Picture this: you and your partner are on a roll. You’re in sync, communicating healthily after a long day at work, and finding time to make the most of your small moments of connection. You’re feeling as connected and in love as ever.  This does not have to be a figment of your imagination, even during quarantine. I am going to give you some key communication tips to help you and your partner manage high stress situations such as quarantine, moving, job changes, extended family time, and more!  Be thoughtful about your languageA common question I receive from couples, especially during quarantine, is “How can I communicate my needs without hurting my partner’s feelings?” It is so incredible how mindful the couples I see have been of one another. But, even with this mindfulness, it is easy to start to feel stuck when you have a need that you just can't let go.  Here is a time when you can be creative about getting your specific need met. For example, a really common need is space, especially when two people are cooped up together for months on end with little reprieve. But, if you know the word “space” triggers feelings of abandonment for your partner, you can easily switch this up and use a different phrase to get the same need met. Saying something like “I need some quiet time” may feel a lot less threatening to a partner who feels anxious about being separate.  Make it about you...Yes, this is most definitely about those ubiquitous “I statements.” When used correctly, these statements have true and deep value. They are created to help the speaker take responsibility for their feelings and, by doing so, help the listener feel less attacked and more empathetic.  Softened start ups, or statements designed to reduce defensiveness, are a great way to take those “I statements” a step further. Using the space example from earlier, saying something like “Hey babe, I’m feeling really overwhelmed and need some quiet time” can show your partner it is about your need, not about their behaviors. In other words, focus on the complaint and the solution instead of the blame. The hope is that this will shift the dynamic out of attack mode and into mobilization. After all, there is nothing more loving than being gently corrected and still accepted. And make it about the coupleAs mentioned in various previous posts, it is normal for partners to have different needs. Balancing these needs can be really tricky if they’re very different- I’ve been seeing a couple where one partner wants to relax together by jogging, while the other partner wants to relax together by watching a movie. Instead of jumping into a convincing argument about why your partner should do the thing that you want to do, focus on the couple as a third party. Each partner can relax by doing their individual tasks, and then they can come together afterwards to explore some ideas about what will make the unit the happiest.  This is less about compromise, and more about finding an activity that will satisfy both of you. For this couple, it happened to be cooking. This had nothing to do with staying energized with running or calming the nervous system through a funny movie, but instead introduced a separate activity the couple wanted to do together.   Bonus: Create a list of couple approved activities that you two can return to when you’re feeling less creative!  Regulate, alwaysThis suggestion should really just be at the top of every blog we post. When you are not regulated, you will not be able to communicate. You will not hear or empathize with your partner, which will put you on attack mode, which will shift your partner into attack mode, which will escalate an argument. When you communicate hurt feelings, you need to be regulated enough to be able to hear and receive hurt feelings, too.  Preserve your needs and focus on what you need to stay regulated. Keep in mind that sometimes this could be up-regulation (when you are feeling tired, it is sometimes more effective to energize through something like jumping jacks) or down-regulation (when you are feeling anxious or on edge, it is typically more effective to belly breathe or smell calming scents). Once you’ve entered your place of regulation, your mind can open up to your partner’s. Check out this article on how self regulation can be helpful for your work team, too.  Speaking of opening your mind to your partner’s…Remember that their world is different than yours. Maybe they’re doing something excessively annoying, or they’re constantly forgetting to do the thing you asked them to do ten thousand times. While this is frustrating, stay regulated to remember that they are likely not trying to hurt you or ignore you. Maybe your partner is a bit spacey, or maybe they need to increase their listening skills. Regardless, they are not (I hope) out to get you.  Remembering this innocence will help you begin to assume good intentions, and will allow you to be a bit more patient with their faux-pas. After all, you fell in love for a reason! Channel that love and ask your partner to help you understand their thought process.  This too shall passKeep in mind that it is normal to feel a bit more sensitive during times of high stress. The world can feel like chaos, so stay united as a team with your partner through these communication tools (and some extra success strategies to help you get there).  Finally, if you have already decided you want to go to couples therapy, and your wife/husband/partner is refusing, use their perspective as a home base. What are they afraid of, and how can you soothe their fears?  Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW   ​

Earlier this month, we explored five tips to use right now in order to improve your relationship. We loved this post, and we’ve gotten feedback that you guys did too! That being said, we’ve also gotten some feedback that you want MORE. Loving the enthusiasm!  We want you to be able to be the expert on these tips and how they work for you, so we’ve taken the time to dive into two tips we mentioned in our previous post: teammates first, and turning towards.   Teammates firstWhen I think of the word “teammate,” my brain goes in a few different directions-- first and foremost being a person whose intentions you keep in mind when you make decisions. This is so crucial to understanding how exactly you can make your relationship grow and thrive. You and your partner are individual people with your own inner worlds, and it is worth recognizing not only this but also the “couple” as a third party.  Let’s face it, you and your partner have very different wants and needs. I am here to remind you that this is not only okay, but actually normal. These needs exist separately because no matter how intertwined your lives are, you are still individuals. Tons of couples experience discrepancies in how they live their daily lives-- sometimes one partner feels they are living life to their fullest, while they feel the other partner is moving too slowly. Both parties feel this makes it hard to be teammates, because they are constantly on different pages about what they want.  Keep in mind that part of the reason we choose people moving at a different rhythm than us is because it creates balance. You do not have to move at the same pace at your partner, and you do not always have to agree. You just need to be able to work and love in tandem, and come together for support after your needs are met separately. In other words, the need of the couple as a whole is not always similar to either need of the individuals. Let’s focus on a simple example that came up so often in quarantine. One partner relaxes by going for runs, and another partner relaxes by watching television. Both partners want to relax together. What to do? Focus on the couple! Relax as individuals, and then find a way to relax as a couple that does not involve watching television or going for a run. Some may look at this as a compromise, however, I think it is more helpful to view this as a way to reorient yourselves towards what the couple as a whole needs.  When you feel nurtured as a team, you’re more likely to feel energized enough to support each other as individuals. It will allow you the head space to remain emotionally attuned and empathetic to one another, and will help you both feel valued and important to one another.   Turn towards rather than awayThis is our other chosen favorite. As mentioned in our previous post, world renowned therapists Drs. John and Julie Gottman discovered a concept common in happy couples- turning towards rather than away. All this means is that you are responding to your partner’s subtle hints at desire for connection with (figurative and literal) open arms and affection. Turning away from your partner is ignoring, dismissing, or shutting down attempts at connection.  This is trickier than it sounds- bids for connection typically pop up in the smallest moments throughout the day. If your partner is verbally noticing the sunset, and you are super engulfed in an article you are reading and missed what your partner said, you are rejecting a bid for connection. Yes- attempts can be this small! I know it is difficult to respond to everything, but fear not-- the Gottmans found that partners who are the happiest responded to each other's bids for connection around 86% of the time. This leaves some healthy room for mistakes.  To turn towards your partner’s bids for connection (that is, any attempt from one partner for affirmation or positive connection from the other), pay attention to the underlying meaning behind the words. Chances are that your partner is not marveling in the sunset’s beauty for their own benefit. Your partner is describing the sunset because they want to share this moment with you, because they love you. And anyway, enjoying a moment with your partner is much more likely to make you feel loved than anything on your phone! Another great way to understand your partner’s bids is to pay attention to when you are making your own. Notice the things you say and what you are looking for from your partner. And of course, talk about this concept with your partner! After all, knowledge is power, right?   How can I apply this to my life?Talk about it with your partner! Bring these concepts to their attention so they can be aware of how hard you’re working, and hopefully will feel full and nurtured enough to respond back. If you feel these and the other tips are outside of the realm of possibility, our suggestion is to invest in couples therapy right here in Manhattan. There are alternatives and ways to explore what is going on for you and your partner outside of just behavior change.   ​Mollie Eliasof, LCSW 

...
...

 

 

Other Blog Posts:

Reacclimating Post Quarantine

As the weather gets nicer, people have been venturing out of their apartments and reentering the real world. You’re seeing the country reopen, and your friends and family are beginning to do the same.

 

While quarantine has felt simultaneously exhausting and boring, you’re surprised the first feeling you’re having at reopening up is not relief. Instead, you feel a rumble of anxiety in your belly. How are we, as a culture, supposed to just “go back to normal?” And what is the new normal? ...And what if quarantine has felt restorative for me? 

 

Everything you’re feeling is okay

I think it is super important to start with this one. Even though you were excited for quarantine to be over, it is 1000% okay to be nervous for what is to come. Maybe seeing your friends for the first time is unsettling, or going to see your family feels a little funky still. You could be worried about contracting coronavirus, worried about your career and finances, or worried about re-engaging with others in person. Whatever it is, it’s a normal response to an abnormal situation. 

 

Just like acclimating to the slower life of quarantine was tricky, reacclimating to post quarantine life may be tricky too, but for different reasons. Ramping your working and socializing odometers back up to full force may feel not only anxiety provoking, but scary. 

 

Notice these feelings, and allow yourself to have them. In-person situations might feel more exhausting than usual, because your body is not used to the consistent in-person interactions. Humans are typically more sensitive to other people’s energies than they realize, so interacting with others can be surprisingly draining. Do your best to be aware of what is happening in your body, and take a break when you need it/when you are able to.

 

Slow down and focus on the day to day

This is so difficult for someone who is always buzzing and getting things done. You’ve planned your career and you’ve succeeded, so why can’t you plan your future too? As someone who likes to pretend I can predict the future, I am well acquainted with the fear that comes with not knowing what is next. This is a gentle reminder that you cannot predict the future, and you do not need to in order to cope with the present. 

 

The thing about predicting the future is that most predictions are mistakes. All a human can do is base the future off of what they know about the past and present, but there will always be curveballs. For this reason (plus others), it is much more productive to focus on how you will manage the day by day. For example, what does your schedule look like tomorrow? What is for dinner tonight? 

 

As hard as it is to connect with this thought in the moment, no amount of worrying will prepare you for what is coming next. Things will happen that are unexpected (*cough* coronavirus *cough*), so try to settle your mind on the next days or weeks in order to feel as in control of your next steps as you’re able to.

 

Baby steps

It is SO exciting to get to see your friends and family again, but remember, baby steps! I know you want to jump back in, but hear me out… The world is reopening in waves for a reason.

 

Try to notice what is coming up for you as you reenter the world. A million feelings can happen all at once- excitement about seeing your loved ones, fear for catching the coronavirus, or grief over the loss of the past few months and what is to come. For this reason, it is especially important to stay slow and steady, and to notice the conflicting parts of you.

 

How many times have you been invited somewhere, and both did not want to go, but also wanted to go at the same time? This is completely normal, but is important to pay attention to after being semi isolated for 2-3 months. Forgetting to tune into the moment can lead you to ignore your body signals telling you to reel it back, which can lead to anxiety and other types of discomfort. 

 

Am I bad if I don’t want quarantine to end? 

Any of my clients will tell you how rarely I provide direct answers during session, but I can give you a resounding “No!” for this one. Quarantine has allowed humans to slow down and notice the small joyful moments happening that they were not able to take note of when life was moving at such a fast pace. 

 

This is beautiful information! And you can absolutely use this awareness to bring it to your day to day outside of quarantine. For example, if you learned that having some more time in the morning to enjoy your coffee is something that makes your whole day better, leave time for it upon return to “normal.” There are tons of benefits of working from home/lockdown. Notice them and see if you can get creative about them as the world reopens. 

 

All in all…

Your emotions are a normal response to an abnormal situation. Instead of avoiding them or self shaming, embrace them and use them as information. If you are feeling anxious, or are dreading returning back to work, then something about the security of a lockdown probably felt safe and comforting. How can you bring this into your daily experience? 

 

Finally, take small steps. You are so driven to make up for lost time, but the only way to actually optimize your time is by paying attention to your mental health. Doing so will make you more efficient and productive. If you are really struggling with adapting to post quarantine life, give us a call! We are here to help you readjust. 

 

​Alyssa Ashenfarb, LCSW

email-icon
phone-icon