Well like a lot of things in life the answer is that it depends, and I would like to put my thoughts and opinions out for those interested. I’ll start with being quarantined together. I know for some this has been an enhancement for their relationship and for some it has caused significant strife. In the case of the enhancement, it is due to lessened stress at work (furlough) for one person in the couple and therefore more attention being able to be given to the partner still working and that partner’s emotions. In the case of the increase in strife, this may be due to a lack of empathy for and on behalf of both parties. In both cases, there is a common thread, emotional attunement.
Right now, we are living in unprecedented times. No generation living has experienced anything like this and no matter which side of the political spectrum you fall on, these are stressful times that impact our physiology in ways that many don’t take into consideration.
When exposed to a threat-to-life stimulus, your body naturally adopts a stance that is more focused on survival. For example, a rattlesnake buzzing or the sound of shattering glass at 2 a.m., your body reacts in instinctual ways. Emotions, which are part of your body’s instinctual reaction plan, rise to your aid and signal the rest of your as to what to do. Despite the differences in the examples above and the variances in how you or I would react, physiologically it is all very similar. We go from a state of peace and calm, a state of attunement and curiosity, a state of deeper and easier breathing, and regular heart rate and gut function to fight/flight. This process takes nanoseconds. There is typically a sharp intake of breath. Adrenaline and cortisol are produced and pumped into the bloodstream. Heart rate shoots up to provide oxygenated blood to muscles for the fight or the flight. Gut function stops as it is not needed when faced with a bear on the trail. As your body is able to resolve the fight/flight scenario, you spot the rattlesnake and are able to avoid it or the shattering sound was a mirror falling off the wall in the kids’ bathroom, your body is able to return to a state of peace and calm, a state of attunement and curiosity.
In the above circumstances, the threat-to-life stimulus is resolved, and you are able to go back to your everyday routine. What if the threat-to-life stimulus lasted several months? It is hard on our bodies to deal with heightened levels of adrenaline and cortisol over long periods of time. Your ability to be curious about your surroundings, including how your partner feels and then attuning to that emotion is diminished, just as your partner’s ability to do the same with you is diminished.
In order to overcome this, I recommend that you spend time intentionally connecting heart to heart. Ask your partner what they are feeling and do your best to focus on their emotional experience and not the facts of what is going on. Your ability to fix the current situation is much like my own, zilch. That means that when anxiety about your/their parent’s health, the economy, your family budget, or canceled plans rises up, hone in on the emotional experience rather than a “suck it up buttercup” stance. Allow your partner and yourself permission to feel what they/you feel. Believe me, it is not only okay to allow yourself to feel but a healthy part of your body returning to a stance of peace, calm, curious, and attuned.
At Dr. White and Associates, we are fully licensed in Texas to provide many of our experienced therapy & counseling services in the form of remote therapy sessions. Read more about our technology assisted services (TAS) for therapy here.