You might be vigorously nodding your head at the obviousness of the above statement of “it’s fine – until it isn’t.” And for sure – it is important to remember that your partner’s differences from you are all fine and well. That is UNTIL they cause you discomfort, or you feel the way they are handling something is wrong. So how do you reconcile a relationship during times of stress – such as this coronavirus pandemic?
Most couples show up in our office as a result of differences in the way they each approach life (and each other) that cause the other discomfort.
How Differences Get in the Way of Intimacy
Why do differences mess with our intimacy so much?
Take an example from this NYT article. Say, you are worried about the coronavirus and your partner, in contrast, is pretty relaxed about it. You might start to silently judge and/or overtly criticize one another. Peering across the room at one another, you ask yourself with an unnerved attitude: “Who does that?!?”.
If you are not careful, you might begin to polarize across many different topics and approaches to life. Instead of practicing empathy – trying to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and understand their feelings – you dig in on your own approaches. You become more and more staunch in your believes about the world and the way things should be done. You begin to feel distant from your partner and lose your feeling of teamwork and intimacy.
There’s No Right Way to Live a Life
To get through these challenging times, it’s even more important to hold the attitude that there is no right way to live a life. That includes reacting to a crises, or making certain decisions.
Whether your differences come from reasoned thinking or your histories of hurt or trauma – it’s essential to remember there is no way to argue a person into being someone else than they are.
How to Reconcile Your Relationship
So – what can you do differently to help reconcile a stressed relationship?
- For one, you can ask that judgmental guy or gal in your head to please settle down and stop running the show. After all, we may need our judgement to survive many situations – but judging our partner never increases intimacy. Try to REALLY listen, with as much patience and empathy as you can muster.
- You can take turns considering the other person’s point of view. Make sure you actually say it back to them, sincerely. This might look like one partner saying: “You don’t feel like we are in danger, and it’s hard for you that I’m scared all the time.” The other partner would respond with “You are really afraid of what’s happening with this virus. And you are not only afraid of people getting sick, you are upset with how our country is handling it.”
- Sometimes, just hearing your partner acknowledge your approach with empathy makes all the difference. Often, it provides a path to reconnect you. Finally, once you see your differences as neutral, you can come up with ways to approach life and each other that takes them into account.
For more helpful pointers about how to reconcile a relationship, read a sample chapter of our book “Coming Together”.
P.S: Don’t Forget About Sex
Though this NYT article didn’t talk about sex at all, if sex is a resource for you as a couple (as opposed to a place of conflict), make sure you set aside some sexy time. It will calm your nervous systems, deepen intimacy, and create some resilience around the challenges to come.
If it is one of your areas of conflict, you can use some of the tools to talk about it differently. And in case you need help with talking about differences of any kind, we are always here!