Rewrite the Story You’re Telling About Your Marriage
Written by Madeline Vann, NCC, M.Ed. at White Cloud Therapeutic Services
You’ve been locked indoors with your partner and your kids now for, oh, about half a year. How’s it going? These are unprecedented times, as we keep hearing. And the pressures on families are unlike any most of us have experienced.
We’ve all done some creative problem solving and grown a lot. And at the same time, you may be noticing that the story you’re telling about your partner is less than positive. Perhaps you’re starting to think – I am doing all the housework/virtual schooling//budgeting/chores and what exactly is my partner doing? He or she just shows up to do the fun things and then disappears again, back to work or into the home office/back room/streaming video. Why can’t I get any help? Or at least a thank you?
This situation isn’t going to last forever, so let’s try something new with your relationship that could make a lasting difference. Now that you’ve noticed and catalogued all the things you wish your partner would change about themselves, it’s time to practice radical acceptance. Wishing they would change is only going to drain your energy further. Let’s work on turning this around.
Before we go any further, let me say this. If you, your partner, or your children are in a situation where you are not physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, or psychologically safe, get some professional help with the goal of becoming safer and healthier. The strategies for accepting and working better with your partner are not intended to keep you in a dangerous situation. They are also not intended to keep you in a situation where your partner, or you, are engaged in behaviors that are deal breakers for one or both of you. Only you can decide about staying in a relationship after affairs, addiction, or other challenging experiences.
Here are some strategies to try:
· Practice gratitude and appreciation. The best antidote to the critical stories we all have about our partners is a conscious effort to appreciate them. Say thank you, even for things you might not ordinarily think to be grateful for. Maybe your partner isn’t able to support the kids’ virtual schooling, but they have been keeping up with the yardwork. Noticing these things, and practicing gratitude, can help you all be happier – and over time you might have a more balanced perspective on what you both are doing well. You can start doing this by having a practice of sharing what you each are grateful for at your family meals, or by individually writing down what you are grateful for and then taking time to share that with one another.
· Find new ways to connect. Granted, the options feel limited right now. Maybe this is a good time to try some things that you wouldn’t do at other times – have a family video game challenge or plan a new kind of date night. Think about whether the routines and rituals in your household are bringing you together, or keeping you apart.
· Revisit your shared values. It’s helpful to take time to review your individual values and the values you share as a partnership. Then you can use those values to guide your decisions, how you treat each other, and your vision for your partnership over time. If you don’t already have a sense of your values, you can use the tool at www.lifevaluesinventory.org to start reviewing them individually.
· Ask for what you want. The best approach to asking for help is to use a gentle start up and “I” statements. State what has happened objectively, how you feel about that, and what you would like to change in the future. Try to avoid accusations or going back over your mental log book of everything your partner hasn’t done right.
· Learn how to fight fair. Depending on how your conflicts and conversations have been going, you may need to talk about some ground rules. Some of those rules may be that there should be no name calling, no cursing at each other, and no dragging old history back up again. If there are situations from the past that aren’t resolved yet and remain hurtful, or particular situations that lead to more and worse conflict, consider counseling to work through them.
· Expand your support system. We all need people to talk to who are in our corner. You may need to reach out to find more people who share your interests, or even for professional support if you have particular problems you are facing.
Those are just a few ideas. There are a lot of ways to drop the very seductive stories we tell about how our partners have wronged or failed us, and how much more we are doing than they are. If you’ve decided you want to change your viewpoint and find another way to be together, but you need some help to get started, reach out to me or any of the therapists at WhiteCloud Therapeutic Services, LLC, www.whitecloudtherapy.com or 757-503-7917. Or email me (Madeline Vann, NCC, M.Ed.) or any of the counselors at White Cloud. We take most types of insurance and offer a sliding scale for clients who are self-pay.
Article was written and sponsored by Resident in Counseling Madeline Vann, NCC, M.Ed. at White Cloud Therapeutic Services