Connection, Quarantine and COVID-19

If you are quarantined with your significant other(s) right now, it could be heaven…or it could be hell. Actually, I hope for you that it is somewhere in between. Meaning, you’re having some conflict, but you are working through it within a reasonable time frame and the conflict isn’t having any lasting effects. If that isn’t what you are experiencing, here are some tips to move you away from hell and closer to heaven.

First, this can be hard on relationships. Spending all day, every day together works great in a romcoms and romance novels, but the reality is much more complicated, If one or both (or more if you are in a polyamorous relationship) are used to leaving your home for work or other activities, being together 24×7 is bound to require new relationships skills. Lowering your expectations of each other is the name of the game.

You will get irritated, annoyed, angry, frustrated, and disapointed with each other. Guaranteed.

Second, if you are feeling less than loving toward your partner(s), remind yourself that your feelings come from you, not them. You get to feel whatever you want to feel, but how you feel is NOT THEIR FAULT.

Before I go on, let me state that I’m NOT talking about disrespectful conversations (name calling, swearing, blaming, shaming, etc) or physical aggression. Abusive behavior is not OK and needs to be addressed. If you need help with this, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline for support and to get connected to resources in your area.

For non-abusive conflict, here’s how it works. Someone does or doesn’t do something. You have thoughts about it. Those thoughts create some feels. You then do something to cope with those feelings. While the action belongs to someone else, your response to it is all your own.

For example, in my house, I make dessert for my family every evening. When we’re done, I don’t take my dishes to the sink, my spouse does. Upon taking my dishes to the sink, they could respond to my behavior in several ways.

One way would be to THINK about how lazy and inconsiderate I am, which would lead to FEELINGS of annoyance and resentment.

Or, they could THINK about how it’s only fair because I make the dessert every night and then FEEL grateful and appreciative. See how this works?

When we accept our thoughts and feelings as our own responsibility, we have control to use skills to manage conflict, rather than giving control to our feelings.

Third, if your negative feelings during disagreement are getting strong, take a time-out. Time-outs go like this:

1. “I am getting upset and need a time-out.”

2. “I am going to go for a walk/read a book/knit/(whatever helps you calm down).”

3. “I will be back at <specific time of day>.” (Never say “in 30 mins.” It tends to get confusing. Give a specific time.)

4. “And we can talk about it then.”

At which point, you leave and nothing else is said by you or the other person. It’s important to get everyone to agree to these rules ahead of time, otherwise people tend to argue with you about leaving the room. You also have to return when you said you would. Otherwise, it’s hard to trust you.

Fourth, look at the person you are upset with. Look at their face, listen to their voice, watch what they are doing. Get outside of your thoughts and feelings and get in touch with what is happening with them. Are they an actual threat to you? Probably not.

And five, when it comes to conflict, talk about your thoughts and feelings. Don’t blame your feelings on the other person. Describe the what they did, the thoughts you had about what they, and the feelings caused by your thoughts.

“When you…I thought…then I felt…”

These tips will not resolve all the conflicts you may be having at home, but chances are they will make things better.

One of the disagreements I am hearing a lot about is different levels of caution around COVID-19 safety, such as whether or not to leave your home, and quarantining packages and groceries. Every household has to come to their own decision about degree of caution, and I am not here to reccomend any specific action. However, I know it can be really hard when partners don’t agree.

Make sure everyone involved understands the thoughts and feelings of everyone else. This means that each person gets a chance to talk with everyone else just listening. Once everyone feels understood, you may be surprised at how much common ground there is between you. Common ground leads to agreements everyone can get behind.

If they don’t help, talking with a therapist could helpful. Each couple has a unique story and while these suggestions are universally helpful, all relationships have their own roadblocks to using them. I am offering telehealth appointments and so are many therapists. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you need support.

That’s all for now. Be well. Stay strong.

Coping with COVID-19

Well, whether we like it nor not, today is the day.

Let’s get to it.

These are interesting/strange/frightening/sad/stressful times. Our brains don’t like it. Unless you are a first responder, an immigrant who has lived through civil upheaval, a combat veteran, or someone similar, you haven’t had an opportunity to develop the coping skills that come in handy during a global pandemic situation.

Here are some tips to help your head (and your heart) feel better. I’ll be posting some deeper dives into these topics in the coming days, but here’s the big picture.

First, lower your expectations of everything. Yourself, your family, your neighbors, the government. Like me, you may be thinking that you are finally going to clean out the garage/organize the bookshelf/put together that scrapebook/sort your closet. And you may.

Or you may not.

If you have extra time on your hands, filling it can feel overwhelming, sapping our motivation and energy. No matter what else we do, our situation will remain stressful (at least to some degree) until it’s over. So, we need to expect less from ourselves and each other, not more

Second, stay connected to the reality around you. While it can feel like virus always hangs around us like a miasma of bad gas, that’s not true. (Medical personnel excluded-let’s give them a standing ovation, everyone.) Especially if you are complying with social distancing and hand-washing protocols.

Pause for a few minutes every day and take a look around you. See the sky, feel the breeze, touch a leaf or the grass. Connecting to the world around us through our senses is one of the most powerful ways to calm down, but we rarely use it as a coping mechanism.

Despite how it feels, thinking…even thinking really hard…doesn’t give tell us jack about what’s actually happening in the world. Thinking we are safe is nothing compared to seeing/hearing/touching/tasting/smelling that we are safe. So, look around!

Third, our brains LOVE predictability. We love routines. So, get a routine going. The most important elements of a routine are:

1. Decide on both weekday and weekend routines.

2. Set a wake-up time for both routines.

3. Take a shower and get dressed every day.

4. Set blocks of time to be productive (work/school/gardening/knitting/learning French), and blocks of time for relaxation (Netflix/Facebook/gametime).

5. Go outside (while practicing social distancing)

6. Move your body

7. Set a bedtime

Make a routine that includes these elements and in a way that feels good and you’ll cope much better with this unpredictable world we find ourselves in.

Fourth, do some meal planning. If you plan meals already, you are ahead of the curve. If not, start. Part of why we like things to be predictable is that we don’t like to make a million decisions every day-that gets overwhelming pretty fast. Meal planning gets rid of a chunk of decisions. It’s also good for your body and your budget. People who meal plan tend to eat healthier, spend less money on groceries and throw out less food than people who don’t.

Fifth (and finally!), start a task list. During stressful situations (such as a global pandemic), short-term memory can get a little sketchy. Running a task list provides a giant brain assist. You can get fancy with an app or grab a yellow legal pad. When you think of something you need to do, write it down. Then, when you aren’t sure what to do next, look at your list.

Enough for now. I’ll dive into the weeds about these skills over the next few days, so check back in.

Thanks for reading. Stay well. Stay strong.