the relationship that are so important to overall relationship satisfaction. So know that you are not alone. I do hope you found this article has a helpful jumping off point to thinking about overarching ways friendship might be maintained within the context of a romantic relationship. Share with me your thoughts in the comments below!
Dr. Chelsea Twiss is a couples counselor, individual therapist, life coach and creativity coach. She specializes in helping couples restore emotional and sexual intimacy, individuals move past heartbreak and into healthy relationships, and creatives find their voice.
Sometimes in couples counseling, I see that my clients’ dissatisfaction can be fueled by disappointment when their partner doesn’t meet their expectations or when they feel like they can’t possibly meet their partner’s expectations either. And sometimes the expectations they put on their relationships are simply unrealistic. These unrealistic expectations can be dangerous to the relationship, however, they can also be used to help strengthen the relationship when we begin to understand what these expectations actually mean and what to do with them!
Expectations can come from previous relationships or couples we’ve looked up to in the past, but often times they can come from what we see in the media. Hollywood seems to be a breeding-ground for relationship expectations: the guy who suddenly appears at your window with a boombox ready to serenade you, the girl who friend-zoned you for years finally declaring her love and commitment for you, the ultimate happily ever after. Even as children, young girls see prince charming coming in for the rescue at exactly the right moment, and boys see a princess willing and ready to be swept off her feet. So, what are these scenes telling us? What are they doing to our relationships? How dangerous are unrealistic expectations, really?
In my experience as a therapist, I’ve noticed two main dangers in maintaining these unrealistic expectations. First, unrealistic expectations can set the relationship up for failure. The images of perfect relationships in the media can create a romanticized view of romance, leaving couples to expect the perfect fairy tale ending after every conflict. Real-life relationships, however, are much more complicated than a romantic comedy. Until we can appreciate the complexity, we will always be dissatisfied.
Second, my clients have expressed how unrealistic expectations can create distance and distrust in the relationship. The emotional rollercoaster of hopeful expectation and disheveling disappointment is taxing. After a while, it can feel like you or your partner may never come through. The worst part is that you both might be working extremely hard to satisfy each other, but the expectations put on yourself or your partner are distracting you from a deeper connection.
In the end, it may sound like we should do away with expectations all together, but actually, expectations can be helpful for a healthy relationship.
Ultimately, there are two things you should know about having unrealistic expectations: First, this is normal. Even therapists can be unrealistic with what we expect of our partners! And second, these expectations come from a good place, a place that tells us what we need in our relationships: to feel valued, loved and cared for. So how can we use expectations to help our relationships grow?
Having fair expectations that effectively communicate our needs is essential for a satisfying relationship, so maybe it’s time to explore expectations with your partner. After all, you may not be the star of a Cinderella story, but you still deserve a happily ever after.
Here’s to Healthy Expectations!
Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT
Georgi Chizk, M.S., LAMFT is a warm, compassionate marriage counselor, individual therapist and family therapist who creates a safe and supportive space for you to find meaning in your struggles, realize your self-worth, and cultivate healthy connections with the most important people in your life.