It’s not me, it’s you. It’s not you, it’s me.
Are there parts of your partner that really get on your nerves? Ways that they behave or personality traits that you just can’t stand? When this happens be curious about whether you are actually “seeing” a part of yourself in your partner. A part of you that you don’t like or perhaps aren’t even aware of. In psycho-babble terms this is what’s called “projection”.
Projection is a defence mechanism that involves disowning a part of yourself that you feel ashamed of, wish wasn’t there or that you’ve received judgement for in the past. You then see this part as “outside of you”, instead of inside of you.
For example, you might find yourself thinking that your partner is in a really grumpy mood. Maybe they are, but maybe you are too, and you’re focusing in on their grumpiness as a way to avoid acknowledging how you’re feeling yourself.
Another example is when you feel like your partner is being “needy” and find it off-putting when they show this side of themselves to you. But of course, as a human, you also have a needy side, even if you can’t recognise those feelings in yourself because they’re buried deep down.
As with all things to do with emotions and couples, things are complex and layered. We’re not suggesting that every time you’re annoyed with your partner you’re projecting, but perhaps some of the time projection is at play. Being curious about this can help you and your partner to understand and communicate with each other better, particularly during times of high stress (hello COVID and iso life!).
Little things often. That’s what makes the difference.
COVID has taken its toll on many couples and now that we’ve moved into stage 3 and 4 restrictions many people are operating in survival mode. Understandably then, the idea of “working on your relationship” might just sound exhausting (not to mention unrealistic).
According to Dr John Gottman though, it’s not sweeping romantic gestures or understanding complicated relationship theories that are going to get couples through this period anyway. It’s the small things that we do often that add up to a satisfying and stable relationship.
What are the small ways that you already show your partner that you love them? What other little things could you do on a regular basis to show them that they matter?
Speak each other’s language.
If you’re stuck for ideas when it comes to simple ways that could show your partner love, give some thought to what your partner’s love language might be. Their love language is the way that they prefer to be shown love.
According to relationship researcher Gary Chapman, there are five love languages:
- Words of affirmation
Expressing supportive and kind words to your partner like “I hope today isn’t too rough on you” or “thanks for helping me with this”.
- Quality time
What you do is not so important as the way you spend time together. Spending time in a way where you’re really present with each other, giving your full attention.
- Giving gifts
Creative or thoughtful gifts that show the other person you’ve spent time thinking of them and what they like/want.
- Acts of service
Gestures such as packing their lunch, bringing them a cup of tea or doing the washing.
- Physical touch
Any form of physical touch that feels loving and caring.
Here are a few questions to dig a little deeper into you and your partner’s love languages.
What does your partner do, or not do, that hurts you the most? Chances are the opposite of what hurts you is your love language.
What do you regularly wish your partner would do more of? Whatever this is, it’s likely to be give you a clue about your love language.
How do you show your partner that you care about them? The way that you show your love is most likely the way that you would like to be loved.
Do you and your partner clash in terms of the way you want to give and receive love? How might you use this knowledge to strengthen your relationship? What are some workarounds or compromises that you could come up with together so you both end up feeling cared for?
Space = oxygen for couples.
Usually in every couple there will be one person who needs more space or alone time. Acknowledging this, by reflecting on your own or speaking with your partner about it, can be surprisingly powerful.
Putting it out there that you both have different needs for space can help to address some of the hurt or rejected feelings that can come up for the person who isn’t as concerned about having time alone. Sometimes one (or both) people in a couple can feel scared or anxious about time apart. By naming your needs and fears around space and alone time you can begin to take steps to address this in your relationship.
If you have a lot of heated conflict in your relationship this could be a sign that you need to be proactive about having more space from each other, particularly during times of high stress. Why? Because conflict is a quick (although often painful) way for you instantly have separateness from each other. You both go off in a huff, or criticise each other and retreat because you feel hurt or angry. Often this is your unconscious mind’s way of creating a situation that gives you the physical and/or emotional space you need.
Separateness creates a healthy boundary between you and your partner and increases your connection with each other. Without this boundary between you and your partner you can start to feel like one person. When you feel blended together like this it can be difficult to have separate interests, beliefs, views and values. But that’s one of the key things that allows our partner to continue to be interesting, the fact that they are not the same as us!
How do have space on your own when you live with someone 24/7?
If you’re based in Melbourne, stage 4 restrictions likely mean that your normal ways of having space are limited. This is especially the case if for you, space means getting out of the house and stepping into other parts of your life – seeing friends, going into work, doing hobbies. You might even find yourself pointing the finger at your partner for smothering you or making you feel “trapped”.
Finding ways to get some space is each person’s individual responsibility. So is finding ways to take care of yourself when your partner needs space, even if you don’t want them to. Figuring these things out, either on your own or with an individual or couples counsellor, is a really important step in building a relationship where both people’s needs are met.
Unfortunately, there are no magic answers for navigating the logistics of finding space during lockdown. But see if you can get creative and experiment to find out what works for you.
Maybe you could segment your living space so that you feel like you have physical space from each other at particular times during the day? You could close doors, let the other person know you want to be in a particular part of the house on your own for a few hours, put headphones on, do your one hour of exercise on your own. Ask friends and family what they’re doing to get space from their partners despite living together 24/7. If you have kids, of course, time alone becomes even more challenging. Even if you can only find one small window of five minutes alone time each day, it is the act of prioritising yourself that really matters.
Taking caring of yourself is one the best ways that you can take care of your relationship.
Couples counselling in Melbourne
Life sure feels like a lot right now. If you’re struggling in your relationship and could do with some tools and support, our experienced Melbourne couples counsellors are here to help.
If you’re experiencing domestic violence or feeling unsafe in your relationship, 1800 Respect are here to provide you with support and advice 24/7.
Photo by Breanna Dunbar Photography.