Some mornings go like this: I’m uptight, Altaz is grumpy, Sasha is agitated because of me and Altaz, and seeing her upset makes us both feel guilty and kind of mad at each other. We all feel strained and disconnected. This doesn't happen often, but when it does, it just doesn't feel good and it's hard to come out of. Anyone else relate? This morning I decided to tell Altaz some theories I’d been toying with about why I’m feeling so uptight, fully intending to make the conversation about me and my needs.
But then he said something like “Can I tell you what’s been going on for me?” and my inner voice told me to be quiet and just listen. Shhhh. Just listen.
Couples therapists like myself have tons of how-to’s, especially when it comes to communication. But I didn’t want to therapize us - I just wanted to connect. I had been feeling so lonely. So I listened to that inner voice that said “Drop your judgments, Jena. Just listen.”
I learned a lot from that conversation, about what he has been struggling with, what stress he’s under, how he’s missing his work routine and his freedom, and I understood it all. It made sense. Although he said some hard truths, he was careful not to blame me. And I resisted trying to one-up him with who has less time for themselves and who has to sacrifice more - there are no winners in that competition.
The best part? Our follow up conversations were easier because a precedent had been set. We talk, we listen, and we strive to understand one another. After each conversation, we feel relief. We gain understanding. And we feel closer, a closeness we’ve so desperately craved but weren’t sure how to elicit from each other in our stressed-out state.
If I can offer some advice to you couples out there having a stressful time with self-isolation, it’s this: Speak, and don’t blame. Listen, and don’t judge. Above all, connect. In whatever way you can.