I just read an article by Dr. Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute. In the article she talks about the realities of COVID-19 and how it can take a toll on our relationships. “People who are constrained inside four walls are going to feel stressed over time, especially with the additional fear of getting sick or losing jobs. We know that stresses like this virus are terrible for relationships.” We hear a lot of this from people who call our office in distress.
The article shared 6 tips that center around how to have stress-reducing conversations:
Tip 1 – Listen
Your spouse may feel anxious or really stressed, perhaps worried about finances. Dr. Gottman says one person needs to be the speaker. The other must listen or ask questions to better understand how their partner is feeling. “The job of the listener is NOT to fix the other person’s problem or bring up their own problems,”
Tip 2 – Show empathy
Dr. Gottman says people often think empathy means showing pity or feeling sorry. “It’s not that at all”, she says, “Empathy means guessing what your partner is feeling, naming it and then saying ‘I get it’, that makes perfect sense to me. This is the best way to reduce our partner’s stress because then they don’t feel alone in their feelings.”
Tip 3 – Look for what’s right
It’s easy when stressed to focus in on what is annoying about your partner. She says resist the temptation and instead notice when your partner does something right and then celebrate it. For example, ” You just took out the trash. Thank you.”
Tip 4 – Express love
Let your partner know you find them to be: fantastic, handsome, caring, or any of 50 other things. Tell them what you love about who they are, not just what they are doing. “It’s sweet, it’s tender. It’s a way of gesturing with love to your partner,” according to Dr. Gottman.
Tip 5 – Timeouts work for adults, too
With the COVID-19 crisis, arguments could get more heated. Dr. Gottman says it’s important to know when to take a break. “Ask your partner to give you 30 minutes so you can calm down. Go to separate places and don’t think about the fight. Don’t think about your rebuttal. Instead, do something distracting. Read a book, surf the net, listen to music. Your body needs to calm down to when you are no longer in fight or flight. After this you can think clearly again and return to the conversation with a different brain.
Tip 6 – “I feel” statements
“Instead of saying you’re too lazy. You can say ‘the living room is a mess again. I’m feeling upset. Would you please clean it up for me’?”
One last suggestion from Dr. Gottman during this time of covid – the article encouraged everyone to allow yourself the freedom to be a little crazy right now. “Experiment with cooking, painting, singing crazy songs, whatever is fun, playful, and delicious.” It’s a way to have fun and be creative even while restricted to four walls.
Hopefully these tips have given you a few new ideas for helping your relationships grow during the pandemic. For more resources on this topic, check out: