Many of us are hearing “these are unprecedented times ” or “we are in uncharted waters.” In other words, none of us know what the hell we are doing. So, we have to adapt: with our children, our profession, and with our partner. Some couples will thrive in this new normal. Many will put too much pressure on themselves and in doing so, they will miss opportunities for deeper and healthier connections.
Here are five tips from a seasoned marriage counselor (me!) to be used as a resource for deeper connection. Take the opportunity now to have the relationship you deserve. My hope is that your relationship will be tended to far better than the pantry, closet, or basement that you have looked every day at and haven’t touched in weeks.
1. Be kind.
At a time of such great uncertainty kindness and grace go a long way. Realize that you and your family (and most everyone else) are in the same boat. You have concerns, worries, and fears. A lot is unknown but one thing is certain: you have a choice to be there for each other, to listen, validate each other’s experience, and be kind. Pro tip for the perfectionist – be kind to yourself! You can’t have it all right now. You have to make a conscious choice to let some of it go or you will be constantly disappointed and extremely anxious. It is impossible for you to cook three healthy meals a day, have a perfectly cleaned home, laundry put away, home-school your children with hair done and jeans on. All while working from home, managing grocery orders, working out, keeping your family safe AND making time for yourself, friends and your partner. It is too damn much. It is always too damn much but it is certainly too damn much right now. Allow yourself the grace of a filled sink, pjs all day, and pancakes for dinner.
2. Say what you need.
At one point in time we could go to happy hour with some friends to blow off steam, get a massage, or bury ourselves in work. We used the high demands of life as an excuse to be two ships in the night; to avoid the hard conversations and sweep them under the rug. Take this opportunity to tell your partner what you need, what you have needed, what you are hoping to change. Whether it is a night snuggling and reconnecting on the couch, being able to take a hot bath (alone), or some tolerance when you lose your mind before having your morning coffee (that one is me) – let your partner know! Use this article as a conversation starter. Nothing is more satisfying than when your partner shows up for you the way you need.
3. Learn your Love Languages and put them to practice!
If you have never heard of the Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, let me school you a bit. There are Five Love Languages: Quality Time, Acts of Services, Touch, Gifts, and Words of Appreciation. Every one of us shows and feels love in a different way. When you know your partners love language, YOU have the ability to enhance your relationship by making your partner feel loved and respected in the way they need it most. Once you both have taken the quiz, you will know how to demonstrate your love for your partner in a way they understand. Each of you take the quiz and share what you’ve learned.
4. Introduce rituals of connection.
Researcher and couples therapist, John Gottman, discusses in his book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work how to build iron clad rituals of connection. This is a way to turn towards each other by using habits that are healthy, loving, and dependable. These rituals could include working out together, cooking together, or making time to share five appreciations daily. End your weeks with a commitment to discuss: What has gone right this week? What did we not make time to talk about? What can I do next week to make you feel loved? Pro Tip – Make your mornings more enjoyable by adding a six second kiss or ask your partner for a mid-day 60 second hug.
5. Have Fun! That’s an order!
Play games together like Battleship or strip poker. Set up a virtual happy hour. Download the Gottman Card Deck app. This app has several conversation starters to help with better communication, creating rituals of connection, and getting to know your partner better both emotionally and sexually. Pro Tip– Start a two person book club! Several of my clients have been reading books together during this time and then following up with a weekly meeting. Some books have exercises to enhance relationships, bonus! Here are my go to book for couples.
This is a difficult time for everyone. However, it has also opened up opportunities for growth and intimacy. Most couples now have more time to spend face to face. Use this time to enhance your relationship and your love for one another. Lastly, don’t hesitate to reach out to a licensed marriage counselor. Although not ideal, most therapists are accepting new clients virtually, myself included. Clients are reporting that they are happy they reached out and that they enjoy having this resource in the comfort of their own home.
Natalie Nesbitt, MS, LPC, loves working with couples! Helping them find the passion in their relationship; remove blocks that are keeping them from being their best; learning to have a marriage they have only dreamed. Providing personalized couples therapy and life counseling at her private psychotherapy practice in Paoli, Pennsylvania, conveniently located on the Main Line. She has helped countless couples save their marriages and/or relationships and come back from the deepest of betrayals.