Many relationships have taken a beating over the past months. The preoccupation and distraction of COVID has had consequential impact on couples everywhere as their relationships have slipped out of focus. As a couples therapist, I’ve witnessed firsthand the impact of stress, more time together than ever, social worlds reduced to rubble and family challenges on marriage and long term relationships. We’ve had to adapt and think anew about so much and many couples are more irritated with each other and possibly just doing their best to manage their own individual emotional health.
Pandemic fatigue is legit but thankfully, there are slivers of hope and rays of light on the horizon. Hope can be a powerful ally in moving us all forward as signs of what “could” be materialize. For many couples, this is allowing them to shake off the dust and refocus on what’s important and possibly missed. I see this manifesting in my private practice as the heavy tilt from individual clients has begun the shift to couples seeking help in finally addressing the issues that have been back burnered.
Valentines Day, the holiday of love, romance and intimate relationships is almost here. While this heavily marketed holiday can be an annoyance for some, perhaps now after all we have collectively gone through with COVID and other stressors, this day can take on an inspiring new meaning.
Have you lost site of your relationship? Have you failed to prioritize your partner as you white knuckle it through all of the other yucky stuff? Are you feeling the strain on your relationship via impatience, frustration, ambivalence or disconnection? Let’s consider using Valentines Day as an impetus for change, an opportunity for you to turn your gaze back towards your partner.
There are ways you can begin to refocus on your relationship.
Carve out quality time again. Clearly with couples spending more time with each other than possibly since the last global pandemic 100 years ago, the issue is not just about not spending enough time together. It’s about the quality and impact of the time spent. If you’ve been accustomed to passing each other in the hallway or mechanically going through meal times with most of the focus on the kids, be intentional in spending some protected time together every week.
Take a walk together, play a board game and have a laugh after the kids go to sleep or find an online cooking class. Perhaps you each could have a turn deciding what your quality time that week will be. Consider things that are known to encourage happiness; nature, exercise, sun, laughter, experiences, learning a new skill and volunteering.
Be curious. Curiosity is an essential building block of intimacy and remains an important aspect of loving relationships. Couples who continue to learn and seek to know “why” often feel more satisfied together as this demonstrates care and interest in each other. An absence can reflect disinterest which over time can lead to questions around whether they matter or even are really loved. Consider the impact of the many recent distractions on curiosity in your relationship.
If other things have demanded your attention (self-care, kids, financial worry, preoccupation, etc), it would only be natural that this type of checking in with each other has decreased. Ask questions, seek to understand, show interest in each other’s worlds again.
Re-join the team. This is all about attitude and how you both see your relationship. At some point you probably felt firmly on each other’s team in the ways you collaborated, solved problems together, with an awareness that you had each other’s backs. Resentment, disconnection and a pervasive lack of focus on the relationship can slowly erode the partnership, leading to a disconnect. If left unattended, your emotional safety can take a blow, creating an adversarial dynamic where you start to see each other as the enemy.
Are you no longer on the same team? It’s time to rejoin it but it requires you both making it safe for the other by rebuilding trust, improving communication and working through hurt feelings. Keep this framework at front of mind as you interact asking yourself, “Will this behavior bring my partner in or push them away?”
There is never a bad time to prioritize your relationship. Considering the stress so many couples have felt, this Valentines Day may be a particularly good opportunity to commit to this type of refocus. Maybe it’s time for you both to remember, “Hey I kind of like you.”
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