From’Marriage News – No 20.12′
I think the biggest risk to relationships in the coming months – and it is months in case you haven’t been listening to the medics and scientists – is not knowing where you both stand in your own house or flat. How to improve your odds of being in the ‘thrive and flourish’ camp? Just like marriage, I think it begins with being on the same page.
This week our entire family has gravitated to our home, students from university, workers without offices, teens from an increasingly precarious gap year overseas. Amidst the worry, Kate and I are thrilled because we love big family. For our first morning en masse, we held a big family meeting to establish a daily routine, our individual work priorities and needs, and to delegate responsibilities and set up a cooking and cleaning roster.
The result – at least for now – is that all of us know where we stand. I’m in charge of money and our farm animals. Kate is in charge of our food plan and supplies. Our children are variously in charge of entertainment, spirituality, fixing stuff, cleaning and rosters, etc. Being in charge doesn’t mean you have to do it. It just means you carry the burden of responsibility.
Most importantly, even when Kate and I are doing different things and not in the same room, we know we are on the same page. We know where we are in terms of the structure of the day. We know our responsibilities. We know what we need to be doing and what everybody else needs to be doing. Far from being restrictive, structure and clarity brings the freedom to do our thing and to relax. Just like marriage itself.
I think couples are going to row and struggle most over personal frustrations and blocked goals. Why isn’t my spouse or partner doing what they should be doing?
The reason is that you haven’t established a plan! You are living in a state of ambiguity, just like when you first went out with one another. Until you have a plan, you don’t know where you stand.
The Risks and Cost of Social Distancing to Our Longer-Term Health
In recent years we have been on a path that in retrospect we could have aptly called social distancing. As I shared in my essay last year, “Our Great Ungathering Is Killing Us,” we were already gathering less across a wide variety of venues: bars, sporting events, houses of worship, bank branches, retail stores, the office, at movies, with customers, neighbours and even with family at meals. Less gathering leads to less community.
Yes, we have ways to stay in touch electronically via text, email, videoconferencing, and social media, but it is not the same. In fact, many studies indic¬ate that the more time we spend on social media, the less happy, less empathetic and more envious we are.
The very act of meeting face-to-face, making eye-contact, and physically touching nourishes us but also exposes us to the coronavirus. We all know of the infant mortality research that shows babies deprived of physical touch experience development limitations. It is no different for adults. The Atlantic quotes Tiffany Field, the founder of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami, in describing the power of physical touch:
any pressure or movement on the skin helps increase the activity of the Vagus nerve, which connects to every major organ in the human body. Touch from another human “slows down the heart. It goes to the [gut] and helps digestion. It helps our emotional expressions—our facial expressions and our vocal expressions. It enhances serotonin, the natural antidepressant in our system.” That nerve activity can also lower a body’s levels of the stress hormone cortisol; cortisol is known to harm the “natural killer cells” that can fight viral, bacterial, and cancer cells.
Field concludes that as people are now especially stressed over the consequence of the virus, they have even greater need of these valuable effects of touch, now that they are afraid to hug or shake hands as usual. Loneliness, which has the same mortality effect as smoking and twice that of obesity, has jumped 65 percent in the last decade.
A Time to Do “Hard Things” to Sustain Health and Well-being
We all know from our own history that difficult times also usher in the potential for breakthrough opportunities. To face this challenge and to cultivate the associated opportunities will require a level of intention and focus that our often purpose-less and attention-deficit society have been sorely missing.
We get plenty of instruction and encouragement regarding dealing with the coronavirus—wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, avoid human contact.
But how about instruction and encouragement for dealing with our relationship loss in a world of social distancing? What can we do to cultivate relationships in a time when we especially need support? Here are three intentions to consider.
1. Re-purpose yourself for doing “hard” things. Everything starts with intention. Our challenge is to muster the initiative to take on the hard things in our future the way those before us took on war. For many, “convenient and easy” has become an end of its own … we have allowed the “easy button” to replace the “meaning button.” The coronavirus appears to have no “easy button,” but it has great potential for a greater purpose.
In this season, we must make a virtue out of doing hard things and sacrificing–especially for the purpose of our relationships … It means starting each day with a commitment to do one proactive, relational task. You might call interruption of your normal routine a “relationship break.” Maybe you send a note or text to someone dear, call someone in need, reach out to thank someone, say I’m sorry, ask someone for forgiveness, or forgive someone. Maybe you just check in with someone or say nothing but do something for someone that signals attention, care and love. In reaching out, consider how you can use the tone of what you say to touch them or even give a hug.
2. Find new ways to stay in touch—with close friends and loose connections. Loss of physical proximity can significantly impact our interactions and the information we receive. I remember the research on propinquity from my college days that showed when we lose proximity, we lose access to certain somewhat random, but important information. In our new circumstances, we must target key relationships now missing from your normal interaction as a result of the virus. There are two key groups to consider.
First, those close relationships for whom social distancing has created separation. Often, these are the easiest to stay in touch with. For these groups, it is easy to set up formal or informal routines of contact—call once a week, check-in email, etc.
The second and more challenging relationship connections are our weak ties—acquaintances and even strangers—that have access to a broader/wider array of groups and information. Research has found that these ties are especially valuable in expanding our opportunities to find jobs, ideas, opportunities and new insights If you are now working from home or if you can no longer attend certain events, you can still proactively target websites, social media posts, forums and podcasts of people and groups outside your circle of close ties to stay in the loop.
3. Get out. Confinement is not just relational it is also about physical surroundings. Going to work, class, social meetings and other endeavours involve leaving your home and often going outside. Physically leaving and experiencing being out of doors is a little bit like rebooting your computer—it clears out residue and refreshes. Go outside, take a walk, experience the weather—good or bad—or drive somewhere to get “outside.” We cannot allow social distancing to imprison us from a daily reboot.
Here is some hope. What if the loss of relational contact associated with the coronavirus impelled us to value our relationships more—resulting in a pent-up demand to connect? What if a new generation of post-coronavirus survivors were to become more intentional about developing stronger relationships and less confined to tech-addicted, tribal, divisive ways?
This crisis is going to be tough, so it would be a shame to waste it by failing to find new ways to build strong, valuable relationships.
Harry Benson, 2-in-2-1
You may also like to look at Relate’s tips, too. here