Living at home with your spouse or partner 24/7 can be challenging, especially if there are unresolved issues that have been brewing in your relationship. Communication is key, as are having the tools or skills to navigate these discussions successfully.
Communication and conflict patterns take many shapes and forms which can include: loudness and aggression, physical violence, silence, shutting down, blow-ups, avoiding the, “elephant in the room”, engaging in vices or addictions, acting out passive aggressive behaviours. Each of these communication and conflict styles appear and are expressed in different ways.
The hope is that we speak to our spouse or partner and engage in a direct and productive conversation – this is considered the “win-win,” which we strive towards but challenging to achieve. The win-win includes both parties engaging and able to speak about the core issues, how they feel and how the other person’s words or actions affect them. During this process the couple may meet somewhere in the middle or brainstorm to create a new agreed outcome.
To survive and thrive during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place arrangements we recommend creating agreements about roles and contributions for all household members. What we want is for couples and families to become stronger together through this experience versus contacting a divorce attorney at the first opportunity. Solstice is offering couples and individual counseling via telehealth if people need some assistance working through presenting issues during the shelter-in-place experience. Some tips to consider:
Create a Schedule: Now that one or both of you are working full time from home, it is important to create a schedule and an office space in order to permit you both a place to conduct your conference calls and a space to complete your reports. This schedule may be created at the beginning of the week or created at the beginning of each day but giving space for the activity or changes that need to be made. Have flexibility to change schedule’s if required and openness to compromise versus, “It is my way or the highway.”
Respectful Communication: Agree to speak to each other in a calm tone and use neutral, positive, open and respectful language. Define what is not useful or helpful. If either of you are triggered in the moment or see, “Red,” stop the conversation and revisit at a later time when each of you are in a calmer and better space. Create a safety word or phrase and agree that when either of you state the word or phrase, drop the conversation until emotions and moods are calmer. It is O.K. to take time away from one another and not respond in the moment. If you have children, they often will mimic the behaviours, actions and words of what they witness within the home. In fact your relationship can become a blueprint for their future adult relationships – something they unconsciously strive to recreate. With this in mind be thoughtful about what you say and how you communicate this to each other. Encourage kindness and be caring with your words and gestures. Show your appreciation and remember to thank each other for what you contribute to each other and to the family.
Time Out: Know when you both need a break. It is fine to take time out to regroup and come together at a later time. It is also important for each person in the home to have their own space to feel, think and have time to process. If this is not an option, take time to go outside when permitted to breathe the fresh air and walk to gain your space.
Mindfulness and Positivity: Start the day with a deliberate and intentional focus on positivity. As our mood drops and as anxiety increases our brains naturally steer us into negative and unhelpful ways of thinking. Effort is required to counteract this bias, and this tends to be most effective at the start of the day. You can download many apps such as Positive Headspace on the computer to encourage positive thoughts at any time throughout the day. Be kind to yourself and to others. This may be a time to repair old relationships and a time for healing.
Engage in New Hobbies: For many, now that Sports are no longer possible to watch online or on T.V., now is the time to create and engage in new hobbies and activities. Listen to music that makes you feel happy, read the book that you never had time to read before, try the recipe that you’ve always wanted to try, paint, connect with old and new friends, interact with your family members with games, create your photo album and plan your next trip- the possibilities are endless.
Limit Social Media & Internet Reading on COVID-19: Be mindful of what you read and how often. It is easy to read every news media article and watch the latest videos on YouTube on the COVID-19 virus. It is highly possible to transfer one interest or hobby such as watching sports to COVID-19 which can lead to an unhealthy obsession to news and health related shows. Remember, you have the power to control your environment.
Healthy Beverages & Eating: Be sure to increase fruit and veggies and drink plenty of water. This is a time that it will be easy to pick up a glass of wine or an alcohol spirit in the middle of the day, especially if tensions and emotions are high. If you require support, reach out to Solstice, Circle, AA or Al-Anon or find a therapist. There are many places that offer teletherapy and online support.
Exercise: It is important to engage in physical exercise, especially when emotions or tensions are high. With limitations to leaving the home, download an app and engage in an exercise program. You can use canned goods or water bottles as weights for strengthening. You can do a set of push-ups, knee-ups, sit-ups and various exercises to keep fit- this may be an opportunity to get fit again and work towards creating a better version of yourself.
Socialization: Host a virtual party with family and friends, engage in a virtual game with your community in order to keep the social connection. Being isolated in your home and being limited in leaving it can affect your mood. Know that some of our family members that are older or less tech savvy may be unable to use some of the newest devises so an old-fashioned phone call will go a long way and keep the family connected.
Quality Couples & Family Time: This is an opportunity to take time, breathe and reflect on where you wish to go together as a couple- a time to take inventory of your relationship, assess what are the best bits, where you both wish to move towards and create your couples or family mantra or set goals on where you wish to move towards. Reflect on the happy moments, look through the special moments and pictures of your relationship. Plan fun activities- this can be created with imagination in your home, set goals or plan trips to look forward to.
Reach Out for Help & Support: If either of you are feeling down or out of control, reach out for help. Many agencies are providing teletherapy and Zoom links for you to see the therapist face-to-face via video apps. These opportunities are available at all price points. Solstice is offering free 30-minute secure teletherapy sessions. MWI or Emergency Room can provide urgent interventions and treatment if you feel suicidal or are worried that you cannot keep yourself safe. Know that you are not alone.
Solstice is a holistic mental health center in Hamilton that currently offers psychiatric and psychology sessions via telehealth and a secure Zoom platform. Every Monday there will be a free webinar hosted by Gordon Johnson. To sign up please email Gordon@solstice.bm. If you wish to connect with a Couples Therapist or receive individual therapy contact firstname.lastname@example.org or phone the office at 292-3456 to schedule an appointment.