What does healthy communication between Massachusetts spouses look like, especially during the pandemic?
Healthy communication is the same in and out of this pandemic according to experts. It occurs when there is a willing speaker who is free to share their feelings, wants, and needs with a willing and empathetic listener who is confident in their own feelings, wants and needs.
This definition is the goal that many of us have to work hardest at. Most of us were raised by parents who used persuasion, dominance, rewards, and various other means of control to get us to do what they wanted or thought we should do. We learned to deny to varying degrees our autonomous thoughts, feelings, and needs to get along.
The two ways that unhealthy communication rears its head is when needs are not being expressed, met, or when individuals become demanding. The intense stress living under this blanket of fear from the coronavirus that’s forcing physical closeness offers no usual escape valve like going to work, meetings, or classes. The pressure is great. Renegotiating needs for space, closeness, work, chores, and play is huge. We’re still undergoing shock and in shock we don’t think well. The emotional centers in our brains shut down.
If a couple had a win-win negotiating capabilities before the virus, there is an opportunity for them to grow even closer. If prior to the pandemic their communication was unsatisfying and now is in a triggered state of uncertainty about the future-they will likely fight more without resolution, shut down more, they may even become abusive, addicted, and possibly break up. The outcome depends on how well the individuals can recognize what they need, ask for it, and see if their needs can be met by their partner without resentment.
In terms of how this pandemic is wreaking havoc on couples, therapists advide that we all need to go easy in our thoughts. We’re really still in shock. It’s important to not dwell too long on the thoughts that take us down. We want to minimize the potential of developing a pattern of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome that can linger after we’re free to move about again.
Advice for all couples, especially ones who aren’t getting along, is to communicate in a more structured format.
Here are some tips to keeping it civil and for both individuals to get what they need while connecting with their partner in a healthy way.
Stop The Blame Game
We have to learn how to use “I” statements instead of casting blame. When an individual wants to express dissatisfaction they should state how they feel followed by what their need is with the final step of making the request to fulfill the need. Some people get defensive and feel criticized, which is a function of not feeling comfortable or having unmet needs. If the blame game persists then it is time for both parties to take a time out.
The Rules For Time-Outs
Time-outs are an excellent tool. Both people must be free to call one. But it’s important to follow it with the promise to discuss the issue at another specified time-that could be five minutes, an hour, or a day. The important thing is for both people to go to their respective corners to calm down. They need to be able to kindly ask themselves why do they want what they want. What need is it that they are trying to have met and can this need be delivered as a request rather than a demand? When the couple reunites, they need to listen to one another intently and to share what needs weren’t met more honestly and respectfully. If an apology is necessary then simply apologize for the hurtful behavior rather than make excuses.
When couples are facing challenges with tensions, distance, and pain-this is a time for structured communication to safely understand and resolve the problem.
Here is the Talk/Listen Structure that therapists suggest:
1. Speaker Requests a time to be heard.
Listener agrees and sets when and for how many minutes they’re willing to listen.
3-5 minutes is a good amount of time.
2. Speaker speaks for the agreed upon time.
Listener listens without interruption.
3. When Speaker finishes, Listener repeats back verbatim what they heard.
Speaker corrects any missing points.
4. Speaker requests one of three specific actions for Listener to do.
5. Listener agrees to do one of the requests and follows through to the best of their ability.
6. The communication ends with some form of physical touch; hand holding, a hug, pinkie swear, whatever feels right.
7. Communication that follows is kept light and polite. Further discussion if needed is arranged for another time.
Due to the added stress some couples may find themselves with decreased libidos. But, that doesn’t mean intimacy needs to stop. Non-sexual contact is important. It is often said that foreplay is everything we do in between intercourse! What this means is we hug our partner during the day, we compliment them, we smile when they walk into the room, we hold hands, and we seek to make them happy. If sex has left the relationship for too long, experts suggest various non-sexual exercises, and later sexual ways of relating that can help reignite this relationship.
Set Up Weekly Meetings To Discuss The Relationship
For relationships to be happy and healthy, they require attention to thrive. Therapists suggest a weekly get together to check in with one another. It’s like a scheduled board meeting, but one to strengthen your partnership. It’s a time to talk about the good things that happened that week as well as the areas that could use some attention.
Should you be in the midst of a divorce or contemplating divorce, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.