By Lydia Waruszynski, M.Ed
While the coronavirus pandemic is impacting our daily routines around the globe, we need to take a moment to understand the nature of our partnerships better, especially as we learn to adapt to our new normal. Indeed, much of what we knew as being normal has drastically changed. Much of what we took for granted is no more. Things are undeniably different. Work, roles, school, worship, community, family, friends, marriage, the way we shop, the way we walk, the way we chat… like it or not- our familiarity with people and places has changed a lot. We now find ourselves thrown off balance and disconnected from the life we once knew. Much of our day has been gripped by tension, fear, worry and grief. Round-the-clock news about the virus makes things far worse. The intensity of the unknown takes us into anxious sleepless nights and awakens us to the daily mantra of wash your hands, rinse and repeat. And, with all of that, we wonder ad nauseam: When will things ever get back to normal?
IN SICKNESS AND IN HEALTH
Come what may, the stress of the pandemic is now our new normal. With no return to routine in sight just yet, we all find ourselves somehow struggling to adjust. When faced with the unknown, this is normal! As humans, we all have a deep-seated desire for certainty and control. For the most part, it’s actually quite healthy and a necessary part of life. On the contrary, illness gives us a terrible sense of being out of control. We become anxious and we worry. What’s more is this sweeping new virus only reminds us how little control we have over what’s forthcoming, or more specifically, the future of our lives. Keeping our marriages and relationships predictably healthy and happy during these stressful times also signals a concern.
If truth be told, even the strongest of partnerships are feeling challenged by this crisis right now. As we make major adjustments to our lives, we also feel powerless to make changes. In the fog of uncertainty, powerlessness can feel intolerable but is also a healthy response to our current reality. When it comes to couple connection, however, it can blunt our sensitivity to each other’s feelings. Instead, frustrations flow freely and misunderstandings abound. Sometimes so much so that there go our communication skills down the proverbial drain. Disagreements set off control issues and alas we clash: my way versus your way, and these days, imposed sanctions finds no one really being able to take the high-way. Buttons get pushed. Needs are not met. Personal space is sacrificed. Boundaries are blurred and unintentionally broken. Mutual support is lost in the shuffle. For some, too much confiding feels too confining. For others, not enough feels like total deprivation. In sum, our emotions take us hostage and we tire each other out. All around the world, relationships with loved ones are taking a hit. Even more literally for some people, where home feels like hell behind closed doors. With the fear of the unknown, time stretches on, and hope seems to falter. We are reminded 24/7 that these are psychologically and emotionally, physically and economically unprecedented times. We are worn out! And, even in the best of relationships, for many couples the stress of this lockdown has put love to the test: learning how to be wholly together through our distinct separateness, while navigating this crisis under the same roof. Welcome to the bond of shared solitude: although a natural -and essential- part of intimacy and love, it is also now our unrelenting new normal.
Let there be spaces in your togetherness~Kahlil Gibran
One of the basic human life processes is maintaining a strong sense of exactly who we are individually while staying connected to others. It’s part of maturity and growth. An inherent paradox to human nature is that each of us needs closeness with others as well as a nurturing relationship with oneself. Whether paired up or not, to survive and thrive through a pandemic altogether demands much resilience and resolve. Moreover, struggling through these tough times while coping as a couple does not necessarily indicate that we love each other less. Relationships in general can be challenging every now and then. That’s because as human beings, we all have character flaws, idiosyncrasies, vulnerabilities and even neurotic tendencies. Normal! Warts’n all, it’s part of what makes us whole! In loving relationships, not only do we face our imperfections, sometimes we struggle with someone who has needs very different from our own, and with whom we can also feel like we are losing ourselves, most significantly our sense of security and happiness. So, it likely goes without saying that we often cope with stress by taking it out on those nearest and dearest to us. This almost always has more to do with the way we manage anxiety than it does with a lack of love or concern. To each other, our different coping styles can feel irrational and intolerable, especially these days when found sheltering in place outside our ordinary time and space. That’s why we react or rebel by demanding more closeness or desperately seek out a breathing room of our own. To be cooped up together for this long is definitely not normal! The truth of the matter is few of us really understand why we do certain things, how we feel about them or whether we could behave differently, unless we look beyond our emotional hang ups and injuries, and choose to connect and discover a better version of ourselves. Pitted against the polarities of our intimate partnerships, we perhaps fail to notice that out of our separateness we can still find closeness; out of our humanness we can still embrace our imperfections and most importantly, learn to grow together, rather than apart.
In Good Times and In Bad
The entire phenomenal universe exists because of the tension between the opposites. Hot and cold, growth and decay, gain and loss, success and failure, the polarities that are part of existence, and of course part of every relationship~ Eckhart Tolle
Life is about change. Everything is constantly moving and growing and adapting to change. Seeing each other through the current challenge requires not only that we try to tolerate our own frustrations, but that we develop a healthy balance between separateness and togetherness, too. This duality has always existed and is part of every intimate relationship.The same goes for: like and dislike, agreement and disagreement, accept and refuse, give and take, yes and no, yin and yang, and so on. Too much or too little, depending on each person’s needs, will always influence and determine the harmony of the relationship. Rarely does a couple have the same needs at any given moment.This is not a bad thing. Distinctions are quite normal but the trick in intimate relationships is to hold and guard space for each other. It’s about allowing each other to feel what they are feeling and say what needs to be said without judgement, but also about stretching oneself to be present for what each needs the other to be. It’s also an opportunity to learn more about ourselves. For it may mean the difference between believing your partner is selfish or too self-absorbed and learning that taking space is their way of self-soothing and something they presently need in order to help assuage their own fears of the unknown. Or, it may be the difference between getting annoyed with your partner’s constant reminders to put on a mask when out in public and realizing just how much you are genuinely cared for and loved. Whenever we look at life from a more bifurcated perspective, we fail to express ourselves in a more balanced way. Being awakened through contrast and having compassion for each other’s differences, however, allows us to surrender to the idea that the very nature of our loving relationships demands that we both learn, grow and evolve.
With the renewal of spring upon us, we are still dealing with a chronic world health crisis. So, as we reassemble together in the hope of reclaiming some agency over our own lives soon, let us not forget that we need to care for and count on each other not only as couples, but that we must also responsibly carry the same compassion in our hearts for one another as citizens of this planet. Above all, it is imperative we all understand that we each need to do all we can and look out for one another as a global community of people; individually and ultimately, we are all stronger in this together! For now, for better or worse, we must vow to uphold and cultivate our new normal- indeed a shared struggle, yet perhaps at the same time a solemn promise for a healthier and happier future for both ourselves, and for the entire human race .
In the end, it is always in our best interest to strive for the greater good!
Hi, I'm Lydia- a modern-day warrior of the heart with a mission to reconcile the mystery and mastery of Love.