“This Is What Happens to Couples Under Stress”

I want to share with you a little overview of an article from the New Yorker. In which Rachel Syme did a fabulous, interview to one of most insightful and original voices on modern relationships, the psychotherapist and author Esther Perel. Whom have also launched a special podcast series called “Couples Under Lockdown.”

Esther explains how can we overcome the challenges of the relationships in the midst of a global pandemic. She says “that, really, what is essential at this moment, is that we create boundaries, routines, and rituals. Especially when we have just one person to give us what an entire village should be providing. That now more than ever, the routine creates a structure and brings a certain sense of order in a world that feels so chaotic and so unsure, is crucial. The ritual is what separates the ordinary and the mundane from something that becomes more elevated, more separated, more sacred.”

She explains that, “what is happening now, in this expanded view of ourselves and of our partners, can go in two directions. In one direction, you say, ‘I’m curious. Tell me more. I never knew. I really appreciate it. I realize how clueless I was, how I let you do everything.’ And it becomes really a source of connection. In the other version, it becomes a source of blame: ‘You want me to tell you how much I’ve been doing? I just did the laundry! I just cleaned the sinks! What’s the matter with you?’ You begin to complain in such a way that insures that the other person is going to try to chew you out as fast as possible, and you’re not going to get the help.”

When ask about couples getting into arguments. She thinks that “couples, by definition, go through harmony, disharmony, and repair. This is a dance that we do no matter what. By definition, we fight. What matters is how you fight. When you get really mad at something, can you afterward say, ‘O.K., got that out of my system—how are we going to solve this?’ or ‘Look, I realize I was quite unfair. Let me first say what I do appreciate about what you do before I dump on you the whole list of stuff that I don’t think you do’? That’s why I play this little exercise of ten yeses and ten nos, which my colleague Dan Siegel taught me. It’s so powerful. Because, if you start with the yes, you will fight differently. You will actually have a different argument.’ Begin by saying to yourself, ‘What are the one or two things that they have done that I can appreciate?’ Otherwise, it’s whatever is negative I will highlight, and whatever is positive I will take for granted. Stay focused on the task. When you want to talk about the dishes, don’t end up talking about five different things. Also, make a request and not just a protest. Tell your partner, “I really wanted you to do this. I counted on you. Can we agree you’ll do it by twelve o’clock today?”

She suggests, “that if you just want to get it out of your system, call your friends. Vent as much as you want. And then go back to your partner and be strategic about it. Because you don’t just want to get it out of your system. You actually want a change.”

Referring to sex she says that “there are such myths that need to be debunked around what actually preserves erotic interest in a couple. The idea that there is no mystery because I’m in the same room with you is somewhat true, For those who have little kids in the house, look at what they do: they don’t need to leave the house to suddenly become the captain of a ship, or the officer of the fortress, or the driver of the truck. They just enter into a character, and, from that ‘play mode’ through their imagination, they transcend all the borders and the limitations of reality.”

Ways in which this pandemic could be an amazing time for couples. She thinks that, “in times of distress, our priorities get reorganized, and the superfluous often gets thrown overboard. And disasters function as accelerators as well. So people are making decisions: ‘We will move. We will change jobs. We will go live closer to our parents. We will have another child. We will start to do the thing that we’ve been meaning to do for so long.’ These things are happening a lot. There’s a lot of wonderful, positive things going on. There are so many new openings. But they often don’t get the same media time as the bad stories. Couples need to regulate togetherness and separateness all the time, with confinement or without. In a situation like this, whether you are in your tiny studio, or whether you are on the verge of separation, you need autonomy. You need space for yourself and space with other people that are not shared necessarily with your partner, regardless of conflict.”

Suggestion on how to speak about the chores and responsibilities. She suggests saying, “I know we both have a lot of things we have to take care of. Can we sit down and make a division of roles here? I don’t expect things to be fifty-fifty, but I expect them to feel fair. And to divide them by the thing that the other person minds the least. While doing so she suggest a dose of humor, or you are going to take each other by the throat.”

Things that everybody could do to improve their relationship while they’re stuck together. She suggests “that it’s really important to normalize this. You need to know that this is what happens to couples under stress. They will turn on each other and they will take things out on each other, because they don’t feel that they can control the bigger picture. This is normal. Instead of fighting about it and getting into the ‘who has it worse here,’ just admit it together, and go from the ‘I and you’ to the ‘we.’ ‘What is this doing to us? What does ‘us’ need at this moment?’ If you can think about that third entity called the relationship, and do certain things because the relationship needs it, even if it’s not what you need, that will give you a very hopeful framework.”

My deepest appreciation to Esther and Rachel to help us to overcome the Lockdown. If would like to read the full interview to Esther Perel by Rachel Syme please visit the link below.

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/the-new-yorker-interview/this-is-what-happens-to-couples-under-stress-an-interview-with-esther-perel

Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

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