Twenty-one months. That’s how long we have been living with the COVID-19 pandemic. So much has been lost. As we enter a new year, I’d like to reflect on what we’ve gained.
I believe one gain is the way couples have grown closer. Granted, some partners grew apart during the ongoing pandemic. But I saw an uptick in counseling as more and more couples sought to create stronger relationships and families, and break the patterns of harmful behaviors that became more evident during the pandemic.
The following are foundational relationship skills that I teach couples who come to me for help. Hopefully, you and your partner will take action in 2022 and commit to strengthening the areas where you are weak.
Don’t make your partner “guess” what is wrong. Express your feelings and needs with “I” statements.
Resolve to use a soft start-up rather than attacking your partner’s personality or character. Resolve to listen to your partner without judgment or without thinking of a comeback.
Resolve to not use sarcasm, ridiculing, name-calling or eye-rolling. Instead, scan for the positive and thank your partner for the good they do and are.
At bedtime, rather than independently scrolling through your phone, have quiet “pillow talk” in which you can share your gratitude.
Eliminate defensiveness and, instead, accept responsibility for your part. This prevents conflicts from escalating and allows partners to work towards a compromise.
Know that if you keep going, things will only get worse. Be willing to stop and call a timeout of at least 20 minutes and no longer than 24 hours. Use the time to physiologically self-soothe. Only after you are both calm, return to connect and repair. It may be wise to return to the topic that created the conflict 24 hours later.
If you need more time to calm down, ask for it and then focus exclusively on whatever it is you need to self-soothe. You want to become available to understand and be understood. You will find that you are more forgiving of the little things or that you have discovered an underlying issue that you can then discuss more effectively.
With any painful experience, there are lessons to be learned. Start small. Commit to learning or improving at least one behavior. Successful long-term relationships are created through small words, small gestures and small acts.
“Small things often,” is a Gottman motto.
May your relationship prosper in 2022 and beyond!
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