Given the uncertainty, grief and stress surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s little doubt that even the healthiest couples are under some strain. And for those already struggling or limping along well before the pandemic, our current reality may have them near the breaking point.
All relationships experience conflict, misunderstandings and iffy periods. But being in a high-conflict relationship in the midst of a pandemic can be emotionally and physically exhausting, leaving you feeling even more miserable and alone.
Here are four tips for weathering this difficult time.
Start by making a list of reasons why you’ve made this commitment. Your list might include the fact that, deep down, you care deeply for your partner—and that you feel less lonely and sad when the two of you aren’t fighting. Read your list daily to remind yourself why you’re committed to working on things.
In psychotherapy, this is the job of our “observing ego.” A healthy observing ego helps us avoid “acting on” the negative emotions we know deep down will only cause us more misery. You can strengthen your observing ego by imagining or journaling about behaviors that would lead to negative outcomes, rather than acting them out.
When interactions are heated, suggest taking a break and coming back to the conversation later, or go to another room to step away from a negative interaction. This doesn’t mean you’re surrendering or not “standing up for what is right.” Instead, you’re taking positive actions toward not making things worse. This is something to be proud of.
For most of us, change is a slow process with many starts and stops along the way. It’s important to acknowledge that moving away from negative interactions with your partner requires courage, conviction and skill. It’s also more likely to help you get what you truly want: peace, intimacy and validation from your partner.
For more, see Alan Fruzzetti’s The High-Conflict Couple. A Dialectical Behavior Therapy Guide to Finding Peace, Intimacy and Validation.