By Juhee Jhalani, Ph.D
Dr. Jhalani is a New York state licensed psychologist, practicing in Manhattan. In private practice, she works with adults, couples, and families. She has also been working with underserved populations including immigrants and marginalized individuals. She provides psychotherapy both in English and Hindi. Email: email@example.com
Welcome to week 3! This week we bring along our partners and hope to cultivate more love, open-mindedness and compassion in our intimate relationship. Before we take off, let’s take a moment and reflect on our accomplishments from the previous weeks. I hope you are being more grateful and continuing to write in your gratitude journal, adding more calm by continuing to add to your self-soothing list, and being more reflective of the triggers that throw you off into an anxious spiral. Bravo! We are embracing ourselves, soothing ourselves and becoming more resilient.
This week we are extending and inviting our partners into our self-love journey. We are working towards creating a more curious and loving mindset for both ourselves and our partners. Take a moment this week and reflect on the question privately (if you are fortunate enough to get some privacy) or with your partner- “Has my relationship with my partner changed during this pandemic?”
Each of us may have a different answer. You may notice that you and your partner may have a different experience or may be your experiences have continued to change over the course of the pandemic. Take time, be curious, observe and be mindful.
Some of us may feel that due to the shelter-in-place orders our intimate relationship has resorted to become a high-conflict one. Maybe your family roles have changed. A partner may have lost their job and the other may have become the sole financial provider. With schools and daycare closed, families with young children may find that one partner may be taking on more caregiving roles than the other. With separated or divorced couples, with children, they may find that there are no more shared responsibilities and no visitations taking place. In a multi-generational household the pressure to be caregivers to both younger and older folks may have taken a toll on intimacy. Your family dynamics may have dramatically changed. This week take time and reflect alone or with one another.
Due to lack of places that served as escapes from one another (gyms, coffee shops, restaurants, workplace, shopping malls, movie theaters) you may discover feelings like sadness, anger, fear, anxiety and guilt trapped in your intimate relationship. Share and validate these personal feelings with your partner. It is OK to feel what you are feeling, it’s also ok to feel differently. Allow yourself to grieve the loss of your relationship that you once shared pre-pandemic. Acknowledging and grieving the shared and personal losses together may bring you closer in your relationship.
This week negotiate and advocate physical and emotional space for each other. I encourage you that this week you create a ‘relationship contract’ with your partner. Find times when each of you can enjoy privacy at home. Find a time that works where one partner can take the kids safely for a walk and the other partner can stay home quietly or may be stay in their room privately. Designate time in your planners where you can have a ‘weekly family meeting’. During this time go over how each of you is doing. Discuss important occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, milestones, school events) or professional work commitments and be clear about the expectations that one may have from the other. Listen attentively, offer support when possible, and show up for one another at this time.
Rekindle intimacy in your relationship. Plan ‘date nights’. There are multiple platforms online via which you can have virtual dates, visit places and museums virtually together. Dress up and show up to these virtual dates, even if these dates happen only once the kids are off to bed or both of you decide to be in different rooms of the same house and engage virtually. Be creative and embrace the novelty playfully. Discuss the idea of having quiet times during the day, when there is no emotional or verbal engagement even when you and your partners are in the same home. Engaging in physical intimacy with young children around can be challenging. Take time to hold hands, hug or even mindfully sit next to each other when possible. Don’t wait for a special time or occasion only.
If you or your partner are feeling anxious, then remember to self-soothe first rather than over-thinking together. Over-thinking and ruminating will exacerbate anxiety. Get accurate information about the pandemic from reliable sources and limit social media. Create an ‘electronic-free time’ every day in the household. Anxiety is contagious, please self-soothe, take ‘time-outs’ before lashing out at each other. Cool off and reconnect again when ready, with your partner.
In summary, our goal this week is to mindfully reflect on the health of our intimate relationship, grieve the injury that the relationship may have suffered, celebrate what the relationship may continue to offer. By engaging in practices like date nights and weekly family meetings we aim to strengthen the quality of our intimate relationships.
Vision for Week 4: We will be discussing some objective ways to soothe our children during these stressful times.
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