(This article was posted on my author site on June 28)
It was news among the legal profession in England in June: the number of divorces went down in 2011, contrary to assumptions that the financial crisis would have pushed the numbers up. Surprising, said many lawyers. But is it really? Is the divorce rate the best reflection of how good we are at getting on with each other during the crisis? What do low divorce rates tell us about how happy people are IN their relationships? I leave the answer to you.
These are the very times that all of us could do with a little more TLC
In the last two years I have noticed a significant increase in couples coming to my practice facing tensions in their relationship due to financial worry. Coming to terms with unemployment and lack of financial security in the midst of hectic family life is a challenge that is putting huge stress on many couples. And the tragedy is that these are the very times that all of us could do with a little more tender loving care.
“Our home is a pretty stressed, lonely place at the moment”
As Anna, a friend of mine said recently “The children carry on as if nothing has happened, going shopping, running up bills on the mobile, talking about the holidays. And meanwhile I’m walking around with this knot of fear in my stomach about whether we’ll be able to pay the mortgage this month. Before I know it I’ve lashed out in anger, and feel bad about it for the next two days. Our home is a pretty stressed, lonely place at the moment. There’s no time for compassion or tenderness.”
We got the bittersweet opportunity to try it out ourselves!
By summer 2012 it had become something of a specialty of my relationship therapy practice Partnermatters: supporting couples to rekindle the love and intimacy in their relationship during confronting times. And then we got the news that the cultural organization where my own husband Robbert worked was due to close its doors. In other words, we were to have the bittersweet opportunity to put all my work with couples into practice and try it out ourselves! A year later, although financial insecurity is still a fact, it has brought a whole new depth of compassion, intimacy and mutual respect to our marriage that we couldn’t have imagined possible a year ago.
If you don’t want to lose your job AND your marriage, take note of these 5 points
For all couples out there coping with stress and worry due to the financial crisis, remember: this is the time when you most need each other, and can most support each other. If you don’t want to lose your job AND your marriage, working on these five points will support your relationship to flourish during these difficult times:
1. Accept there is a confronting situation.
Accepting that the situation has changed and that you are facing real challenges sounds negative, but it is very important to do. This means
- accepting that you don’t know how things will work out.
- accepting that you may both be scared.
- accepting that a solution may take time.
- accepting that your old way of working may not work any more.
- accepting that you are going to need to learn, grow and develop.
- accepting that this will require courage, patience, creativity, flexibility and more patience with yourself.
Once you’ve accepted all this, you can stop fighting and struggling. Relax, look around you and realise that ground you are standing on is still holding you up, and your partner is still there.
2. Create clarity about your values
Challenging times are great reminders that one can’t ever manage outcomes. When there are three thousand people applying for one job, the outcome of your job application is far from certain. Or when budgets are being cut for your services, it is impossible to predict the turnover of your company. But this has always been a truth of life. We simply forget. We can only manage actions, never outcomes. The only control we ever have is over HOW we are with ourselves and others, never WHAT we achieve. So this is where you want to put your focus.
- Create clarity for yourself by carefully choosing 3-5 values that you want to be central in your relationship. (A value is an abstract moral quality, like leadership, honesty, friendship, arrogance, cynicism, flexibility, humour, assertiveness, courage, empathy, and many, many more.)
3. Start to mean those values
The first step to meaning those values is being clear what you mean practically with them. In other words, translate your values into clearly identifiable actions.
- For each value, make a list of 3-6 actions that express that value. Use the “we” form.
- Make it so clear and simple that a child of 8 can see whether you have done it or not.
- Do those actions in your relationship.
- Do it with the same conviction as you would in your work, sport or in any other part of your life that is important for you.
4. Acknowledge your partner
Identify where your partner is being caring, courageous, honest, responsible, sensitive, decisive, human, creative, helpful, human, accessible, funny, flexible, accepting, …and any other quality you can identify. Remember that your partner’s definition of what is caring is probably different than yours. And give them a compliment them for it.
- If you find yourself focusing on what he or she not doing, pick yourself up and direct your attention to what they are doing.
- Give him or her at least five compliments a day.
- Really mean each one of them. As you say and mean them, you may notice that the world (and your partner) start to look different.
5. Acknowledge yourself
- Take a good look at all the actions you took the past 24 hours, and acknowledge yourself for them. Regardless of the result they delivered, you took the action.
- Look at all the wanted results you created recently, both large and small, and acknowledge yourself.
- Do the same for all the insights you had, however small you might think they are, you can never know how much impact they may have.
The very best of luck with this. If you have the chance to read Let’s Get This Straight in full, do yourself that favour. If not, these five short points will give you some basics to help you. I usually have time to answer questions, so if you want to contact me, I’d be happy to talk to you. And remember: it will take practice, so allow yourself the time and the opportunity to make mistakes!
*In 2009 the mayor of Laren, a well-to-do town close to Amsterdam, admitted the connection between the recession and domestic abuse. Meanwhile in England domestic abuse has risen by 17% since the start of the recession.