People in Hong Kong have been feeling economic and relationship stress due to Coronavirus. When couples are stressed, they might turn away from each other instead of towards each other. Take, for example, the case of Alan and Cynthia.
Alan is stressed because he works in sales and he hasn’t been able to set up sales meetings. He works on commission, so he worries how he will provide for his family. He feels like he can’t share his stress with his wife because she is worn out from trying to help the kids with their online schoolwork, as well as working from home. He doesn’t want to burden her further, so he withdraws and plays video games. He is completely overwhelmed, which makes him tired and unmotivated.
When Alan withdraws, Cynthia feels shut out and taken for granted. She feels like she is trying to manage the kids and her work by herself. She is also stressed about the economy and providing for the family since her work has also been slower. She wants more attention from Alan, but she doesn’t know how to ask for it. She can see that he is overwhelmed, and she also doesn’t want to burden him. Instead, she gets short and snaps at him. She feels resentment because she feels like everything is on her. When Cynthia snaps and loses her temper, Alan withdraws further.
Both Alan and Cynthia could de-stress and decompress by turning towards each other. This can be difficult if being vulnerable with each other doesn’t feel safe. Sometimes this fear of vulnerability comes from past experiences where it wasn’t safe to feel or to connect. Here are some easy ideas to help improve your relationship through stress.
1. Focus on “we” and not “I.”
See your relationship as a partnership, and not as a sinking ship. For example, money is tight; you are both stressed. Instead of thinking, “I” have to save us, think how “we” can pull this off as a team. That might mean helping as a team with the kids, with romance, housework and finances. Think what is best for “us” and not what is best for “me.”
2. Get comfortable with vulnerability
Being able to tell your partner your feelings helps to create intimacy. If vulnerability has been a challenge in the past, start small. It can be hard to share your feelings when you aren’t used to sharing them in a useful and not hurtful way. It is easy for your partner to get defensive if they feel blamed. It helps to start with “I feel…” use observations and not judgements.
3. Set time aside to connect
Remember when you first met your partner? What was it that attracted you to them? What did the two of you do for fun? Bringing the romance back in can look like going for walks together, playing a game together, trying something new together or learning something new together.
4. Don’t feel bad for taking alone time
If you need some space to go out with friends or do your own thing, don’t feel bad. Healthy relationships mean you both have your own interests and feel safe to pursue those interests.
5. Resolve unresolved conflicts
Resentment builds when we don’t share our needs with our partner. When we sit on our needs or desires, it creates tension inside of our bodies, and we are more likely to snap, withdraw or turn away from our partner. Conflict can be a necessary evil. Learning how to manage conflict constructively and not a destructive way brings relationships closer. For example, “Since we have been at home working together more, I have come to appreciate what you mean to me. I want us to be closer, and I am hoping we can work through some of our feelings together. Is it ok if I share some of the things that have been making me tense?” Timing is important. If your partner is stressed, wait until they are ready to talk.
6. See the upside in the downside
Are you learning new money-saving tactics? Are you able to sleep in more? Can you use the extra time to hold hands, cuddle or become more intimate? What dreams and goals can you set together as a couple?
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