As each day passes during a pandemic, more and more couples are finding it difficult to effectively cope with the stress inside their home as they continue to quarantine together. It seems as though when there are minimal issues, very few take the time to focus on what is “going right.” Yet, when there are problems or concerns within the dynamic, people tend to hyper focus on those issues in an effort to “fix them.” One area that seems to be a consistent problem in any relationship is proper communication. As a couple’s therapist, I realize that couples are most likely to seek out therapy when they experience issues in their communication. Typically, when couples make the decision to seek out professional help, they have already executed any possible option for helping their relationship get “unstuck.” These negative patterns in relating cause a great disconnect between partners and as time continues to pass, the symptoms of dysfunction tend to worsen.
Communication is especially important during an argument when two people are trying to find a resolution for their conflict. What many couples don’t realize is that the context of the argument is not as significant as the underlying meaning behind the emotions triggered by that initial interaction.
Dr. John Gottman states that often times, fights between partners are “meaningless.” He explains that what matters most is not the fight itself or even what the fight is about. In fact, what matters is how each partner chooses to respond to negative emotions within the relationship.
When couples have the ability to reorient their focus and reframe their argument as an opportunity to built trust then they can grow together in a positive direction. When this occurs, they develop a more meaningful level of understanding, become attuned to one another’s needs, and increase the levels of trust in each other as well as their relationship.
Trust allows couples to develop a strong foundation for their future together. It encompasses kindness, respect, and love. But somehow, these things tend to get lost in the context of arguments-stealing a couple’s focus away from what truly matters.
In any relationship, in any context, and in any argument, it is import that couples apply these five skills:
- Empathy– Many tend to confuse empathy with sympathy. Empathy means truly placing yourself in another person’s shoes; sitting with them in their pain and discomfort in real time. It is the most genuine and authentic form of connection.
- Respect – Respect is a key element that builds trust and strengthens communication. When one communicates respect, they prioritize another’s needs and wishes despite their own pride or ego. They are also utilizing kindness, compassion, and care within the relationship.
- Listening– Many do not realize that the most important part of communicating is simply providing your partner with a safe space to feel heard. Do not worry about choosing the right words to communicate your message. Focus on listening and truly hearing their message. Develop a deeper understanding by reflecting on your partner’s experiences and asking them curious questions.
- Focus on the strengths within the relationship– All couples argue. In fact, conflicts are a natural part of developing healthy relationships. Without these struggles, there would be no possibility to build trust. Focus on the obstacles that you have overcome together in the past. Acknowledge the moments where you have found resolve and the reasons why your love exists. How did you overcome those grueling arguments and obstacles in the past?
- Practice forgiveness – Part of strength building is knowing when to “let go.” You do not have to hold on to your anger for longer than you need to. Holding on to pain, hurt, and anger will keep you captive in a prison you construct yourself. Allow yourself to forgive so you can move forward in your personal growth as well as in your relationship.
Since couples have been in quarantine for over a month now, it is normal and expected that soon enough frustrations will emerge and patience will decrease. Perhaps having so much time spent at home together will surface issues that have been overlooked in the past. Couples are now spending more time together and do not have the luxury of distractions that have once been available to them (such as leaving their home to go to work). All of a sudden that long drive to the office doesn’t seem so bad. Do not feel discouraged because you feel uncomfortable within your marriage or your relationship. It is possible to work through the discomfort together and come out even stronger than ever before. Just like anything else in life, your relationship needs maintenance and deserves your attention.