Lowering the Curve Of Divorce
A month locked away with anyone could be a challenge. If it were me and my sister, a trial for murder would probably be taking place right now. If it were me and my Dad, there would be lines drawn throughout the house. Being alone “on a desert island” with anyone is a lot to handle. So what do you do when that person is your spouse? The one you promised till death do us part. To love and to cherish from that day forth however many years ago? That promise might feel like it was a lot bigger of a promise than you imagined in light of the world’s recent house arrest.
That’s when therapy comes in. On a phone call with Annie Hutt, a marriage and family therapist in Golden, Colorado and the amazing woman that birthed me, I asked her what she’s hearing from her clients about managing all this time together and what we can be doing to lessen the curve of divorce after this is all over.
Katie Leigh: When it comes to relationships right now, what trends are you seeing in your practice?
Annie: Honestly, the issues that people are having now are the same ones they’re having year-round, they’ve just been magnified by only being around each other. The two biggest issues I see is the need to connect with each other and a lack of communication between a couple.
Katie Leigh: What do you mean about having issues with connecting?
Annie: The question I usually ask my clients is what are the ways that you can be connecting. When you’re arguing about what to watch on Netflix, you aren’t connecting. When you are mad just because he’s breathing, you aren’t connecting. What’s even more interesting, is I’ve seen a trend that men are wanting to connect more right now and women are wanting to avoid it. They’re seeking more space.
And having space away from each other is just as important as having space together.
Katie Leigh: Talk about a turn of events. Although, I can see that in my own marriage too. Before all this happened we had a lot of time to ourselves to dedicate to our passions and now we end up spending more time together and haven’t been making as much time for ourselves.
Annie: Exactly. Our routines have changed since we’ve entered the stay-at-home order. And having space away from each other is just as important as having space together.
Katie Leigh: So that’s the prescription for ways to connect?
Annie: Yes. You need to designate time for yourself and designate a special time together.
Katie Leigh: Okay, then what about communication. How can we be better at communicating?
Annie: In a time in the world where we are forced to slow down, I suggest you slow down. Stop trying to do it all, take a breath. I tell my clients this all the time, there is a story you have about what is going on. He has a story and she has a different story and those stories are keeping you from coming together, from really connecting. So if you can, get those stories out in a healthy way with statements like “I feel (sad, happy, uncomfortable, angry) when (dishes are left in the sink, the laundry sits on the floor, I have to make all the meals)”, your partner is more likely to hear you. You’ll notice that I don’t use the word “you” because that makes the other person defensive. Make it about yourself, not the other person.
Katie Leigh: Non-violent communication. I’ve learned that one from you before.
Annie: It still applies.
What’s your story?
Katie Leigh: And what do you do once these statements have been made?
Annie: The other person can relay with what they heard. “What I heard you say was….” This lets you know that they were listening and they comprehend. And then they get to tell their side of the story. So when you’re angry because you asked your husband to empty the dishwasher or worst, you just thought it in your head, and he comes in from the garage and doesn’t do it and your furious, what’s your story? He doesn’t love you because he didn’t do it. Does he think his time is more valuable? Does he think it’s your job? When really he just got finished mowing the lawn and is tired and will get to it after he’s had a moment to catch his breath.
Katie Leigh: Okay, so we have connecting by creating space for ourselves and our partner. Then we have communicating with statements about ourselves. Any other tips you’ve got for us?
Annie: I’ve seen a lot of issues with couples in general, but more lately, that comes about with alcohol. Especially during a time like this, if you can lighten your drinking or let it go all together it can really help with not fighting and being able to connect.
Katie Leigh: We’ve made the conscious decision to not drink or only have 1 a week during this time to not rely on it.
Annie: It’s a depressant and we’re in a depressing time. It really won’t help you the way you want it to. Find a different way to celebrate happy hour with a cheese board or your favorite non-alcoholic mixed drink.
Katie Leigh: I think we’ve gotten some good tips out of this that we can start practicing this week. Anything else you’d like to share?
Annie: The last suggestion I have would be to break up the housework and show appreciation for each other’s tasks. Partners who are usually the cook in the family feel overwhelmed by how much they have to do right now or feel under-appreciated for all the time they put into the food that it feels less fun for them. If you can divide household chores between everyone living in the house and then say thank you whenever you notice they’re done, it goes a long way.
*This interview has been edited for length and clarity with the approval of the interviewee