4 Ways to Improve Communication With Your Partner During the Pandemic

The best time to give feedback is when cognition is high and emotion is low.

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The COVID-19 pandemic is shifting the dynamics of work, parenting, and the home. With these changes comes new (or amplified) sources of stress, especially for women, who regardless of whether they work outside the home, bear two-thirds of the work it takes to run a household and a family. That’s where Fair Play comes in a system created by organizational management expert Eve Rodsky that helps couples rebalance domestic responsibilities so that both people in the relationship can thrive. In this series, Rodsky will draw on her knowledge from creating Fair Play, and offer tips to empower you and your partner to share the load while navigating this new normal together.  

Most of us communicate with our partners without a considerable amount of forethought. Clients have confessed to dumping wet clothes on their partner’s pillow when he forgets to put them in the dryer, letting the garbage pile up until someone other than you notices, and screaming at no one in particular — “Forget it, I will do it!” Sound familiar? 

Instead of communicating with unhelpful behaviors, practicing intentional communication will improve the way your words are received by your partner, and will help you manage your home organization in these demanding and challenging times. 

When emotion is running high (as it often is during times of uncertainty), communication with our partners can become stressed. If we’re not mindful of how and when we speak, our communication vulnerabilities — like passive aggressive behaviors or finger pointing — can further disrupt our relationships and households. 

Pop Quiz:  During the current times of COVID-19, what would your partner say is your communication vulnerability?

  1. Long-winded. Wah Wah Wahhhhhhh. You’re talking and no one’s listening.
  2. Sharp commands, sir. Your drill sergeant delivery isn’t popular with the troops.
  3. Bad timing. You drop your grievances and requests for help into the conversation at inopportune moments. 
  4. Toxic word choice. “I wasn’t going to say anything but it really pisses me off when you…”
  5. All or nothing. “You never wipe off the counter.  You always leave food out.”
  6. Dredging up the past. “This is just like the last time you forgot to…
  7. Boiling over. “I wasn’t going to say anything. I didn’t say anything. And now, I’m really pissed.”

Whatever your communication vulnerability, setting up a regular time each day to check-in with each other can help prepare you both to clearly (and calmly) communicate your feelings and needs. With this time marked on the calendar, you’ll be more likely to negotiate with intention and come to an agreement about household tasks and responsibilities that feels equitable and fair. To help get you started,  here are four key tips to help you communicate during this pandemic: 

Invite your partner to the conversation by focusing on your “why”

Instead of focusing on what you need done during your check-in, start by explaining why it needs to be done. It’s time to encourage our partners to step into their full power at home. Most are willing to transition into a stronger caregiving role given the opportunity. Start sentences with: “Here’s why I … (care about this).”

Instead of giving feedback when your emotion is high, save it for a calmer moment. 

When emotions are high, cognition is low — so feedback in the moment can be toxic. It is better to walk away from an unproductive conversation in the moment and say “let’s discuss this during our check-in instead.” Aim to table your feedback until you feel calm and can easily communicate in a tone your partner can hear and absorb. Recognize your communication vulnerability and check it at the bedroom door. 

Create a communication container

When you sit down to discuss the organization of your household, I recommend creating a “communication container” for the conversation. AKA, build some boundaries! If you are talking about who is handling garbage, make sure your conversation is about who is handling garbage (in the container), as opposed to letting the conversation go haywire with comments like  “you never do anything for me since your mom sucks and did everything for you!” (outside the container). Communicating within boundaries increases the chance that your partner will hear you and act accordingly. 

Focus on ownership

When reviewing the essential tasks at hand for your family, think beyond, “how can I help?” You’ll want to reframe your thinking to be “how can I own the task from start to finish?” For example, while we’re both working remotely, my husband and I switch off “watching” the kids every few hours. I take the morning to write uninterrupted and then assume full ownership of all-things-kid-related just after lunch (which means he makes grilled-cheese sandwiches for five and I clean up. For us, that feels fair). 

Up next: Re-Establishing Values. The appropriate outside time or indoor distance learning for your kids? What’s most important to your family? The importance of aligning values to avoid conflicts and resentments. 

Next time you’re tempted to criticize your partner, pause for one breath to reflect before you speak.
In the heat of the moment, you’re more likely to deliver your message without compassion or empathy — even if that’s unintentional.
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