We’ve all heard about the spike in China’s divorce rate at this point. We’ve seen the memes poking fun at couples who aren’t necessarily coping. We’ve joked about throwing our men into Carole Baskin’s tiger pit.
We’re talking about love in the time of lockdown
Beneath all of this though, for some of us at least, we’ve genuinely braced ourselves for the impact this lockdown period will have on our relationships. And according to sex therapist Joe Kort, Ph.D., LMSW, that’s good thinking.
While for some, the lockdown will be a period of connecting more deeply, Dr Kort explains in Psychology Today, for others, ‘it can seem like a curse with increasing conflicts, pressure, and frustrations.’
So how exactly does our relationship make it out of lockdown alive?
‘In reality, conflict doesn’t always have to mean things are bad. Handled properly, it can lead to better understanding and deeper emotional ties,’ Dr Kort says. ‘The keys to a successful, long-term relationship are empathy, validation, and goodwill.’
So when arguments with your partner inevitably arise, here are some tips to help you sort things out.
‘I advise couples never to begin a sentence with, “You always say that…,” or “You never do this….”’, explains Dr Kort. ‘That’s making a blanket statement that excludes even the one exception to the rule you’re trying to lay down.’
While it may feel good to make sweeping statements in the heat of the moment, Dr Kort suggests giving your partner an ‘escape hatch’ by rephrasing your point. For example, “‘For the most part…,” or “Mostly…,” or “More than I like….”’, suggests Dr Kort. ‘Then you’re giving credit where it’s due, acknowledging the (admittedly few) times your partner might have said or done whatever you’re accusing them of.’
Scrap this one sentence from your vocab
We’ve all uttered the words ‘I shouldn’t have to ask’ before, and oh boy, turns out we were wrong. Because according to Dr Kort, asking is exactly what we should be doing. ‘In any relationship, you must ask for what you want.’
Dr Kort believes the reason many of us don’t ask for what we want is that during the early, romantic stages of our relationship, our partner just instinctively knew what we wanted. Kort puts this down to the ‘love’ hormones we experience in the early phases of a relationship, in which we ‘closely track’ our new boo.
‘The purpose of all that was to bond you together, not set the entire tone for your relationship. If you expect it to, you’ll be disappointed.’
Try that mirroring technique we’ve all seen in the movies
You know the one where the speaker’s statements all start with ‘I’? That one.
Here’s how Dr Kort recommends going about it IRL (In Real Lockdown, if you will):
‘The sender delivers all the information relating to one topic until they’re entirely finished, using short declarative sentences that start with the word “I.” The Receiver doesn’t interpret, diminish, or magnify what was said but simply repeats it like a parrot, and then asks, “Did I get it?” and, “Is there more?” until the sender says, “No, that’s all.”’
If you’re used to passive aggression or the good ol’ silent treatment, this may initially seem impossible, but it’s a great way to block behaviours that prevent a resolution. Think dominating the conversation, interrupting and finishing each other’s sentences, or being overly critical.
‘For example, your partner might say, “I’m upset you didn’t clean up after the dog after we agreed you would.” You’d then say, “I heard you say you’re upset that I didn’t clean up after the dog after we agreed I would.” Then you add, “Did I get it?” and “Is there more?”‘
Communicate with intention and you’ll come out of this in one piece.
And then try validation
Once your partner has finished explaining how they feel, it’s time to validate their concerns. ‘Not from your point of view, but theirs,’ Dr Kort explains. What exactly does that look like? Well, like this:
‘The receiver says, “What you’re saying makes sense to me. From your point of view, I can see why you’d think this way.” You are not agreeing, simply validating his point of view. For that moment, you’re looking through their eyes, not yours, and validating the way they view the world, and acknowledging that yours is not the only way to view the conflicts in your relationship.’
While this may seem as though you’re automatically agreeing with what your partner is saying (which would make you ‘wrong’), Dr Kort explains that that isn’t the case. Rather, you’re ‘simply suspending your point of view temporarily and letting your partner’s reality surface as well. It’s good practice to keep your reality while validating the reality of another person too.’
And top it off with empathy
Now it’s time to try and really understand what your partner might be feeling, based on the things they’ve told you.
‘Here again, you put aside whatever your feeling is, contain it, and try to imagine his point of view. What are they feeling?’ Once this process has been completed, it’s time to switch roles of sender and receiver and take it from the top. Dr Kort suggests sticking strictly to the topic that’s already at hand, so as to not stack up new issues.
Simple tools such as the ones Dr Kort recommends are a (kinda) simple way to prevent unspoken frustrations building up. Learning to diffuse your emotional charge during this incredibly wild and weird time may be the difference between coming out of this alive, or nursing a broken heart.
‘I hope, as I’m sure you do, that this time of self-isolation and sheltering in place will help teach us all to not only deal more effectively with conflicts but help us learn to treat each other with greater kindness and compassion,’ he adds.
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