By now you have mastered hand-washing, social distancing and staying at home as much as possible and even though it’s only been a few weeks my guess is it already feels endless. Uncertainty is a nerve wracking state to live in, even for a short time. So many questions, so few answers. This situation, on top of the increased intensity of living more closely together for more prolonged periods with our loved ones can feel overwhelming and put more pressure on our relationships.
The COVID-19 pandemic impact is unprecedented. Our country, our planet has never experienced such a widespread contraction of an infectious condition since the Spanish Flu in 1918. Everyday information is coming to light about the rate of infections, globally and locally new restriction are enforced, borders are closing down, the movement of people limited, gatherings large and now small are outlawed, some industries such as tourism and hospitality have been decimated, supermarket shelves are being emptied as fast as they are filled, with media coverage reporting panic buying and fear.
I was recently having a conversation with a couple about what brought them to therapy. Pat was saying, “I don’t really know. I know it was my idea to come, but now that we are here I don’t quite know how to explain it. I just feel, I don’t know, like stunted or something.”
On further exploration, what Pat was saying was that while their relationship seemed, on the surface, to be successful, there was something missing – a sense of individuality, a sense of personal growth, personal achievement and a sense of thriving.
In the first session of the Gottman Bringing Baby Home Program, couples are asked the somewhat mandatory 'transition to parenthood' questions.
1. What words would you use to describe how you see the transition to parenthood?
2. What physical changes do you feel you will experience?
3. What psychological changes do you feel you will experience?
For many couples, this is the first time they will get to think about how they might answer these questions. New parents have a generalised notion about some of the changes that may occur, but they almost always involve the baby or personal changes. Very rarely do couples think about the impact of the transition to parenthood on THEM and their partnership.
Through the 45 years of continuous Gottman research, we have learned a lot about conflict and conflict management. It turns out that conflict management is not just about what and how we communicate with our partners using gentle start-ups, making repairs and accepting influence but also about what our body and brain are doing during conflict. John Gottman noticed in his research that when couples conflict escalated it was not only their words, tone, and volume that escalated it was also their heart rates and the amount of stress hormones being secreted. We call this Flooding or Diffuse Physiological Arousal. The research findings were compelling.
Marathon therapy is an intensive form of couples therapy. It can come in many forms depending on the individual therapist’s preferences and approaches. Generally speaking though marathon couples therapy is not that different from standard weekly or fortnightly couples therapy, it just all gets done in a couple of days and creates a more emotionally intense process for the couple. So how do we do it?
At Relationship Institute Australasia we have been offering marathon therapy for the last 6 years and have found a process that seems to work well for both us and for our couples. Like standard couples therapy there are still 3 phases that we take each couple through.
Dr John Gottman’s research spanning over 40 years and interviewing over 3000 couples found the strongest indicators of relationship breakdown are the use of what he called the four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse. These are:
Dr John Gottman found through his research that there were two types of couples: The Disasters and The Masters of Relationship. The Masters rarely used the 4 horsemen in their communication. Instead, they were able to speak more gently to their partners, take responsibility for their part in the conflict, talk about how they felt and self soothe if they became overwhelmed. Gottman Identified these as the Antidotes to the Four Horsemen.
The ‘Baby Blues’ is the common term used to describe a new parent’s feeling of depression that can usually develop between the birth of a baby and 3 months of age. It can affect 8 in every 10 new mums and studies have shown that 1 dad in 10 can also suffer from postnatal depression.
Whilst it is generally a temporary condition, the good news is that the Baby Blues is nothing to be afraid of and is completely treatable with awareness and focus.
Being prepared for what to expect will make all the difference in getting through this time and supporting your partner to get back to normal as quickly as possible. Here is your simple list to follow with some tried and true advice for any new parent.
So here we are at the Easter / ANZAC public holidays, and like many people I speak to, it is ‘How did we get here so quickly’?
With over three months passing since Christmas and the first term of school is done, I look back over this period and remonstrate the amount of work, tasks, logistics, driving, sport events, school functions, time on planes, taxis and hotel rooms I have spent and wonder … how did we fit it all in?
Indeed, life is busy, so how do we continue at this pace and stay connected in our relationships. John Gottman quotes a study of professional couples where both are working full time, and it is found that during their week there is less than 30 minutes of conversation between the 2 of them and the majority of this conversation is on logistics e.g. who is dropping the kids off to their extracurricular activities, what to buy for dinner and so on.
This cannot be OK. I appreciate we are all busy. Nevertheless we need to make, indeed create, opportunities in our relationship to connect, to generate fondness and friendship, to update each other on how we are traveling through time and space individually and together.
So how we can we do this?
The following are three suggestions on how this can be achieved. They don’t necessarily cost money, but they do include time and the both of you.
Turns out the answer is a resounding YES! In the last 40 years or so world class researcher John Gottman has been looking closely at what makes relationships work and what makes them fail. His findings have been astonishing in their accuracy. Seems that successful couples understand a range of concepts, skills and strategies that improve their ability to manage conflict, continuously deepen their friendship and intimacy, create a deep sense of shared meaning, and develop high levels of trust and loyalty.
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