Relationship Minute: Tune in to Joy

In times of uncertainty, it can be easiest to tune in to what’s making you anxious.

After all, these days you may be regularly confronted with a waterfall of new information, eroding what “normal” used to look like. Anxiety comes in loud and clear.

It’s important, now more than ever, to not let anxiety drown out joy. Practice tuning in to joy with your partner by asking them, at the end of every day, “what brought you joy today?”

It may be as simple and small as something that made you laugh, or it can be something as immense as a shift in the weather that brightened the whole day.

Give joy a chance to shine.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 24 March 2020. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Notice the good

If you’re currently holed up with your partner, you may start to notice things a little bit more.

Everything is amplified in close quarters—their quirks and habits, the things they do that are helpful, and the things they do that might drive you a little batty.

In a Newsweek article, David Cates Ph.D., says, “Being together in a small space for a much longer period than usual under stressful conditions means more opportunities to amplify both positive and negative dynamics.”

“My guess is that relationships with a strong foundation will survive and may even flourish, whereas those characterized by poor negotiation skills, destructive communication and lack of appreciation are more likely to buckle under the stress.”

Make sure you’re paying attention to the things they’re doing right and the little things that make life easier or more pleasant for you, in addition to things that might annoy you. Fondness and appreciation are the bedrock of lasting love. Don’t forget to notice the good things!

“So, to survive and thrive during quarantine, couples should look for opportunities to show interest, find areas of agreement, express affection and appreciation and demonstrate empathy. And they need to do this during times of conflict. They should also recognize that worry, fear, stress and guilt are expected and normal reactions during quarantine and not criticize one another for expressing these feelings.”

Be kind to each other during this time. Slow down and be compassionate.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 19 March 2020. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: The Bones

The Sound Relationship House is our theory for healthy relationships. It has seven levels and two walls.

The foundation of the house is a strong friendship between partners. The middle levels have to do with how couples manage conflict, which is inevitable in relationships. The top level is about creating shared meaning and the supporting walls are trust and commitment.

In her song The Bones, Maren Morris sings: 

When the bones are good, the rest don’t matter
Yeah, the paint could peel, the glass could shatter
Let it rain ’cause you and I remain the same
When there ain’t a crack in the foundation
Baby, I know any storm we’re facing
Will blow right over while we stay put
The house don’t fall when the bones are good

If the “bones” are the levels of the Sound Relationship House, then ask yourself: Which bones are good and which need some attention?

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 5 March 2020. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Getting a Grip on Worry, Stress, and Anxiety

Surprisingly worry, stress, and anxiety are not the same, but you can sure find a lot of it in the world today. In fact, a 2017 study found that 3 out of 4 Americans reported feeling stressed in the last month.

This piece is from a great article that appeared in the New York Times on February 26, 2020 by Emma Pattee.

Below is a synopsis of the full article, but I encourage you to visit the link above to read the original piece.

Too worried, stressed or anxious to read the whole article?

Here’s the bottom line: Worry happens in the mind, stress happens in your body, and anxiety happens in your mind and your body. In small doses, worry, stress, and anxiety can be positive forces in our lives. Easy first steps to help regulate the symptoms are: Get enough sleep; eat regular, nutritious meals; and move your body.

What is worry?

Worry is when your mind dwells on negative thoughts, uncertain situations, or things that could go wrong in a repetitive, obsessive manner. Worry can be good if it leads to changes, but if you worry about something in a repetitive, obsessive manner, that is not constructive. Worry happens in your mind and stimulates our brain to problem-solve or take action. It is only when you get stuck thinking about a problem that worry stops being constructive.

What to do if you worry:

  • Give yourself a time limit to worry. When time is up, consciously redirect your thoughts
  • When you notice you are worried about something, push yourself to take the next step or to take action
  • Write down your worries. Eight to 10 minutes of writing can help calm obsessive thoughts

What is stress?

Stress is a natural (aka normal) physiological response connected to an external event. Stress needs an external stressor to activate the fight or flight response in us to deal with the threat until it is resolved. Chronic stress is when your body stays in the fight or flight mode due to an unresolved issue and can lead to health concerns.

What to do to help your stress:

  • Get exercise
  • Get clear on what you can and can’t control. Then focus on what you can control in the situation
  • Don’t compare your stress to anyone else’s stress

What is anxiety?

Anxiety has a cognitive element (worry) and a physiological response (stress). Remember how stress is the natural response to a threat? Anxiety is the same thing…except there is no threat. Imagine you show up to work and somebody gives you an off look. You start to have the physiology of a stress response because you’re telling yourself that your boss is upset with you, or that your job might be at risk. Your body is in the fight or flight mode, but there is nothing to fight or run from.

What to do to help your anxiety:

  • Limit your sugar, alcohol and caffeine intake
  • Check in with your toes. How do they feel? Wiggle them. This kind of refocusing can calm you and break the anxiety loop.
  • When you’re in the middle of an anxiety episode, talking or thinking about it won’t help. Distract yourself with your senses. Listen to music, jump rope for five minutes, or rub a piece of Velcro or velvet

Grounding Exercise

If you are feeling nervous or anxious, doing the following grounding exercise can help when you feel like you’ve gone too far into your thoughts and feel like you’ve lost control of your surroundings.

  • Breathe deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth
  • Slowly look around you and find…
    • 5 things you can see
    • 4 things you can touch
    • 3 things you can hear
    • 2 things you can smell (or 2 smells you like)
    • 1 emotion you feel

Seek Assistance

Bottom line is that if your worry, stress, or anxiety is affecting your work life, personal life, or relationships, find a professional to talk to. As military members and their families, we have a lot of free resources available for this kind of help. Seek them out. Visit our Common Questions About Counseling Page for more information.

Relationship Minute: Self-care and self-soothing

Self-care and self-soothing are both important skills to nurture.

Self-soothing is what you do to calm down and reset when you’re upset.

Self-soothing looks like:

  • Taking a 20-minute break from a conflict conversation
  • Breathing mindfully to reduce physiological overwhelm
  • Noticing tension in your body and releasing it

Self-care is what you do preventatively, to keep from getting upset.

Self-care looks like: 

  • Taking regular time to recharge
  • Spending time with people who lift you up and give you energy
  • Doing activities that you enjoy and find restorative

If you don’t take care of yourself, you risk operating with a shorter fuse when conflict arises. The more self-care you do, the less you will need to employ self-soothing.

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 27 February 2020. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning. 

Relationship Minute: Who’s to blame?

When something goes wrong, most of us naturally respond by looking for someone to blame.

It always has to be someone’s fault, right? Not necessarily.

Trying to assign blame just results in a back-and-forth that leaves everyone feeling frazzled, defensive, and dissatisfied. And sometimes no one is to blame. It could have been a misunderstanding—a common result of two people interacting.

For example, let’s say you and your partner started watching a new show together. Your partner was on their phone the whole time, so later, you finish the show on your own.

The next day, your partner notices and says, “Hey! I wanted to finish that together!”

You have two options.

One is to agree that someone is to blame here and make sure it isn’t you.

“You were on your phone the whole time so I figured you wouldn’t care.” 

The other option is to accept that there was a misunderstanding.

“Oops. I can see why you’re upset. I would feel the same way. Let’s find a new show we’re both excited to watch.” 

No one is to blame here, so it doesn’t have to turn into a stressful conflict.

How would your next interaction go if you went into it believing that blame didn’t need to be assigned?

Related blog posts

The Relationship Minute from The Gottman Institute, dated 20 February 2020. You can sign up here to get it delivered to your inbox every Tuesday and Thursday morning.