Part II: A Map For Staying Connected Through the Overwhelm
In my last blog, I explored ways couples can lose their connection to each other while trying to manage their busy and stressful lives. There is a map, though, for couples who wish to find their way back to one another. Here are some specific suggestions:
1. Establish a daily check-in ritual of at least 15 minutes. Consider cooking dinner together, having coffee or breakfast together (for those lucky enough to have some calm morning time available), or having a cup of tea every evening with the TV off, phones off, and kids asleep or otherwise occupied. Chat about your day, and find out how the other person is doing, going over things besides chores. How are you? Really, how are you? Are you still sad about your brother’s phone call last week? How are you coping with your crazy boss these days?
2. Synch up your bedtimes. There are few experiences as intimate as getting ready for bed at the same time: brushing teeth together, checking thermostats and windows, settling the pets, folding back the sheets, and turning out lights. And then tucking into each other.
3. Work together as often as needed on looking ahead and discussing ways to share upcoming chores and tasks. Some clients have a weekly “meeting” with one another, calendars in hand, when they plan out and divvy up meals, shopping, cooking, and kids’ activities. Both people leave the meeting knowing their “marching orders” for the next few days, expectations are clarified, and that awful sense of being caught off guard suddenly is eliminated, when the refrigerator is empty and each thought the other was cooking that night, and then nerves are frayed and bickering escalates.
4. Build in a weekly date. If you have young kids, hire a sitter well in advance (some couples find a reliable high schooler who is delighted to have steady work and can plan to babysit every Friday night for the next few months). Dates don’t have to be dramatic or fancy -- no harbor cruises or rock concerts needed -- but just a time to do something you both enjoy, that doesn’t add financial or emotional stress. Strolling through a park and then ducking into a cafe for cocoa can be just right.
5. Notice how hard the other person is working and let them know you see it. Try to stop complaining about your own work load, unless you’re doing it in the spirit of “we” rather than “I.” “Wow, are we ever overloaded!” and “I can’t believe how hard we’re both working” is better than “My life sucks worse than yours.”
6. Step up more. Assume your partner could use a helping hand.
7. Encourage your partner to find ways to relax and have fun. Accept the offer when it’s given to you, but be sure to offer the same thing to your partner soon after.
It’s essential that couples find ways to slow down and turn towards each other regularly and deliberately in order to stay connected. It’s really worth it. Learn to make the decision that the dishes can wait, and spending a few moments sitting together on the couch is more important, ultimately. Bump up time with your partner to the top of the priority list, since, for many couples, it seems to drift down to the bottom when unattended to.
When couples start enjoying each other’s company again, they can begin to see each other in a positive way, and then can tune back in to all the good reasons why each chose the other, perhaps years ago, to be their friend and partner. They can learn to value and appreciate each other again.