Learning how to be there for the other during COVID-19

Let us be a source of support to each other and a model to our children:

As we all know couples are made-up of different personalities, characteristics and traits. To make it even more compound partners have different mental health predispositions. Some have the tendency to think negative, to point at that which is not working or not present, to engage in obsessive behaviours, to seek perfectionism, to want to control and plan if possible every single second, minute, hour of the day, who make mountains out of a molehill, who get anxious when there are no solutions at hand. Some others act passively or cool, as though nothing is happening or others who take on a very rational approach to what goes on. Now why am I sharing this?

Because it is important that we:

Recognize and acknowledge the type of partners, personalities and mental predispositions the couple-hood is made-up of

By acknowledging who we are in the relationship, we become aware of what we bring to one another in our interactions. We accept our partnerfor what s/he offers, that is how s/he usually reacts, for his/her strengths and weaknesses and the like. By having this awareness in our foreground we make ourselves possible to offer ‘empathy’.

For example, if I have a partner who gets anxious when s/he has to attend to multiple tasks. In the situation where my partner is finding him/herself at home, having to perform his/her daily working duties, possibly also to contribute to parenting tasks it makes sense to hypothesize that s/he is going to manifest more anxiety. Hence rather than reacting to her/his outbursts by saying “this is not helpful, you shouting at someone every minute of the day”. This usually generates more anger in the atmosphere. Instead, if I were to react by sharing, “I understand this is challenging for you because you are expected to work as usual and yet there is the assumption that we, parents, have to manage our kids at home plus attend to their schooling and act as though this is not happening. It is too much to take on and definitely not easy for either of us”.

Instead of judging and/or blaming, we offer understanding. Like this, we immediately send the message to one another that we are on the same boat, we are in it together and there is no “YOU” being pointed at. Hence, it does not provoke any defensive attack but rather the message “I am here for/with you and you are here for/with me.”We will be looking out for each other in this way and we give the message that we are working together side by side.

Acknowledge that this is a novel situation for both and that it provokes uncertainty

Once we acknowledge who we are as individuals in the couple and we respond empathically to one another, we remind ourselves that this Covid-19 circumstance is new for both of us. Living with social isolation/ distancing, working from indoors, being within the parameters of our homes twenty-four seven not only with each other but also possibly with our children is novel to both (not to mention for all, I mean kids too).

The realization of the newness of this situation brings to our awareness that whereas before we might possibly have had answers, this time we do not. We are both learning to go through it, to work with it or to all affects fight it. Hence, the assumption that “I” or “you” have the answer does not hold. The new assumption is “together, let’s find what works for us”.

There is no point in looking at him or her and ask, “What are you going to do? Or “did you think about …?” Instead what would be helpful is for us to sit together and generate conversations around “ok, how are we going to create the possibility at home that all of us find space for oneself, so we make sure everyone goes on with his and her life activities (be it work, cooking, housecleaning, kids, monitoring kids’ educations, couple/family leisure, etc.). Let us brainstorm the most important aspects of our day! What are our priorities for each day? How are we going to set them in a way that allows us to support each other with every activity? Let’s allocate time to review.” Conversations like these are allowing us to bring together our ideas, opinions and expertise. This is teamwork and in our teamwork, weare paving the way for a (daily) routine.

A situation like this where novel and uncertainty prevails might be a huge challenge for our partners who want to have ready and fast answers, who do not sit nicely with the unknown, who want to plan and control as much as they can or who are super worried because there are the children’s needs or working concerns. Once again, the importance of acknowledging the uncertainty and working with it becomes ever significant.“ Yes I know it can be hard on you because you are used to doing things in a certain way, you usually want to have the answers but this is new for us both so we both need to figure out how to make it work for both of us and the children” The positive side of this is that again, it highlights (a) we, both partners, are not on our own and (b) we have the freedom to choose what makes sense to us. We are setting the pattern, our routine in operation. (It is helpful to see what other people out there are doing and just as important to attend to what works BEST for us.)

Recognize and acknowledgethat we are learning about ourselvesin this context by trial and error

As we go along living together at home, as days go by, we are learning through experimenting. This by default implies that there will be days where we succeed in meeting the tasks, objective and/or goals we set for ourselves, for our couple-hood and/or the children and there will be other days where we feel that it was less so. Perhaps it was less so for oneself on this day and more for the other or the other way round on a different day, or worse of all, a day were nothing gets done the way we planned it. Chaos rules the day. Understanding the element of learning by trial and error relieves us from the fear of failing. It normalizes the reality that certain days will be worse than others and vice versa.

Working in this way together has the psychological effect of increasing the ‘relationship-cohesion’ as we seek to build inter-relational trust. This experience will free us from carrying the ‘failure feeling’ or ‘successful feeling’ that would have most probably accompanied us when functioning within the normal circumstances (pre-Covid-19). Rather punctuating our doings as a trail and error learning helps us to stay in the process.

Experiments carry an element of risk. In this case, we, partners, are taking a risk in working our day/s together at home, in sending the message “we believe that this, in this way, makes sense to us ”even though it might fail.

Again I would like us to remind ourselves that when we or our partners who have issues of trust or of letting go or we feel our partners emotionally disconnected to us, we going to find such a way of working as very challenging. In this scenario the assumption we, as partners, function on is, “I am better off thinking for myself, by myself”. When this is the case, it does not mean that we do not have what is necessary to operate together but rather it highlights the importance, the significance and the essentiality of practicing step 1 and step 2. Ultimately believing that we both have the same intention for the couple that is, to survive this situation, to learn something from it and to come out stronger.

New situations whether by choice or forced, whether liked or not,challenge us to learn something more. It is constructive to share that this ‘Corona reality’ is literally taking everyone out of their comfort zone and compelling each and every one to accept it, face it, work with it to overcome it. We as a couple need to understand that this is a fight, we need and want to fight together. The enemy is out there and not between us. ACT TOGETHER is key.

Compliment, praise and giving each other positive strokes

Humans need encouragement,stimulation and motivation. It is not the time to criticize, to put my partner down or to be sarcastic. It is the time to compliment and praise as well as to build on each other’s strengths. When I have the tendency to do the former, it is better to stop and take a minute to reframe it into something positive. Caressing is possible not only physical but also verbally. Let us give each other positive strokes. In layman terms this is the feeling of ‘a pat on the shoulder’. When in movies we see buddies working together and having fun we also smile and have a sense of good feeling inside us. In our relationship our partner is our buddy. Let us look after him/her in this way.

And let me just add that humour is the best medicine. Social media is having a huge impact on everyone of us more than ever before. We share video clips, funny episodes or captions because we recognize we need and want to laugh. In times like nowadays, humour and laughter are essential surviving tools. We, as couples need to generate an atmosphere where this is possible in the privacy of our own homes. After all laughter is a constructive way of releasing stress and anxiety and transforming negative energy into positive one.

Let me end by nicely referring to the inevitable reality that our children are looking up to us parents in dealing with new situations. These tips also provide a constructive way of modelling to them useful ways of managing novelty, dealing with uncertainty and confusion as well as diffusing tension and anxiety……..and more importantly modelling how a couple (grown ups) does that together.

Ultimately by relating to one another in the above ways understanding, compassion and kindness prevail.

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