Showing up for your partner during stressful times has the potential to increase intimacy and trust in your relationship. However in the midst of a pandemic, it is easy to do the opposite and let your emotions run the show. Showing up for your partner, means more then just being physically present. It also means taking responsibility for yourself, your emotions, and being attuned to your partners needs. Here are some tips to show up for your partner during and after COVID-19.
Create a Clean and Restorative Environment
Our minds are full of uncertainty right now. One way this might manifest is in the form of clutter in our homes. Research has found correlations between messy homes and mental health issues such as fatigue and depression. Try supporting your partner’s mental health by helping them keep your home clean and organized.
Are you having a hard time keeping the house clean with kids being home 24/7? Pick one room in your house to be your “sanctuary” and team up to keep it organized and peaceful. Want to take this a step further? Try keeping coronavirus talk out of this space. This will provide both a mental and physical escape for you and your partner.
In response to coronavirus, new information and guidelines are being released almost daily. This information has the potential to consume the majority of your attention and energy. In order to show up for your partner during coronavirus, make sure that you are allotting time and energy to check-in about your relationship. Here is a format that I give many of my clients for check-ins:
Step 1) What issues have come up for us in the past week? What needs resolution?
Step 2) Take turns expressing three things about your partner that you are grateful for.
Step 3) Take turns sharing stressors or big events in the upcoming week. Share how your partner can best support you through these stressors or big events.
Take Responsibility for your Emotions
In stressful times, it can be easy to project negative emotions onto your partner in the form of avoidance or irritability. However it is likely that you wouldn’t project these negative emotions onto a friend, extended family member, or coworker. Your partner deserves the same level of respect! In order to effectively show up for your partner, take responsibility for your negative emotions. Try communicating with them directly about what emotions you are experiencing. You can also try engaging in self-care activities that combat your negative emotions. For example, if you are feeling isolated, try reaching out to a friend or family member to meet your need for connection. This will reduce the burden on your relationship and help you show up more compassionately towards your partner.
Perception vs. Intention
Something that I often remind my clients of is the difference between perception and intention. We often create a story in our heads about our partner’s behavior and remarks. These stories can leave us feeling misunderstood and uncared for. For example, if you partner appears upset or withdrawn, you may create a story that they are mad at you. In reality, they may be stressed about work or fatigued because they didn’t sleep well the night before.
When you start to tell yourself a story about your partner, you have one of two options. One, you can act in accordance with your story and match their upset mood. Or two, you can own your story and check in with them before reacting. This can be a great tool during arguments as well! Before reacting to your perception of your partner’s remarks, try using statements like “So, what I’m hearing you say is…” or “When you say…the story I’m telling myself is…” While this skill is harder in practice, it can help reduce unnecessary tension between you and your partner.
Michaela Standhart is a Marriage and Family Therapist Candidate. She specializes in couples therapy, betrayal trauma, and works with adolescent as young as 12 years old. Michaela stays sane while practicing social distancing by reminding herself how happy her dog is.