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Wellness Wednesday: Caring for your relationship is vital during this time of Covid-19 turmoil

Dil Wickremasinghe says it’s challenging for couples at the moment.

Dil Wickremasinghe

The Covid-19 changes have come bounding into our lives, upending them. We are being asked to make huge personal sacrifices in order to face down this pandemic. Those changes can bring physical and emotional shocks that are difficult to process.

Here at TheJournal.ie, we are running a weekly Voices column, ‘Wellness Wednesday’, in which we feature advice and information from mental health professionals, yoga teachers, mindfulness practitioners and more. We hope this weekly section will help you, our readers, navigate this unprecedented shift in how we live.

This week, we hear from mental health practitioner and journalist, Dil Wickremasinghe, who discusses the challenges faced by couples during this Covid-19 shutdown:

EVERY YEAR IN January I have noticed a demand for relationship counselling in our counselling practice. This has been largely due to the fact that most couples and families are forced to be together during the Christmas period… this, combined with the pressure of the festivities and alcohol is a recipe for disaster.

With this in mind, I have been wondering how couples and families across Ireland are coping during these challenging times. I am thinking of those of us who have been thrown in at the deep end with homeschooling our children, juggling working from home all whilst grappling with the realisation that none of us knows how long the lockdown will last and what the world will look like once this is all over.

I know I have personally struggled over the past month and felt this affecting my ability to be a loving wife to my wife and a caring mum to my two young children.

I am not a relationship therapist, however, I am a trainee psychotherapist, married to Anne Marie who is a relationship counsellor and last year we attended couples counselling together and found it life-changing! I also work with 60 psychotherapists many of whom offer relationship counselling.

So this article is a mix of my personal experience combined with the insights of Anne Marie and our colleagues in our centre, Insight Matters. We collectively hope that through this piece you will find some comfort and practical information to help you weather the coming weeks. 

Anxiety – How it impacts on you and your relationship?

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry or fear. Needless to say that if you didn’t experience anxiety before, Convid-19 has certainly introduced you to it. I have experienced anxiety for most, if not all of my life. However, if you had asked me a few years ago if I had anxiety I would have denied ever having it as I simply wasn’t aware of it. Such was my lack of self-awareness. Since I started my psychotherapy training and started my personal therapy two years ago I can say my anxiety and I have become very well acquainted.

How does anxiety affect your relationship? Tracy Mallon, our Emotionally Focused trained Relationship therapist says “fear can look like anger or frustration during these anxious times and a caring inquiry or calming voice can let us feel safe.”

This certainly resonates with me as when I am anxious I am irritable and have a need to control my immediate surroundings by obsessively sweeping the kitchen floor numerous times a day. That’s my thing! As I mentioned earlier I have two young kids so that the kitchen floor is never clean for long. However, if I am feeling anxious and Anne Marie forgot to brush the floor after lunch I might make a sharp comment which no doubt would lead to an argument if Anne Marie didn’t see that my irritability is simply masking my anxiety. 

Active and Empathic Listening

Our sex therapist, Jo Ryder says “A basic tool used in therapy is facilitating active and empathic listening. If each partner learned this skill and put it in practice, it would be hugely helpful to the relationship.

We need to learn to listen to the other’s perspective rather than listening to respond defensively. Take turns speaking and listening so that each partner gets an equal chance to feel heard and understood. That’s it, folks, all your partner wants is to be “got” and to have good sex too but we can talk about that another time!”

In an argument usually most of are formulating a smart come back instead of actually listening to our partner. The other great advice from Jo is – and this is something that I would be guilty of – is to give up your need to be right. Yes, you read that right, give up being right or wanting to win an argument because that is not conducive to a good relationship.

Conflict Management

It’s important to say here that disagreements are part of every relationship especially when we are under stress. Tracy Mallon shares “The most crucial part of an argument is the repair of the relationship after the rupture – if, how, why and when the repair happens can make the difference between a good, healthy relationship and a destructive, unhealthy, or even unsafe relationship. The repair is an attempt to apologise, accept responsibility and accountability for our part in the discord. It is crucial that the repair matches the level of hurt caused.” 

Jo Ryder recommends a fantastic exercise to help us flex our conflict management muscle. Take five minutes to write down a quick list under the headings “I feel distant from you when…” and “I feel close to you when…”. For example, I feel distant from you when you don’t help make breakfast for the kids in the morning and I feel close to you when you ask me how my day was when you finish work. Once you both have done the list, share it with each other and aim to work on it together.

Separateness = Togetherness

Our Relationship and Parent Mentor Aoife Ryan says “Separateness is the basis for togetherness. This is when a person can stay separate from the other, and not personalise what is being said or take responsibility for everything, or pass responsibility for happiness to the other.

When you recognise that everything you say and do is 100% about you, and what your partner says or does is 100% about them, this is when you find deep loving respect for yourself and your partner.  Ultimately staying separate, staying with yourself will bring you closer to your partner.”

Make Time to Connect

We mentioned sex earlier and good sex is a great way to connect as a couple and remind each other that before the children, the jobs, the mortgage, the bills… you were two people who decided to build a life together.

This is key to a healthy relationship. However, each day take some time to check in with each other and show your love. The other evening while our kids were in the bathroom doing potty time, Anne Marie and I slow danced to Andrea Bocelli. It was seven minutes of blissful intimacy where we took refuge in each other’s arms and whispered those three little words to reaffirm our love and our commitment to being each other’s greatest source of comfort and support through whatever the future may hold for us.

Dil Wickremasinghe is co-founder of Insight Matters, psychotherapy, counselling and wellness services and podcaster of “Insight Matters – Inspiring Change in Self & Society”. Twitter: @dilw, Email: dil@insightmatters.ie, Web:www.insightmatters.ie 

Other resources, if you need to talk:

  • Samaritans 116 123 or email jo@samaritans.org
  • National Suicide Helpline 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)
  • Aware 1800 80 48 48 (depression, anxiety)
  • Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email mary@pieta.ie – (suicide, self-harm)
  • Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
  • Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)

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Dil Wickremasinghe

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