W. Worrying: How might couples better manage worrying about the pandemic and emerging from ‘lockdown’? It isn’t unusual for individuals to have differing views about what should and shouldn’t be done to avoid being infected and passing on infection. This can extend too into, for example, “Who and what can I trust? Should I just stay indoors where I feel safe? What if my friends disagree with me?”
When two partners also differ in how their worry manifests itself, and how extremely they are preoccupied with worrying, additional tension arises. For example, they may disagree whether it’s “better” to worry about avoiding infection or “better” to worry about next month’s income. They may differ in their approach to following rules, trusting experts, or tolerating a level of risk. Some people seem to be “born worriers”, others seem more stoical, or more optimistic. It is not surprising that many couples struggle to agree on what is a reasonable level of worry and what is “adequately safe” behaviour, given all these variations.
Some couples have a dynamic between them where one person does all the worrying, and the other doesn’t have to! – and this is ok for both of them. However, other couples might have got stuck in an unwelcome pattern of one person feeling and expressing worries regularly, whilst the other person is regarded by him/her as ‘not worrying enough’, leading to resentment or arguments. There are a few ways to try and resolve this pattern if both of you are willing to tackle it.
If you are the “less-worried” partner, consider whether you have a habitual way of responding to your partner expressing his/her worries, eg irritation? automatic reassurance? rational argument? What is his/her reaction when you respond in this way? It is important to understand what is being asked of you. When you hear your partner’s worried comments, are you willing to try to respond to him/her in a way that is more appropriate and helpful?
If you are the “more-worried” partner you may feel that frequent or excessive worrying is habitual and exhausting, and you wish you were able to bring it under control. You can start by allocating a short time each day for worrying, and not allowing yourself to engage with those negative thoughts until the allotted time.
Try to step back and sort out your current worries into categories: which urgently need to be resolved by you as a couple? Which are less urgent? which are personal fears that you would like feedback, support or reassurance about? Are some in the category of sadness, disappointment, or even resentment, rather than worry? And also consider what type of response you are looking for, when you express your worries.
Breaking down an onslaught of worries in this way may make it less overwhelming, and also make it more possible to discuss worries with your partner.
X. eXercise. To manage our emotional ups and downs, and stay physically healthy, adults need to exercise 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. Lower levels are also beneficial. The way to be convinced how true this is of course is to discover it for ourselves..! But it’s also helpful to know (via my brother Dr Athol Kent) that the British Medical Journal recently stated we get a “kick” from being energetic as a result of “mini-rewards” (dopamine), virtuous feelings (serotonin), social glow (oxytocin) and elation (endorphins); there are numerous benefits to being physically active to most of the organs of the body. Crucially: alongside healthy eating and sufficient rest, there is now compelling evidence of the link between physical activity and the body’s systems of defence against infections.
X. eXcluded. I have excluded from these Notes some of the most difficult aspects of ‘lockdown’: sex, money, children and employment. My reasoning is that they are all too complex for the type of brief, selective advice I have been offering and so impossible to do them justice. Readers’ circumstances are very different from one anothers’, and from mine, in these areas, and I want to avoid generalising inappropriately.
A concluding positive note: Y is for “YES!” and Z is for Avoiding Zzzzzz….
There is danger in switching ourselves off- emotionally and mentally – denying our own reality, and falling asleep…. So let’s stay awake to what each day brings, and take it step by step, appreciating the detail. This unique time enables us to challenge our habitual thoughts and actions, find our courage, and try out new ways of relating to ourselves and our partners…. ‘YES!’
YouTube: The School of Life. Easy-to-watch short videos about Relationships
Couples therapist: YouTube, podcasts & other resources- google Esther Perel
Good general site for managing emotional life: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/online-mental-health/online-mental-health-tools/
Cognitive therapy and Cognitive Behaviour therapy – for anxiety and depression: a good self-help manual is ‘MIND OVER MOOD’ . Or google ‘Cognitive therapy’ to see what appeals to you;
Mindfulness and depression – I recommend any books, manuals or talks by Mark Williams or his associates, including:
Book: The Mindful Way through Depression, or –