3 tips for good mental health 1:29
Editor’s note: Ian Kerner is a licensed marriage and family therapist, writer, and relationship contributor for CNN. Her most recent book is a couples guide, “So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex.”
(CNN) – I wish I could hang a sign outside my now virtual office that says, “Leave your guns at the door.”
Like a tavern owner in the Old West, I want the couples I see to take a breath and see this space as neutral territory. Of course, that was difficult for many of us even in “normal” times, and the pandemic has only made things worse.
Increasingly, troubled couples come to me in an even more exacerbated state, lashing out at each other, suppressing their emotions, or resorting to sarcasm or passive aggression. It is natural to fight sometimes in our intimate relationships, and in the last year it has been even more likely. As much as we love each other, we are far on top of each other and exposed to more stressors.
“After more than a year of constant bonding and stress, people’s emotional reserves are depleted,” explains clinical psychologist Alexandra H. Solomon of the Family Institute and clinical adjunct professor at Northwestern Illinois University. «This generates an impatience that leads us to speak without thinking. Many couples also face big decisions that have life and death consequences: whether to travel, whether to bring their children back to school in person, whether to go back to the office to work.
Stress in times of pandemic 4:21
All of these stressors can add up, and you suddenly take it out on your partner, or vice versa. Your relationship has suffered a breakdown. But with the break should come repair. It’s a challenge to control your reaction to that breakup – stress hormones are flowing, your pulse races, and steam may come out of your ears. But you can control how to repair things, using these proven techniques.
Take some time to calm down
When you’re under acute stress, your cave physiology takes over and your fight or flight response kicks in. At a time when your heart rate increases, breathing is shallow, and reasoning is impaired, keeping your emotions in check can be a struggle.
Make the decision to flee, not to continue fighting. It takes about 20 minutes for the body to calm down after the fight or flight response kicks in, so use that time to let your anger calm down.
“Tell your partner that you are not in a position to contribute to the discussion in a useful way, suggest that he take a break and come back to it when both of you have calmed down,” says couples therapist Sara Nasserzadeh, who works in Beverly Hills. California. Go for a run, walk the dog, practice deep breathing, anything that doesn’t contribute to the discussion.
If, like many people, you bought a pulse oximeter to monitor blood oxygen levels in case of covid-19, now is your chance to put it another use. This device can alert you to your stress response. “When my clients use oximeters, they know when it’s time to take a break, and there is a greater degree of goodwill and humor about it,” says New York-based therapist Eva Dillon.
Know your communication style
Some people are co-regulators: they want to talk things over as soon as possible. Communication is your way of calming down. Others are self-regulating, need to calm themselves, and may need a little more time before resuming the conversation.
Understanding your focus and your partner’s can help you navigate the quiet period and ensure that you both have enough space for yourselves.
give it time
When you try to repair too quickly, you run the risk of reopening the break.
“Disengaging from a power struggle is the first step in laying the emotional foundation for repair,” says New York-based couples therapist Juliane Maxwald. “If you’re still trying to argue your point of view or prove you’re right, chances are you’re not ready for repair yet.”
Sex therapist Jean Pappalardo, of Culver City, California, recommends using a red, yellow, or green light approach to gauge your readiness to repair. A “green light” means that you have processed your feelings and are ready for a productive conversation, while a red light means that you are still angry and need more time.
But don’t ignore it. If a quick repair isn’t possible because one of you is agitated, make a plan to talk about it as soon as you’re both ready and willing, said Dallas couples therapist Barbara Gold. “The solution to stop the conflict is not to bury things under the rug.”
Take it on and apologize
Once you’ve calmed down, acknowledge your role in the breakup. “Apologize for what you contributed to the discussion, even if you feel like you are only responsible for two percent of what happened,” says couples therapist Deborah Fox of Washington. “You may feel innocent of provoking the argument, but regret your part in the escalation. Hopefully your partner will be motivated to apologize as well.
Your apologies should be just the beginning. Recognize triggers and go beyond defensive emotions: rage, frustration, anger. If you got angry or retired, why? Did you feel scared, rejected, or abandoned? If you’re looking at another mess in the kitchen and your partner doesn’t seem to care, start with how you feel: “I’m sorry I screamed, but when I see that pile of dishes in the sink, I don’t feel considered or cared for.”
Separate the problem from the person
Yes, you may think that your partner is sloppy, or too dependent, but try to steer clear of labels and disassociate the problem from the person. Talk about the mess and why it bothers you, or talk about what your partner needs and why. Present the problem as something to be solved, and do it together.
Let me speak
Create a space for the other person to have a say. I know that as soon as your partner opens his mouth, you are ready to defend yourself. But don’t do it. Again, you are trying to repair, not repeat, a break. Just as you want to give your opinion, let him give his. And don’t think about how to refute: be curious about what he’s saying. Really listen. Once you’ve listened to your partner, validate it.
“Validation means that you have listened and understood your partner’s experience and feelings. It doesn’t mean you agree with them, ”says psychotherapist Joanne Bagshaw, professor of psychology and women’s studies at Montgomery College in Rockland, Maryland.
Instead, offer simple statements that acknowledge what you’ve heard: “I understand why you bother when I’m on social media while you’re cooking dinner” or “Your feelings make sense” or “How can I support you?” “When you validate your partner, you are telling her that you value her, her feelings, and her relationship, which is essential to mending a breakup,” she explained.
Be willing to give in
You cannot change another person. But you can be willing to trade something about yourself for someone you care about, especially if you know that they would do the same for you. Without a doubt, the person you are arguing with is far from being the same as you. Both have their idiosyncrasies. You have to put up with a lot, especially these days, and that person too. If you take those quirks into account, your partner will do the same.
With or without a pandemic, ruptures are normal and often cannot be avoided. We are simply human. But be a little super and make it normal to repair those breaks.