So here we are, nearly 2 months into lockdown. Somehow things feel a little easier, as we have got used to the strict rules and regulations around our lives, but also we are struggling more than ever with being apart from our friends, families, workplaces, social lives, hobbies and distractions.
The truth is, we are not meant to exist in isolation, stuck at home with just our partner. It’s not a natural state of affairs. The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” could also be adapted for our relationships: we need others and a wider world to help our relationships flourish. The intensity of being just the two of you, all the time, can be overwhelming.
The damp towel on the floor. The bed unmade. The dog not fed. The childcare tensions. The financial worries. The unkept promises. There are a number of both small and large issues which are affecting couples at home together, and even small things can feel magnified in the current climate.
So what can you do to stop when small annoyances are building up into arguments? When you don’t feel safe to express your feelings but don’t want to keep sweeping things under the rug anymore? When you feel suffocated and trapped and as if you might burst unless something changes soon?
These conversations can be difficult to have. After all, who wants to have an argument? So express that.
“It’s difficult for me to say this but…..”
“I’m worried that this might lead to a row. I don’t want to row but I do need to tell you how I feel….”
“I know it’s not easy for us to talk like this, however I’m feeling XYZ and I need you to support me with this”
There are a number of ways that you can express your feelings without it causing tension. Showing your vulnerability and need to your partner, allows them insight into your inner world.
Often when we fight, we are fighting with our perception of who our partner is, not actually who they are. Similarly, when we talk to our partner, we often have a ‘front’ which masks some of our deeper feelings. So we might be more likely to be irritable or critical, rather than show our sadness underneath. We fight back against our partner’s annoying behaviour, rather than connect with their inner pain and fear.
But when we show our inner world instead, we also demonstrate to our partner that they don’t need to be scared of showing their deepest feelings too. It can be scary to expose yourself in this way when you’re not used to it, but we can’t fully connect with each other when we are just focusing on those surface level feelings, rather than what’s actually going on underneath.
Dr Sue Johnson, author of Hold Me Tight, shows us with a script how to have this conversation:
“In this incident, the trigger for my raw feeling was ______________________. On the surface, I probably showed ______________________. But deep down, I just felt ______________________ (pick one basic negative emotion: sadness, anger, shame, fear. What I longed for was ______________________.”
Talking to our partners this way opens up a path to honest conversation, based on our true feelings and fears. Yes, it might be scary to do this. And yes, it might stir up things which you’d rather keep brushed under the carpet. We need our partners to see and respond to our pain and feelings. We don’t have to be strong and invulnerable all the time.
Take a leap of faith into this new, more raw, more honest way of communication. Take it slow- you don’t have to reveal everything immediately. Like this image of stones, see it as an act of building something together, stone by stone, over time. But try putting your trust into your partner, so that they can hear and respond to your pain, and feel the strength of your connection grow.