Being together 24/7 can spell conflict for many couples.
If you, like many other couples, are stuck in close quarters with your spouse during quarantine, be prepared! As conflict continues to arise, your conflict-resolution skills will be tested.
No matter how happy you are in your relationship, expect conflict. It can be your friend or your enemy — the choice is yours.
In these stressful times, where quarantine and stay-at-home mandates are required, couples struggle to maintain their routines, schedules, and solitude.
It’s easy to get into each other’s space and find fault and criticism when we're confined to the same space day after day, week after week, and month after month.
What once seemed like a spacious home now seems too small.
I've been in self-quarantine since March 25, huddled together with my ex-husband and my five-year-old Shih Tsu. Mike, my ex since 1975, is unable to care for himself, so caregiving has been shared by my eldest daughter and me.
Mike moved in temporarily with the intention of returning to his apartment as soon as the green light had been given in our state for elderly folks with underlying health issues.
Friends prior to COVID-19, this has been a huge adjustment for both of us as we each had been living alone. It’s hard not to feel the invasion of my space.
Arguments, disagreements, frustration, and nasty words under my breath torpedo out without warning. There are times that I wish I hadn’t given in to caring for Mike.
I don’t like having those feelings. I don’t like who I become when I act like a shrew.
However, the crowded conditions coupled with the needs of an aging man with underlying illness too often transforms my usual mild-mannered, kindhearted personality into something less than kind.
At the beginning of the stay-at-home orders, many couples in relationships enjoyed the quiet time of being together, especially the interaction that seems void during our regular workweek.
We complained that there wasn't enough time to spend with each other and the kids. Everyone seemed to have a grueling schedule, each desperately trying to complete the incompletable because there is always more to do.
Now, suddenly we have been thrown into a quagmire of togetherness 24/7.
Here are 4 steps to conflict resolution in close quarters with your spouse.
1. Learn the art of presencing.
Presencing is to be fully present with your partner with an open heart, warm eyes, and a generosity of spirit.
Sit 18 inches apart in two chairs facing each other. The objective is to see your partner beyond just a cursory glance and to sense a secure attachment.
We are biologically wired for connection. When we disconnect, we go into crisis.
So, just looking deeply into the eyes of your partner, sitting 18 inches apart, and locking hands while focusing on the eyes of each other immediately creates connection.
No words need to be spoken. Allow yourself to see the child in the eyes of your partner.
Be still with your feet firmly on the floor. Gaze into your partner’s eyes the way you did when you first fell in love.
Reflect when you were on bended knees at the altar, or standing in awe under the Chupa.
Remember the marriage ceremony when you looked deeply into the eyes of your betrothed while exchanging your vows.
Recall placing your wedding bands on the fingers of your soon-to-be husband or wife and remember the moment your clergy announced to you and your guests that you are man and wife.
Your brain installed those precious memories and kept them safe in the windows of your mind, allowing you to boot them up whenever needed. They are most definitely needed now.
Love in the time of coronavirus is not easy, but you can recreate the most sacred times of your lives together.
2. Meditate together.
Stay with each other in silence, focused only on the eyes. Feel grateful to be alive and for the blessings you share.
Feel your skin in the palms of your partner. The skin is the largest organ in our bodies. The only people who can discern the touch of your skin is your mate.
Holding hands with your partner is a very sacred moment. Only the two of you know the sense of your partner’s touch.
Allow yourselves to stay quiet, simply glued to each other’s eyes for at least five minutes, and feel the sacred space you have just co-created.
Most couples might find this uncomfortable and awkward, but you can be reassured that after this ritual, your central nervous system will calm down, and words won’t matter. Our neurology eclipses dialogue.
3. Learn effective listening.
While sitting across from each other, still gazing into each other’s eyes, decide who will be the host and who will be the visitor.
This is when you can share your feelings with each other, one person at a time. The host expresses their feelings while the visitor listens with warm eyes, an open mind, and an open heart.
This requires staying connected with your eyes. The host shares with an economy of words, no more than five to eight (i.e., "I am worried about us.").
The visitor responds by repeating the exact words the host said. Once done, if confirmed accurate by the host, then the visitor simply says, "Tell me more."
The visit continues with the host leading the way and the visitor simply repeating what they've heard. When the host feels satiated with their thoughts, the sharing stops.
This is effective listening.
Most couples don’t know how to give their partner the time to finish a thought or sentence before they talk over them.
This ritual does not allow for interruption while sharing content, defensive responses, or bringing the visitor’s own thoughts, ideas, presumptions, and beliefs to the neighborhood of their partner.
It's considered an "illegal import" if it comes from the visitor’s neighborhood. The visitor can only respond with, "Tell me more."
This is a ritual taught to couples when using Encounter-Centered Couples Therapy (EcCT), an innovative technology created by Hedy Schleifer to help couples reconnect and clean their polluted relational space.
4. Learn essentializing and show appreciation.
At this juncture, the visitor essentializes the information received from the host in their own words. It must be certain that the host feels heard and understood.
After the host confirms that the visitor fully understood what their partner had shared, then each gives at least three appreciations to their partner.
For example, "I appreciate your willingness to be here for me and allow me to speak my feelings without any defensiveness or criticism."
Each exchange appreciations and shares what the space feels like after the encounter. This allows each partner to feel the difference in the space from before the ritual began and after.
This is an experiential, therapeutic modality that promotes healing.
Just as reading a book to learn how to swim does not work as well as getting in the water, this too, needs the experience to achieve an optimum outcome goal.
It requires a trained therapist until the couple feels secure in managing this communication style. It is not a dialogue, it's a visit!
Just as practicing is necessary to learn any technique, this too requires practice, determination, commitment, and dedication. Only then is integration achieved.
This form of conflict resolution does not apply only when in small quarters. It's applicable and useful as a resource for all relationships during times that need attention.
Joan E Childs, LCSW is a renowned psychotherapist, inspirational speaker, and author. For more information on how to create and maintain a conscious relationship, pre-order Joan’s new book, I Hate The Man I Love: A Conscious Relationship is Your Key to Success.