The Stress and Strain of COVID-19 on Relationships (Part 2)

So, you decided to reclaim passion and share your joy. That puts you on the road to channeling positive energy. Congratulations! This task is well worth your effort. Begin by examining where you are now and why.

If you have been living a life of ‘let’s not rock the boat’, you know what it feels like to walk on eggshells. Maybe you devote 98% of your energy to work or hobbies, overindulge in the lives of ‘others’ obsessing over attempts to control their choices, or perhaps you simply engage in endless gossip to the point where you avoid meaningful discussions with your partner. If this is a mutually agreed upon rhythm, it might work well for you both, and continue to do so for the next 60 years. Read no further. You’re fine.  Have a beautiful day and a life of continued blessings.

However, if there is no such agreement, and you notice you and your partner aren’t on the same page in one or more aspects of your life, there are healing steps to take. Step #1 is ‘paying attention’ and you’ve already done that. Noticing is the first step. Congratulations! So, if you’ve noticed that one or both of you have been emotionally distancing, perhaps by engaging in patterns noted above, this might suggest a need to take a closer look and have a deeper conversation to get you both back on track. Step #2 is actively deciding to stop the distractions and then deliberately engaging in meaningful interactions (such as making eye contact, preparing a cup of tea for each other, etc.). Once you both recognize that self-distraction prevents you from fulfilling your wonderful potential – personally and in your relationship, you can both actively choose to stop distractions and start focusing on each other. Once successful, you both awaken to the truth that brought you together: love.

How can you tell if you are self-distracting? While prioritizing work or hobbies over each other often falls under the category of ‘a relatively benign and easily defended distraction’, the behavior of ‘sloppy prioritizing’ in and of itself throws healthy relationships off track. Prioritizing each other is key to building trust. If you notice yourself or your partner drinking a few extra glasses of wine or spiking a morning glass of juice with a splash of vodka – be aware that these flags suggest a desire to self-medicate to stay sane. Some would suggest the substance abuse is worthy of deeper and more swift professional intervention. All points having been made, if any of the scenarios above sound familiar, you still have two options:  continue the pattern, or make a change. 

The first option – to remain in the pattern of distancing established over years, is admittedly the easiest. It is doable and, ultimately, will maintain the denial you have managed to master to-date. Again, if you both agree, that’s a mutual choice and your dance.  No need to change at all. However, if the agreement is not mutual, and one or both of you suffer with the pain of emotional isolation, your body will break down in time, and the path won’t be a pretty one. Maybe your back will continue to give out, or your knees get stiff. More severely, an organ system might take the brunt of the spiritual suffocation. In time, the breakdown will burden all who know and love you. Initially, denial is ‘easiest’ – but becomes the most difficult journey a human can take.

The second option: ‘to change’ is initially most difficult. It involves thinking and feeling, sometimes painful self-reflection, vulnerability, and embarking upon a journey to dispel a whole host of frightening illusions designed to test your courage. The rewards are incomprehensibly great, as the light and energy generated at the end of that tunnel are extraordinary. The choice to embrace ‘change’ involves personal growth, empowering you to reveal truths previously unappreciated; to scale emotional mountains in a single leap.

Once ready to undertake the adventure of personal growth, you become able to navigate previously unstated tensions that ate at you insidiously – causing undercurrents so tormenting, that you systematically chose to distance yourself from all who offer unconditional love. Or, you might discover that, while you indeed remained open to love, your partner has been so terrified, distancing was chosen over awakening. Perhaps that was the pain you tried to drown? No matter what the ‘source’ – healing can take place.  Where there is life there is hope – and time can be used to invest energy in whatever next steps you elect to take.

As your mutual journey continues, trust will grow. It takes patience, consistent effort and time. As you pay closer attention, you may both recognize quirks within yourselves – attempts used for years by both of you to emotionally distance from each other. As you begin to relearn how to trust, perhaps different distractions arise -testing your courage and fortitude. Each temptation to go back to old patterns of maintaining distance can be met by actively choosing the new path to embrace closeness. This ‘test’ of your courage doesn’t have to be a setback – but, if it does, lean on each other to dispel illusions, and reclaim the trust you’ve built.

With practice, prioritizing each other begins to come more naturally, and you may choose it over the familiar patterns of rejection mastered and adapted to over years or decades. The old training dissolves as you deliberately apply new techniques learned by paying attention. It is often difficult, at first, to break old patterns – but it is necessary to do so in order to begin to fully trust again. It helps to have a well-educated relationship professional on your team.

Embarking upon your new adventure is exciting. Distracting illusions are unearthed along the way. And there are stages you both might go through – including, but not limited to realizing you’ve lived an existence of waiting for the second shoe to drop (real or imagined). Your childhood trauma might surface as you become more courageous – ripe for you to discuss with each other as well as with your therapist. You might begin to recognize you’ve become so familiar and oddly comfortable with the feeling of rejection and running away, that ‘relaxation in the moment’ with your partner may feel like a tremendous effort. You might even feel anxiety as you peel away more layers of old, toxic behavior. Think of the dysfunctional patterns as a winter coat that perhaps protected you while out in the bitter frost, but which needs to be taken off once you step close to the warm, welcoming, loving arms of your partner. That coat is no longer necessary. In fact, it gets in the way of true closeness.

It may help to discuss your unmasking of the tools developed by you to help you survive your childhood – but which no longer serve you, to feed your new relationship. Dysfunctional patterns seen for what they are – in this moment, with your current relationship, once unmasked can be used to strengthen your bond through discussion; in fact, failure to discuss these tools, or a decision to continue to use them, can distract from the new path you are trying to pave. Old tools are toxic habits that can poison your new union.

Growth as a couple begins with recognition of the following:

1) We never deserved the treatment of the past

2) My partner and I are worthy of the gift of unconditional love

3) I am strong enough to handle if my partner pushes me away, again

4) I lived this long with feeling rejected and deserve to relax

5) We have lived through xxx/ months/years of crap – and NEED to relax

6) I can take care of myself if my partner emotionally drops out again

7) Our relationship is my desire. I am courageous and strong. I can feed it.  

Of course, though you might feel ready to trust and lean on your partner emotionally after just a few days of ‘appropriate prioritizing’ and meaningful discussions, doing so safely with a full heart and without reservation takes time. Even if, after you both agree that you want to re-learn how to pave a new path to enjoy together, you may both find it difficult to fully trust again. Take a deep breath. Be patient and actively choose to consistently, and unwaveringly be your best self. Mending broken trust takes time and a lot of effort. Not just ‘time’ alone.

The following might help you both move to the next steps of healing after emotional trust has been shaken:

1) Even though we haven’t fully earned each other’s trust, we can relax in the moment and take each day one at a time

2) Even though we both still have personal growing to do, we can recognize the growth to-date, and continue to take pulse checks throughout the relationship, on a daily basis, to help each other to establish our “new normal”.

3) Even though we can’t fully relax or trust each other yet, there is deep unconditional love that we share without question.

4) Even though we haven’t fully earned each other’s trust, with mutual effort it is likely we one day will. 

Isn’t that worth striving for?

Here’s to your best self and fulfillment of the desire to channel positive energy.  ~ Dr. Iankowitz