Feeling trapped with your loved ones and can't make the best out of the current situation? Gavin Sharpe, a UK qualified psychotherapist, relationship therapist and founder of Riviera Wellbeing in Monaco, shares his advice with us about how to manage your relationship during this period of confinement.
See the full interview here:
Gavin sees a range of patients - from individuals who are facing anxiety or depression or who have an addiction, couples who are deciding to stay together or are simply stuck in an argument that's been deadlocked, to giving trainings at companies.
In this lockdown situation, a lot of couples find themselves forced to be living together throughout the day, sometimes with children as well who now no longer have schools to go to. Many go on working from home and this tends to lead to escalated fights and an increase in frustration from all parties at home.
Gavin says that a lot depends on the set-up of the home - is it a small apartment, are you still working from home, are there children in the apartment too - and therein lies a lot of disputes about space or household responsibilities like homeschooling.
A trend that Gavin observes amongst couples with or without kids is that every day is different. Some days you wake up feeling great and creative and you find the opportunity to accomplish things that you couldn't before and spend quality time with your child. However, there are days where you'll be exhausted or stressed out by an important work call you need to make and have to tell your 5-year-old that you can't spend time with them today.
"People feel like they're a bad person for being resentful about being trapped in this situation. You need to give yourself permission to want to pull your hair out and experience a whole range of emotions from being great and creative to feeling like you're struggling and overwhelmed. It's a rollercoaster and every day is different. It's okay, and you don't have to feel guilty about it."
Something Gavin notices with his patients are "the Shoulds". They compare themselves with people that they know who look like they're coping better and feel like they should be doing better. Or alternatively, they tell themselves that they "shouldn't complain" because someone else out there may be having it worse. We internalise "the Shoulds" and we downplay our level of distress.
We need to give ourselves a break, check in with what we really need and also be able to ask for it Sometimes we need to tell our partners that "I need some 'me time', I need to take that walk alone" or "I just need a hug because I'm struggling". It doesn't usually occur to us that we need to ask for what we want because this situation is so foreign.
We also tend to want our partners to be mind-readers. Many time he sees couples end up in arguments where one would say "but it was OBVIOUS (that I was stressed out)" but what we tend to forget that what's obvious for us isn't necessarily obvious to others.
So instead of addressing how a situation made us feel, we tend to criticise instead. And the moment someone says "you did this wrong", the defenses of the other person will immediately be elevated.
It's very important to use "I" statements ("I felt hurt when..." or "I felt neglected when...") versus "you" statements (you were on the phone the whole time I was cooking). Gavin also doesn't allow couples to bring two words into the therapy room - "always" and "never" ("he never takes out the trash" or "she always does this"). You have to leave that at the door.
A challenge he likes to put couples up to - see if you can catch your partner doing some nice. Praise is the antidote to criticism. Appreciate is SO important - appreciate is how you're going to de-escalate the anxiety and tension, especially during this confinement period, and communicate better with your partner.
I go on to ask Gavin if he has any predictors of how well a couple will work out in the end. He replied that he looks out for some signs of affection , he'd ask them how they met and he'd look to see if they turn to each other when they talk, does the anxiety come down even for a brief moment when they talk about how they met. He likes to put a jug of water with two glasses and see if when one of them pours a glass for the other.
He also looks out for signs of contempt - a lot of eye-rolling and just an air of bitterness and resentment. The way they argue tends to be very hard and unforgiving, some couples are way past the point where they can have softer way of talking to each other (usingi "I" statements that he mentioned before). So he really looks at the attitude that the couples have towards each other.
It really also comes down to whether they can somehow find a way to appreciate each other and communicating well again (taking the time to listen more than to speak).
I bring Gavin back to something we discussed earlier, about how integrating into the lifestyle on the riviera could be particularly difficult for the partners who had moved here because of the other's job.
Gavin started a women's group a while back which is a small group where they have a safe space to be open and intimate and get the support that they're lacking from the community. He is now thinking about digitalising this group so that anyone who feels isolated can still continue to have a space to talk about any issues openly with others who may feel the same way.
Gavin is currently already running a free group session every Tuesday from 12pm-1pm to reach out to anyone who is feeling frustrated or anxious during lockdown to talk them through it.