It's a tough time to be married or in a relationship. Whether you're worried about your family finances, trying to keep it together for the kids, or just trying not to let coronavirus-related anxiety overtake you, no one is at their best in terms of emotional health right now.
So how can you keep the peace in your relationship when everything is so stressful and uncertain?
What partners need right now is a space to feel secure, safe, and connected. Here's what that means:
Now is not the time to bring up the past three years of not feeling supported.
Now is not the time to work through that big issue you have been having with your in-laws.
Now is the time when you need to show up for your partner to let them know you are there for them.
Dr. Sue Johnson, in her book Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, describes couples needing three things to create security and connection in a relationship—she calls it the A.R.E. conversation, which stands for:
- Accessibility: Are you there for me?
- Responsiveness: Will you respond to me?
- Engagement: Will you engage with me?
Here are some phrases to help you build the security and connection couples need now more than ever.
1. "You are doing the best you can. I see that."
Let your partner know that you see all they are doing, even if at times you see things they are not doing. Even better, be specific in your praise: "I really appreciated when you…"
2. "I am here for you. Tell me what is going on for you."
Practice listening to what your partner is saying. You don't need to argue whether what they are saying is right or wrong. You simply need to hear them. Give them space for their emotions to be heard. This shows that you are accessible. You are saying, "I will pay attention to you."
3. "I want to hear about your worries and fears. Sometimes talking them out helps. I will listen to them."
There are so many emotions that are coming up right now. A healthy way to deal with emotions is by talking about them. Make space for what your partner tells you. Here, you are letting your partner know that they can depend on you.
4. "You have something important going on. How can I support you?"
Show that you are willing to support your partner with this phrase, which answers the questions, "Are we in this together?" and "Will you see that I need you too?"
5. "This is such a hard time, and I see you are really struggling with…"
When your partner is struggling, they are wondering if you see them. We need to have empathy for each other. This statement shows responsiveness—you are responding to your partner in a time of need and letting them know you empathize with whatever they are experiencing.
6. "I, too, have been struggling in this. Can I tell you about some of my worries and fears?"
A key aspect of a healthy relationship is reciprocity in sharing our vulnerabilities. Often partners will say, "I don't want to burden you with my worries." But your partner needs to know what is going on inside of you, and they feel more connected to you when you risk being seen for your struggle.
Finally, remember that sometimes we don't need words—we just need to know that our partners will hold us close. Hugging, holding hands and cuddling close on the couch are all great gestures of security and comfort that physicalize the act of turning towards our partners.
The strength in your bond does not come from big moments. It comes from the small things you can do for each other, each day over the coming weeks. As hard as this seems right now, you're both already heroes for trying.