For some couples the stresses and strains of being stuck at home together because of the coronavirus lockdown are starting to show.
And that’s not a surprise, says our member Louise Tyler. A certain degree of emotional and physical distance is often an important part of a relationship, she adds.
As well as that, many of us will be worrying about other family and friends, finances, jobs or the risks of being a key worker during this period.
Louise, a counsellor based in Cheshire, says: “Under this level of strain, it’s natural to become impatient or irritated with one another at times, even within a solid partnership.
“In more fragile relationships, the situation will inevitably magnify existing tensions.
“Now more than ever it’s vital to try to treat ourselves and others with extra compassion, patience and respect.”
These are her tips for couples to help them through this difficult period in their lives and relationships.
Explain what you’re feeling, rather than what your partner may be doing wrong
“Often we expect our partners to be mind readers about what we need or want, then if we are disappointed we can become critical or withdrawn,” says Louise.
She recommends that when you feel the tension rising, “wait a moment or two, then try to state calmly and clearly what you are feeling, rather than what your partner is supposedly doing wrong.
“Use ‘I’ statements rather than ‘you’ statements. ‘I really need some help’ works better than ‘You are so lazy and selfish’. “
Find out what each of you are worrying about
She suggests talking to each other about what your worries are – and what would help.
“We often make things up in our minds about certain behaviours; misunderstanding them as selfish or designed to hurt.”
Make a list of negotiables and non-negotiables
Louise stresses the importance of trying to talk and listen without judgement.
She adds: “A good exercise I use with couples is to make a list of negotiables and non-negotiables. For example it might be appropriate to agree that one or other of you has more pressing work commitments and so is unable to muck in with chores during the day (negotiable), but nonetheless it’s unacceptable to leave the other partner to put the kids to bed on their own every night (non negotiable).”
Resolve conflicts – and don’t bear grudges
It’s inevitable that there will be some disagreements during the current situation.
How these conflicts are resolved is the important thing.
“In healthy relationships, when something bothers one partner, they bring up the issue calmly and with honesty. If things do get heated as they sometimes will, the couple talk it through later and make amends. If these repairs aren’t made along the way, resentment builds up into a more unmanageable situation.”
Louise recommends showing appreciation by doing thoughtful things for your partner; such as making them lunch or dinner to show you’ve noticed they’re tired.
She adds: “If you treat this as a competition of who works harder, who is more tired, it becomes a battle of ‘you versus me’. Try to make it ‘us against the crisis’ with the goal of making life easier for yourselves as a unit.”
Focus on your partner’s positive qualities
Spending all this time at home with your partner may make you feel like you’ve both lost your identities a little, and highlight each other’s annoying habits.
Louise says: “Try to look for the balance and be admiring of each other’s qualities. We can sometimes forget the strengths and positive traits of the person we live with. I sometimes ask the couples I see to describe what they would look for in a new partner. Quite often they describe the person who is actually right under their nose.”
To find a relationship counsellor visit our Therapist directory.
Coronavirus: Advice for the public
Our members offer tips, advice and coping strategies to help you through these uncertain times.
What is relationship counselling? How can therapy improve your relationships? BACP member Cate Campbell explains how counselling can help.
Anxiety and coronavirus: Tips and strategies to help you cope
Our members share their ideas for what can help