In the 93’s movie, “The Groundhog Day”, Bill Murray protagonists as a weatherman, who finds himself trapped in time; doomed in experiencing the same day over and over again. His only getaway to sanity was himself, by actively changing his behaviour, whilst everybody else was happily living in a loop. He tried to be mean, fake, cheeky, indifferent, dismissive and dead. Nothing worked. Only by improving himself, he finally managed to gain his girlfriend’s heart and wake-up in ‘tomorrow’.
The unexpected turn of a world-wide pandemic transforms this movie scenario into a real-life experience. Basically, when every day lacks variability of a socially-normal life, time slows down, imitating the feeling of a constant déjà vu. Nevertheless, as in the movie, all we can do is to change our attitude and behaviour towards the current situation and not the situation itself.
The limited space of our home encloses all the things, activities and people we routinely endorse. Being in lockdown urges us to rethink what we want our ‘home’ to be comprised of. Which aspects of reality feel comfortable living with when time freezes and which toxic remnants need to be wiped away?
Being exempted from hectic living offers more time and space to zoom into the person within us, the person next to us and the relationship between us.
. . .
1. Love-language communication
Not speaking the same language is one primary barrier to communication. Usually, people from different countries speak in a language they both understand to achieve a functional interaction.
Like my dad, who is Belgian (i.e. Flemish) and my mom, who is Greek, were speaking in French when they first met. That worked pretty well, but when my brother came to life and spoke his first word — ‘thank you’, my mom was unable to translate his gratitude. She couldn’t identify the word, as articulated in baby-Flemish language, leaving him unrewarded and my mom naively indifferent.
Similarly, when one partner shows their love using their own ‘language’, the other party needs to be able to translate that as an act of love, to ultimately cherish the loving moment.
Love lost in translation
“You never said you love me”, she loudly mumbled — “But I make you coffee every morning”, he sighed with feelings of betrayal giggling down his throat.
In this hypothetical dialogue, love is lost in translation — with one part making effort to elicit love and the other one trying to prove its existence. This exhausting encounter might prove fatal for the relationship. The one becomes the constant care-seeker, who feels unloved, and the other one, the failing care-taker, blamed to be inadequate.
According to Dr Gary Chapman, author of the book Five Love Languages, there are five primary ways to express love and gratitude.
- Words of affirmation (e.g. “ I have faith in you”)
- Acts of service (e.g. Making breakfast)
- Receiving gifts (e.g. “I bought you the book you were looking for”)
- Quality time (e.g. Going for a hike)
- Physical touch (e.g. Hugging, kissing etc.)
If there is a constant doubt whether your partner loves you or not, then even if they do, this doesn’t change much on how you view and feel in your relationship. The frustration of being unable to express and/or receive love brings an inevitable distance that grows bigger and bigger if left unnoticed.
Therefore, in order to avoid feeling betrayed, neglected or mistreated, both partners need to identify the love expressions that they use and perceive. Given that these vary, depending on character structure and emotional state, everyone understands love differently and that’s ok. Yet, communicating those differences is what will enable the interpretation of gratitude actions, to result in a stronger emotional connection.
. . .
2. Anger Contamination
During the lockdown, chances you fight about something really meaningless, rise exponentially. Being deprived of social interaction and freedom of movement becomes an ideal ground for turning a chilled Sunday evening into a drama-scene.
Nevertheless, regulating feelings of anger and frustration is easier said than done.
When getting angry our autonomous nervous system becomes activated; meaning that the primitive brain takes the reins and prepares the body to fight. Blood pressure rises, heart beats faster, and the whole body goes into a ‘fight or flight’ mode. Because of this build-up to the nervous system, facial expressions also deliver angry messages, regardless of our intention to do so.
Anger: the blinding enemy
Voluntary expression of emotions is mainly regulated by our clever and more recently-developed brain (i.e. Prefrontal Cortex), who provides the final appraisal on whether to magnify or reduce autonomic responses.
However, there are other emotional expressions, those of our genuine and most primal emotions (namely: fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness and surprise). These follow a different neural pathway and become unconsciously and inevitably portrayed in our faces, as they don’t go through the clever brain’s filter.
When disgusted, nose is wrinkled to limit smell; when in fear, eyes widen to increase visual field; whereas when getting angry, eyes narrow to help focus on the ‘threat’. Such reactions are, consciously or not, being perceived and imitated by other members of the group too. From an evolutionary point of view, imitation increases chances of survival by spreading awareness through signalling potential threats.
This also partially explains why anger is contagious.
When there is unexpressed tension from one side, agitation inevitably builds up on the other side too. Emotional contamination is a vicious cycle of alternating between the role of being the attacker and the role of becoming the victim. We all have been part of those fights where the one initiated it, ended up with all the blame.
To avoid anger contamination
- Keep your eyes open
According to the Facial Feedback Theory, facial muscles not only communicate and express our emotions but also regulate them, by feeding back to the brain. Facial musculature affects the temperature of a small, but important region of the brain called the hypothalamus, involved in appetite, emotional regulation and many more functions.
By increasing the temperature in parts of the hypothalamus, an individual is more prone to show aggressive behaviour, whereas by cooling the temperature down, it is more likely to experience feelings of relaxation. So practically speaking, keeping your eyes wider, whilst feeling hotheaded, goes against the natural facial tendency of being upset. That results in confusing the brain as to the level of necessity to retain angry feelings.
- Give yourself some space-time
Remove yourself from the situation that feeds irritation and give yourself time and space to defocus from the tunnel vision your brain has put you in. That allows you to reconsider the cost over the benefit, the importance of the ego to prove right, the actual source of the frustration, and the relevance of the reason that made you angry, in a week’s time.
Is it worth turning an imaginary argument into a real one?
. . .
3. Emotional connection
Any activity that entails interest and curiosity towards oneself is what defines quality, in ‘me-time’. Generally speaking, quality self-time is whatever brings you closer to a moment of being and becoming who you are. Besides cultivating creativity and skills, alone-time teaches us how to bear our bare existence. That is to befriend, adapt and connect with what comprises of the self, without being necessarily, actively productive.
Feeling connected with our own being has a pivotal role in every relationship. Mainly because it allows emotional connection to be the motivation for a relationship, instead of an underlying fear of being ‘alone in life’.
A fear-driven partner has many facets, from being hysterically enamoured to being emotionally absent. The first, loves the desire more than the desired, striving to keep this alive instead of the relationship. The later, joins a partnership, to reproduce societal patterns, without considering the necessity for emotional engagement.
To avoid emotional distancing
Emotional distance occurs when one dissociates from the relationship and doesn’t engage to either positive or negative experiences with their partners. Distance seems to be triggered when things and feelings have been left unsaid or when the things said, have been left unnoticed. Therefore, emotional distance manifests by repression or desensitisation of one’s feelings.
- Be vulnerable
Not expressing needs and desires is highly attributed to fear of vulnerability. Vulnerability is hardly practised when confused with weakness or loss of self-respect. Nevertheless, an inspirational story/experience becomes inspirational because of, and not despite, its vulnerable moments.
Vulnerability entails courage, to break the cycle of self-righteousness and honesty, to admit and accept the humane and the not-so-proud part of oneself. For those qualities to ultimately flourish in the relationship, these need to be first cultivated and communicated within the self.
For example, by admitting to yourself a mistake or an unwanted quality, might tame potential defensive urges, when those weaknesses are pointed out. Choosing vulnerability by identifying the parts proved to be true, instead of defending the ones that are not, strengthens connection.
Constantly justifying oneself leaves very little space for new information and knowledge to be taken in. If arguing with your partner feels repetitive, beware of a deafening ego using the same defensive strategies.
- Be present
If one is not present in the relationship, the future is ominous for both. Being present implies being open and enthusiastic about relationship’s minimal but significant moments. To appreciate daily sparkles of happiness, when these decide to show up. Is that possible, when the days have lost their identity and lockdown routine feels like normality?
Despite its bad reputation of wearing off relationships, any type of daily routine is inevitable and if flexible, provides life with the necessary infrastructure. The side effects of routine-like feelings, kick in when things are getting done for the sake to get them done. Meaning that routine becomes a burden if one acts and behaves out of pure habit or long-overdue needs.
Relationships are the same. If there is no reevaluation of what is necessary and engagement relies on past beliefs, relationships become a burden and survive in time based on pure habit or long-overdue needs.
. . .
This post was previously published on Hello, Love and is republished here with permission from the author.
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