Helping Couples in Isolation: Focus on how they resolve conflict, react to daily stressors and interact with each other
Couples in isolation are likely facing pressure from all angles and may find it impossible to avoid conflict. Stressors from work and home are all wrapped up in the same household, causing emotional or physical reactions. Working with couples, facilitators can help identify stress and work through this is 2 basic ways:
- Eliminate the stressor; or
- Change one’s reaction to stress.
When a stressor cannot be eliminated, it is important to look at how one reacts or copes in response to the stressor. Learning and using healthy coping mechanisms can help individuals respond to stress in healthier ways.
Married Couples and Stress
Note the item rated as the number one stressor by married couples was Your Spouse. This was the number one stressor cited by both men and women.
Married couples who take PREPARE/ENRICH are often being seen in a counselling situation. It is not uncommon for individuals experiencing relational conflict to believe their problems would be solved if their partner would only change. Not only do they believe this, they often express it. Experienced counsellors are used to the finger pointing which often accompanies the initial sessions of marital therapy.
Unfortunately, one partner cannot change the other and this approach leaves individuals totally disempowered in the relationship. In fact, the more one individual focuses on the other person’s behaviour, the more resentment, anger, and resistance they typically receive in return.
It is much more productive to help these couples work on things that are in their control including the way they speak to one another, the way they resolve conflict, and the way each individual chooses to react to their daily stressors and interactions with their spouse.
Good communication and productive ways of handling conflict depend on couples carefully listening to one another. Active listening involves listening attentively without interruption and then restating what was heard. Acknowledge content AND the feelings of the speaker. The active listening process lets the sender know whether or not the message they sent was clearly understood by having the listener restate what they heard.
Examples of Active Listening:
“I heard you say you are feeling ‘out of balance’, and enjoyed the time we spend together but that you also need more time to be with your friends… and you want to plan a time to talk about this.”
“If I understand what you said, you are concerned because you want to go skiing next winter. But you think I would rather to go to the beach. Is that correct?”
When each person knows what the other person feels and wants (assertiveness) and when each knows they have been heard and understood (active listening), intimacy is increased. These two communication skills can help you grow closer as a couple.