September is here and with it comes a new season, a new school year and a host of other transitions. How do you handle changes as a couple? What happens when your kids reenter the whirlwind of school activities? How do you face your spouse ramping up their work schedule now that summer is over? The days are shorter and the weather is turning towards Fall. How can you best prepare?
I recommend the method I like to call the worst case scenario approach for couples.
The first step is to know your hot spots inside and out. Know what gets you fired up, freaks you out, scares you, makes you yell or retreat into your corner of the relationship boxing ring. Know the things that send you over the edge. In fact, make a list. Stan Tatkin in Wired For Love has a wonderfully concise list of these vulnerabilities.* As a couple, share these with each other and even help each other figure them out if you get stuck. Most likely, you are each pretty aware of what gets the other person agitated!
Next, assume that all the things on the list will happen during this transition. If your spouse is going out of town on a business trip and you have a fear of being abandoned then s/he will run off to join the circus. If you dread invasive questions, there will be PTA meetings and back to school nights galore and every one of them will feature nosy strangers who dedicate themselves to digging into your soul. If you worry about being a burden your car will break down in the middle of the freeway and strangers will insist on helping you, your tree will fall on your neighbor’s garage, and some vital limb will break leaving you at the mercy of your partner, friends and family. If you hate feeling out of control, you will be asked to give a speech at the company offsite with only ten minutes to prepare.
Now that you have imagined the absolute worst case scenario, decide how to mitigate these situations as a couple. How will you handle the business trip given those abandonment fears? Make a plan together! Instead of acting as antagonists at worst or silos at best — tackle transitions as a team! Skype, call, email, or text to stay connected while apart. Have a signal to help get each other out of invasive conversations with PTA crazies. If a broken arm happens, make sure there is still autonomy and give lots of reassurance to that partner who fears being a burden. If surprises hit one of you who hates surprises, make a plan for after the event (When this is over we will go out for ice cream. You will get vanilla!) and stick to that plan so there is one piece that is controlled.<p>
Look ahead towards every transition and ask yourselves, “How will this be challenging for us as a couple?”. This gives you a wonderful opportunity to brainstorm together, plan together and laugh together. You get to feel like spies on a mission, teammates planning for the big game and lovers who care about each other’s vulnerable soft underbellies and want to protect them.
Transitions are fun when you face them together.
-Brenda Fowler, MA
* Stan Tatkin’s list of common vulnerabilities:
Feeling intruded upon
Feeling trapped, out of control
Fear of too much intimacy
Fear of being blamed
Fear of being abandoned by your partner
Fear of being separated from your partner
Discomfort at being alone for too long
Feeling you are a burden