By: Dr. Tyla Charbonneau, registered psychologist
Self-isolation may challenge even the strongest of relationships and having tough days is normal. When we are overwhelmed we can feel angry, frustrated, lonely, confused, or fearful. All of these emotions show up in different ways for different people. Sometimes we unload these feelings onto our partners. This can occur via picking a fight when we are scared, pushing our partners away when we really need them near, or avoiding conversations out of worry we will be judged for our thoughts. If you find that tension is growing within your relationship consider the following strategies.
Arguments are never solved with “you did this,” followed with a retort of “well, you did this” and back and forth. What does help is asking our partners what is going on for them and respond with compassion. Listening and providing an empathetic response (ex: that must be really challenging) does not mean that we agree with what we are hearing. It just means we want to know more about the other person’s perspective. Once you have listened, acknowledge what was said and then share your perspective. Most of us just want to be heard and when we are understood we are more likely to understand our partners as well.
Use direct communication
I often hear statements such as, “they should just know that I need…” and “I should not have to tell them I need…” These statements are myths within our relationships. We are not mind readers and we do need to express our needs to our partners. Your partner may actually not know that you want them to make you dinner after a long day and telling them empowers them to do this. Many people even thrive when they know what is needed directly. If you find yourself wishing someone would do something for you, ask yourself which is worse. Holding on to anger that they are not doing it or taking a minute to express your need?
Focus on you
Dr. Kirsten Neff, an expert on self compassion, said that our own worth and value needs to come from within. Other people’s actions and behaviours are not a direct evaluation of your worth. If you are angry stop and ask yourself what within you is causing the anger. If we are stable within ourselves the behaviours of others prompts healthy communication about difficult situations. For example, if you dig deep you might realize that the anger you feel about items purchased is not really about the money but rather your fears about your ability to provide for the family in difficult times. Skip the part of the argument where you talk in detail about the purchase and be honest about your inner worries.
Take breaks and then return to the conversation
It is okay to walk away from a difficult conversation if you need a break and feel that you will say something unkind, not be able to listen, or if you feel that the conversation is stuck or going in circles. When needing to take a break you can say things like, “I need to take a break, I am feeling uncomfortable with this conversation,” or “I need a break, I do not like who I am being in the conversation.” If you need to walk away own why you are walking away and avoid placing blame on the other person with ‘you’ statements. The key to taking a break is that you have to return to the conversation when both people have calmed down. Approach the conversation from a place of calm and use the strategies above to continue talking.
The content provided in this article is for information purposes only. It is not meant as a substitute for professional medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you find yourself in distress, please reach out to your local physician or mental health providers in your community.