G. Going on a date, at home: Writing these notes – during the first Covid “lockdown”, in Scotland (April to June 2020) – was partly prompted by my wanting to reassure friends that “in abnormal times, unfamiliar feelings are not abnormal!” I noticed too that too much intense emotion over a long period can result in apathy – ‘Why bother…?’
We may lose interest in seeking out fun or creative activities.
I’d like to recommend something to try to counteract that!
You may already do regular ‘date nights’, and associate it with escaping from domestic demands. But even if you have young kids or other caring responsibilities, a date at home is still possible – it just requires realistic planning – particularly with regard to the timing and the potential for interruption (- you’re aiming for privacy).
So here’s my recipe for DATE NIGHT @HOME:
Ingredients: attention to detail, knowledge of what your partner enjoys, confidence, humour and imagination. Food, sex, movies are obvious ingredients (no I don’t mean include them all!), and flavourings might include dancing, massage, fancy dress, showering together…
Method: First, think it through carefully, and decide if you want to surprise your partner or plan it together. Then, write (oh, go on: a hand-written note is so romantic!) an invitation. Next, prepare the setting for comfort and privacy. Make sure technology or cooking appliances don’t sabotage your preparations (keep it simple!). Get organised. Dress to impress. “ ENJOY!”
H. Habits: During ‘lockdown’ it is particularly important to recognise and consider our own habits rather than obsess about our partner’s. It’s a time when some habits provide comfort or structure and a sense of familiarity. Other habits, of speech or of behaviour, are unhelpful (‘non-adaptive’) and may be destructive in your relationship when you’re together all the time at home. An example is my own habit of not-quite-finishing-household-chores: it has finally had to change – to avoid daily aggravation!
As ‘Habits’ is a HUGE topic, I’m going to offer just a few ideas. It may be helpful to start by asking your partner “will you think about it, and tell me just one thing that I often do or say that you’d like me to change?” (Obviously you don’t want to open the floodgates here…!) Then ask yourself 3 questions: 1. Is changing this habit (ie what s/he suggests, or what you decide on) worth it – what will the benefits be? 2. What has made it difficult to change this in the past? 3. Do I believe I am capable of changing this? Then, carefully monitor your habit for a few days; set your goals- realistically LOW at first; practice introducing techniques that help you change, especially finding alternatives to the habitual speech or behaviour. You will often lapse – that’s normal, and enables you to notice aspects you need to work on more. I recommend that you DO NOT involve your partner for support at this stage – wait until you’re confident you’re making progress on your own.
I. Irritations: Another huge topic! so we’ll just use one example – how to challenge the irritation that arises in relation to a partner’s habits. Let’s say my partner has the habit of always being so focussed on a task that he won’t be distracted or interrupted until he’s completed it. Instead of nagging, or insisting that HE change this irritating habit, I could try to change MY attitude to it. Cognitive therapists point out that “we see things as we are, not as they are” – so my feeling irritated about a behaviour is about ME, for example my beliefs about what things are unpleasant or unacceptable. Maybe my belief about my partner’s behaviour is exaggerated (“it’s awful that he’s always like that!”) or may be about unrealistic expectations (see note ‘E’), or I may be ‘catastrophizing’ (“I ‘ll go mad if he keeps doing that”). Challenging your beliefs and perceptions of your partner’s habits can help you adjust your level of negative feelings about them.
Before you carry on, and just to remind you that maintenance and repair require action, not just reading the manual (!), answer these questions as honestly as you can
– “Am I reading this just out of interest and to reassure myself about my relationship?” If yes, good! If the answer is “ well, some things could perhaps be better…” that’s also good: BUT now is a moment to pause and ask yourself
– “Can I visualize myself putting aside time and mental energy to tackle at least one relationship issue in the next 24 hours?” Okay, you are? keep it up!