We recently offered some advice in the Daily Telegraph on how our thinking and couples therapy techniques can help make your relationship more rubust in these challenging times. Here we expand on it.
By Liz Hamlin, couple therapist and joint head of clinical services at Tavistock Relationships
Relationships are hard to do at the best of times, but arguably 2020 is throwing more sustained stress at couples than any other year since the Second World War.
We are in a global pandemic, our economy has dropped by unprecedented levels and a recent ONS survey reveals one in five adults in the UK are now depressed*.
Everyday couples are dealing with health anxieties, job threats, money worries, adjusting to major life changes like home working and home schooling, and general fears for the future with little hope of the pandemic easing in the near future, and the looming spectre of the climate crisis.
So it’s not surprising that with record levels of depression and anxiety, here at Tavistock Relationships we’ve seen more people coming to us with seriously distressed relationships.
The good news is that support is available. Our organisation was born out of the wreckage of the Second World War, when traumatized families were in crisis, devastated by separation, loss and displacement. We’ve been helping couples and families ever since, and we are still here supporting couples to communicate and resolve issues, through a range of programs with a sliding scale of cost depending on income. You can find out more at www.tavistockrelationships.org or call us on 0207 380 1960.
In the meantime, here are 6 ways to strengthen your relationship:
1. Avoid the blame game
When feeling angry and anxious, rather than blaming our partner we should instead pause and try think why we are feeling that way, asking for understanding. You can say for example, “Look, I know I’m not being great today, it’s not about you, but I know I’m taking it out on you.” This is more likely to generate a gracious response, like “Can I help at all?” rather than a defensive one.
2. Communicate clearly
Often in therapy, one partner says, “You’ve never said that before. I thought it was something else,” and the other says, “I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want to worry you.” So, if for example your job is at risk and you are struggling with feelings of fear and anxiety, try to communicate the way you are feeling and explain to your partner
what is bothering you. They will know something is wrong, but if they don’t know what, they will jump to their own conclusions.
3. Let your partner be sad
Losing a job is a big shock and there’s usually a desire for each partner to try to feel better quickly. But we need to take time to mourn a loss in order to have the confidence to step out again and re-establish ourselves. So rather than pushing you partner to start applying for new job, suggesting it will make them feel better because you are anxious about finances, give your partner some time to feel bruised and try to manage your own emotions.
4. Make time to nurture your relationship
People assume that, because they love one another and they’ve had a long relationship, and invested in family life, this will carry them through. The relationship often gets pushed to the back of the queue and isn’t attended to. Often, “people have stopped talking, and don’t think creatively about how they might share some time together”. When the relationship is mostly about function, it causes resentment. “You create a life and if you’re not careful it becomes a tyrant and there we are serving it.”
5. Put your marriage first
It may seem counter intuitive, but if you put your relationship first, you are also putting your children first, because if your relationship is strong, your children will benefit. If you put your children’s needs first without attending to your relationship, it will reach a point where it’s the children keeping you together. That’s too great a burden for them to carry. Making time for the relationship, creating the space to talk and think together, means you can anticipate issues before tensions have deepened.
6. Question what lies beneath the little things
If your partner explodes in fury because you forgot to take out the bins or offer them a cup of tea, you might accuse them of overreacting. But it’s unlikely to be just about the bins or the tea. People tend to find it safer to argue about the little things, but underneath there may be a much greater fear – you no longer think about me, are we in trouble? Rather than snapping, try to find out what lies beneath, by saying something like, “I can see it really affected you. What’s going on for you?’” It’s a brave question, but it shows you care, you’re interested and you want to understand. And that’s key.
*Coronavirus and depression in adults, Great Britain: June 2020 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/wellbeing/articles/coronavirusanddepressioninadultsgreatbritain/june2020
Often, it can be helpful to talk to a couples therapist in advance fo real difficulties that can evolve into more serious arguments and hurt. Our serivces are available here.