How are you holding up? This social distancing is starting to become much more impactful than it was in the first few weeks. I am not sure what your experience was, but for many people, myself included, the first few weeks felt like a bit of an exhale. Busy schedules were replaced with time at home and the realization that you had nowhere else you needed to be. Now that it has been a month, many are starting to find that they are becoming not only cagey but also really irritable. Having people all cooped up together in stressful and unpredictable times is often a recipe for conflict. While many people report feeling it has strengthened their relationship, I have many clients who have stated this has made their relationship more strained.
Something that seems to be popping up quite frequently as a result of people spending a lot more time together is how people are engaging in conflict. Communication in all relationships is important at all times but it is especially important now when we are all living under greater pressure and many parts of our life are feeling threatened. One of the more common defenses being used is giving your partner the silent treatment. How many of you are guilty of completely shutting down when in conflict with someone you love? Do you recognize you are doing it? When you are icing your partner out, do you do so as a way of regaining power or because you feel like the conflict causes you to shut down? Whatever the reason, the silent treatment, also known as stonewalling, is one of the more cruel defenses we can use in our relationships. Relationships are all about attachment. We want to know that our partner will be there for us in good times and in bad. When we stonewall, we send the message that other person isn’t safe to come to us with their feelings while simultaneously making our partner feel like they can’t access us in their time of need. This is a surefire way to not only damage the relationship but to make your loved one feel really anxious.
So what do we need to do instead? Honestly, sometimes we just aren’t ready to talk. Even as a therapist, when I am in conflict I find I often need some time to collect my thoughts before I feel ready to discuss the way forward. It’s okay to need time and you have a responsibility to yourself and your relationship to ask for it. For example, instead of icing your partner out, simply say “we are going to need to talk about this further but I need some time to gather my thoughts first. Does tonight at 7pm work?” It is important you set a time for when you will reconnect so that your partner knows there is a plan to meet up again and to work through things.
The silent treatment only creates distance in our relationships. With the state of the world being what it is right now, the last thing we need is to feel further away from the ones we love. I know it feels risky to open up and try things differently but what better time to actually commit to making some changes in your relationship than now? If you need space, then take space, but first be sure to fill your partner in on what you are doing and when you will reconnect.