By: McKenna Downing, MFTC
Having tools to help you stay connected to your partner in today’s hurried environment will keep your communication and relationship strong. Life can be stressful, and there are times when the body is so overstimulated that a productive conversation cannot be had, which results in frustration for all parties involved and can cause further distancing in the relationship.
Implementing a “safe word” into the day-to-day
Creating a safe word requires the couple to develop a short word that means something to them both. Examples include the place where you had your first date, your favorite activity to do together, etc. In addition, the safe word should be used sparingly and have parameters set around it. If the word is used, all people know, give the person 30 minutes to get recentered and then they can reconvene and have the conversation in a less heightened state.
Example: Mary got home from work 30 minutes ago and noticed their partner Lainey didn’t do the household chores they had agreed upon the night before. Mary has friends coming over for a small get-together in two hours and wants the house to be clean. Lainey walks in the door after a very intense day at work. They were sitting in rush hour traffic for an hour and a half, currently experiencing a migraine, and are stressed because they told their partner they would clean up, and realized halfway home they had forgotten entirely about it. Mary says, “Hey, you said you’d do the dishes last night, and they are not done. We have our friends coming over in a few hours”.
Lainey is very stressed and cannot talk with Mary now for fear of lashing out at her. Instead, Lainey says, “Barcelona.” Mary, “Okay, I’m going to put a timer on my phone for 15 minutes, and then we can figure out a plan”. Mary, “Okay.” 15 minutes later. Mary, “Hey, it has been 15 minutes. I wanted to check in with you.” Lainey “Hey, I am sorry today was rough at work, and I just needed a minute. I know it is important that we get the house picked up before everyone comes over. I can do the dishes now so you can start working on the food.” Mary, “I am sorry you had a rough day at work. I’ll get started on the food.”
Why is this helpful? Boundaries can be set, kept, and maintained by placing a pause on the argument/conversation. In addition, it allows both parties to know that their partner’s needs are important and that they can have the necessary conversations in a loving way.
Couples State of Union
Another tool to help you stay connected with your partner is implementing weekly check-ins. These conversations should be made weekly at a consistent time and last at the minimin of 15-30 minutes. During this time, couples can address any concerns or positive experiences they had over the previous week. In addition, it gives the couple time to develop a game plan for the next week and have some one-on-one time to connect.
Remember the acronym ATUNE created by Dr. John Gottman.
Why is this helpful? By having weekly conversations with each other, these state of the union meetings can be used to prevent problems from compounding in the relationship. The meetings also allow for time to reconnect with your partner and give space to work through challenging times together.
- Awareness – Of your partner’s emotional and lived experience
- Tolerance – Of the two different valid viewpoints for any negative emotions
- Turning Toward – Recognizing your partner’s need and turning toward it
- Understanding – Try to understand your partners’ perspective
- Non-defensive Listening – Listen without reversing the blame
- Empathy – Respond with insight, awareness, and sensitivity
Strong relationships take time and effort, and with consistent practice, these techniques will help you to strengthen your relationship with your partner. If you feel you need additional support, don’t be afraid to explore couples therapy.
Reference: Gottman Method