Mental Health

Relationships

Mandy Kloppers

The litmus test for relationships in lockdown

Too much ‘togetherness’?

Being in lockdown is bound to put a strain on any relationship and too much time together can be a recipe for disaster.  How much of a strain lockdown places on a relationship is down to a few characteristics that some relationships have and others don’t. I have put together a list of what constitutes a positive relationship and what makes up a bad relationship. If you have many of the bad charactertistics showing up in your relationship, you may want to start addressing these issues and nip them in the bud before they become unmanageable.

Over the years, many couples have approached me for couples counselling. What has generally been a rule is that too much time together (say for example – over the Christmas period) can lead to conflict. Studies have shown that the divorce rate is usually higher in January. This is a direct result of spending too much time together. Who knows what the consequences of the corona virus quarantine will bring. Considering general trends, it is likely that there will be a surge in breakups and divorce. Not only are couples being forced to spend more time together but they also don’t have their usual sources of comfort – going out or watching sports, theatre, seeing friends and so on – double whammy.

Will your relationship survive lockdown?

Resilient relationships

These are the characteristics of a strong relationship that is more likely to survive lockdown:

Effective Communication

When you irritate each other, being able to communicate this in a way that allows the other person to listen and not become defensive is a strong indicator that a relationship will cope. The way you communicate is key. Good relationships tend to involve positive communication that is devoid of regular criticism and passive-aggressive behaviour.

One way to communicate effectively and assertively is to use ‘assertive script‘. Instead of starting the conversation with, “you always….” or “You never…”, an effective way to get your partner to listen without clamming up and becoming defensive is to broach the subject with this format:

I feel……. (insert feeling – sad, scared, angry etc), when you ……..(insert behaviour – ignore me at meal times, leave the bathroom dirty…etc), so what I would like is…… (state your preference here).

No one can argue with a feeling. In assertive script, you are explaining how their behaviour makes you feel and you also come up with a solution to the problem. In this way, it seems less like criticism and more like effective communication.

Empathy

Relationships struggle when there is little or no empathy. How can you understand what your partner is going through if you have no clue as to how they are experiencing your behaviour? When you are able to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and understand how you would feel in their position, you will be far more motivated to fix the problem. If you can’t see what they are banging on about, you will be less likely to empathise or want to do anything about it.

Empathy can be learned, work on identifying your own emotions and figure out what triggers your sadness, happiness, anger and so on. The more in touch we are with emotions the more likely we will be to show empathy and the relevant motivation to solve the issue.

If you have a narcissistic partner or a partner on the spectrum (autism), empathy may be more of a challenge. It’s still possible though to nurture empathy in relationships with patience and education.

Independence

Being aware of when you need time alone is a sign of a strong relationship. Being too intense in a relationship is difficult to maintain. It’s healthy to want to do things apart and have separate interests. Of course, lockdown puts limits on independence but you can still have time out from each other. Go into a separate room and read or play a game. Independence within limits is the key to surviving lockdown. You don’t need to be attached at the hip just because it’s lockdown. You could go for a walk alone if you feel you need space or take long shower or bubble bath.

Have fun together

Strong relationships can still find ways to have fun together despite being stuck together. Having a laugh and maintaining a sense of humour is strongly advisable. This is the sign of a strong relationship. If you are good friends too, this is a great foundation to build a romantic relationship upon. If you are just together for the sex, your relationship won’t be as resilient. Friendship is key during lockdown.

Compromise

You must be able to compromise and allow flexibility for a relationship to thrive. If you or your partner are competing for things to be done in your way constantly, this will place unnecessary strain on a relationship. You can’t be in a relationship and expect everything to be done your way. This will create resentment which will ultimately destroy the love.

The above characterstics are some of the main ingredients required to survive lockdown.

Weak relationships

The following charactertistics outline the weaknesses some relationships possess. If you identify with any of these, it’s time to make some positive changes:

Passive-aggressive behaviour

This is a toxic behavior that erodes the good feeling in a relationship. Passive aggressive behaviour is indirect manipulation of the other person.

For example: Your boyfriend/girlfriend/spouse deliberately serves dinner late even though you have said you are starving. There could be many reasons for this type of passive aggressive behaviour. It could be that your partner is trying to tell you they are unhappy with you, or that they are in control. Whatever the reason, they are expressly behaving in a way to send you a negative message. This is the basis of passive aggressive behaviour.

If you are in a rush, they will take their time. If you need a compliment, they will send you a backhanded insult. All very subtle, but it does the trick. It’s a dangerous form of manipulation and it kills relationships.

Sighing, rolling eyes, folding arms – these are also signs of passive aggressive behaviour. It says a lot without any words. Intentional mistakes can also be a form of passive aggressive behaviour. In this way your wishes are thwarted under the guise of ineptitude.

Being ignored or stonewalling is another form of toxic passive aggressive behaviour. The main problem with passive aggressive behaviour is that it has such a negative impact upon relationships but it can be neatly explained away due to it’s subtle nature. Both individuals know it’s taking place but it can be refuted as there is no clear evidence. It’s a frustrating and soul destroying situation to be in.

Criticism

If you feel that you are constantly criticised, or you criticise your partner, your relationship is definitely NOT on solid ground. Try to understand why the criticism is emerging. This is usually due to unmet needs. A common way to ‘get back’ at a partner is to criticize them and this ‘negative projection’ can temporarily alleviate our inner frustration. The problem though is that this is a short lived solution with long term negative ramifications. If you care about the relationship -keep criticism to a minimum. Constructive criticism can be useful if delivered in a sensitive and helpful way. For every criticism, there should be at least FIVE positve affirmations/compliments to maintain a healthy balance.

Contempt

Another form of passive aggressive behaviour – subtle insults, demeaning comments that make the other person feel bad about themselves. It’s negativity at it’s finest and it ruins relationships. If you feel frustrated, don’t take it out on your partner.

Blame

When you never take responsibility for your part in the relationship, you cause unnecessary issues. Over time, this negative behaviour will absolutelty erode the goodwill in the relationship. It will get to a point where you stop doing kind things for each other. An attitude of, “Well they don’t do it for me, so why should I show them the same courtesy?”. Emotional blackmail is another toxic behaviour and a form of manipulation that wreaks havoc. I am always amazed at the amount of passive aggressive behaviour I see developing in couples over time. No one stops it and it leads the relationship to fail spectacularly. If you care about the relationship – no underhanded games!

Control

You don’t own your partner and respecting them means allowing them to make their own decisions and be the person they are. Don’t expect them to be how you want them to be. Controlling who they see, what they wear, how they spend their money, what they eat etc, is NOT ON.

Checking through your mobile phone or your social media is another BIG NO-NO. Under no circumstances should this be happening. If your partner tries to explain why this is acceptable – don’t accept it. It’s a slippery slope to misery. You are an independent person, never try too hard to fit the ideal that someone else has.

Jealousy and possessiveness can be dangerous too. A little jealousy can be quite sweet but there is a fine line between healthy jealousy and possessiveness. No one owns you and you don’t own them. Cut it out.

The bottom line is that if you respect and care for your partner, you will want them to be happy and to actively want to spend time with you. When you feel the need to play games, you are creating a psychological layer of difficulty. Be straight forward, communicate openly and honestly and ensure that you have clear and healthy boundaries about what you will and won’t accept.

If someone crosses this boundary, you should be able to have a discussion about it that is healthy and leads to problem solving. If you feel you can’t have this conversation, there might be problems to address.

Relationships can be hard work, and lockdown will make it far harder. Learn to negotiate, compromise and pick your battles.

Mandy X

 

 

 

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash