You might gloomily remember the lockdown for any number of reasons. Yet your most vivid memory might be how you began to question why you are still with your partner. Your relationship could have been on the rocks before the pandemic. Yet, the intense, constant “together time” brought this question into sharper focus. We feel you on this one. Our Evanston therapists are ready to talk with you individually or as a couple to look at this question with curiosity and help you to reach better clarity.
The uncertainty, health challenges, and changes to routine strained every relationship. Perhaps you and your partner have different personalities that blew up during the pandemic. You are the extroverted one and were dying to be among people again. Maybe your introverted partner was perfectly happy to be home and away from the constant flow of people.
Mask-wearing and vaccinations might also have been a point of stress between the two of you. How did you reconcile these differences?
What do Pandemic Relationship Statistics Show Us?
You were not alone if you struggled in your relationship with your partner. Let’s look at a few statistics that tell this story well.
A large US contract-creation firm increased sales of their basic divorce agreement by 34%. Twenty percent of sales came from people who had just married in the previous 5 months.
This bbc.uk article gives these three reasons as the root of the problem for upsetting domestic bliss: 1) Increased amounts of time together, 2) Increase in mental health problems linked to the pandemic and 3) Loss of well-established routines.
The Stewarts firm saw 16% more women filing for divorce than in the previous year. Carly Kinch from Stewarts thinks this trend is due to the
“disproportionate share of housework and childcare still falling on women, even in heterosexual couples where the male partner also works from home. “
Do You Make These Mistakes in Your Relationship? What to Do About It
Can you relate to the 3 highlighted reasons for break-ups during the pandemic given in the BBC article?
Which mistakes might you be making that put your relationship at risk? What strategies can you put into place to preserve your hanging-from-a-thread partnership?
Dr. John Gottman, the American researcher and guru on the predictors of divorce, defined 4 dangerous ways that couples relate to one another. He calls them the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
When these horsemen arrive on the scene, your partnership or marriage is in trouble. Don’t despair, just be willing to keep working for change. Your relationship can be directed off of the rocks and into smoother waters.
Drop that, try this instead…
Couples Therapy Tip #1 Drop the Contempt
Gottman says that contempt between you and your partner is the best predictor of divorce or break-up.
With contempt, the bully shows up. Your partner might be mean and passively aggressive for no reason.
Contempt can include being mean, disrespectful, or mocking. Count in sarcasm, ridiculing, name-calling, mimicking, eye-rolling, and scoffing. You try to one-up your partner and state how you are better than them.
Try this instead: Therapist, Eva Van Prooyen, advises couples to build fondness and admiration between them.
Find things to praise your partner about. Even the littlest things can jumpstart a more positive feeling toward your partner.
Remember how the two of you fell in love. What did you admire about that person? What were your conversations like? Were you excited about spending time with your partner?
Van Prooyen believes that the slightest spark of friendship can grow into a flame of appreciation and respect.
Couples Therapy Tip #2 Drop the Criticism
Do you ever start a conversation with your partner using always and never? You know. “You always (insert something negative).” Or…“You never (enter the behavior you want to see in your partner).”
When you criticize, you often attack who your partner is at their core. This personalized verbal attack is damaging and hurtful. “You’re so lazy, inconsiderate, selfish, stubborn, etc.” You get the picture.
Almost always, criticism tends to come from a negative place. Inevitably, it is not received well.
Using criticism is not an effective way of communicating. It opens the door to contempt, and you wouldn’t want to do that. This open door puts your relationship directly in the line of fire.
Try this instead: Watch your words. Express your distress, disappointment or anger, without making it personal, without attacking your partner.
Couples Therapy Tip #3 Drop the Defensiveness
Imagine your partner/spouse comes to you about a troubling issue. It might be how you share childcare responsibilities, your financial situation or balancing family life and work.
What’s your first reaction? Is it defensiveness? If work often wins over family time, you might frequently say, “It’s a busy season at work” or “You were going to get to [fill in the blank], you just haven’t done it yet.”
If your spouse feels you are the “preferred parent,” they might use this as an excuse to slack off on sharing childcare responsibilities.
Defensiveness can quickly turn into a blame game. Instead of hearing each other’s complaints, you find fault with one another. Perhaps past mistakes take center stage. When responding with defensiveness, you and your partner are sending the message that you really don’t care about the concerns.
Try this instead: Hear your partner out. Be quiet and listen. All the way to the end. Try not to comment, cut the person off or offer your best explanation for your behavior.
If you can do this, you will validate your partner. Let them know they’ve been heard. Promise to make your best effort to repair the situation.
Couples Therapy Tip #4 Drop the Stonewalling
Stonewalling in your relationship might look like this:
You or your partner
- Ignore the other when they talk and do not respond to any questions (this can last weeks or even months)
- Walk away or start doing something else when serious conversations start
- Dismiss concerns as if they are unimportant
- Make fun of the other and are patronizing
- Roll their eyes or refuse to make eye contact at all
- Refuse to take responsibility for giving the silent treatment
Try this instead: Turn toward your partner literally and emotionally. Listen actively, when they are talking, even about the “mundane” things. Be willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations.
You can have a stronger foundation to build from when the next challenge comes. It might not be a global pandemic. A major illness, death in the family, financial loss, or cross-country move could equally stress your partnership. Our Evanston therapists can walk with you alone or with your partner about laying the groundwork for a firmer relationship.
If you’re feeling anxious and stressed about your relationships, call us at (773) 983-8444 for a free, 15-minute phone conversation with one of our Evanston Therapists. We will listen and direct you to the right person to help you with this anxiety and your relationship. Or you can schedule a time to chat with us here about how we work with couples.
Are you looking for a couples therapist in Evanston or online in Illinois to improve your relationship? You can read more about how therapy can help here. We look forward to meeting you!