At midnight on Monday September 30th, the U.S. Congress failed to pass a funding bill which sent the government screeching to a halt. This means that roughly one million federal workers are temporarily out of work. It also means that museums, national parks, and countless services that we all count on being open and operating are closed.
But it's not just federal employees and those who rely on federal programs for assistance, support and enjoyment who are affected by the government shutdown. Private businesses will also be negatively impacted, with fewer customers spending money in their shops, restaurants and for the services they provide.
Additionally, uncertain times — even if they don't directly affect you — can be anxious, fearful, and stressful times. That can mean big trouble for your relationship or marriage.
When you and your spouse feel more vulnerable, more on edge, and are under more strain, simple misunderstandings that used to be easily resolved can blow up into huge arguments. You are more likely to retreat into yourselves (and away from each other), and/or to get defensive which puts you at odds. These are the issues that build up quickly, squashing trust, passion and connection.
1. Work on team-building.
Learn from the mistakes of the warring parties on Capitol Hill: DON'T do what they've done! A stressful time is the perfect time to come together with the one you love and work as a team.
It's tempting to grit your teeth and forge ahead on your own, and you may even believe that you have to figure this out by yourself because your spouse "can't handle" the added strain or "isn't capable" of doing what needs to be done so that you and your family can adjust during these uncertain and financially challenging times. Question your beliefs about your partner and remind yourself that together you two are stronger. Step out of your comfort zone and let your spouse know you want to work with him or her... even if it's difficult at times.
2. Keep talking.
You absolutely cannot work as a team to face the effects of the government shutdown if you aren't communicating. Use this as an opportunity to talk about options for making it through what might be a financial strain for your marriage.
Stressful situations tend to exacerbate bad communication habits already in place. Be aware of when you nag, criticize, assume, jump to conclusions, get silent... or whatever it is you do that closes down communication in your marriage. When you see yourself falling into a habit that pushes your partner away, pause, breathe and try a different response.
3. Keep talking — without blame.
Again, DON'T do what the politicians are doing right now. There's a whole lot of finger-pointing and blaming going on in Washington D.C. (and all over the country) right now. This won't help end the stalemate and re-start the government, and it definitely won't help your marriage either.
Hear yourself when your words or tone of voice become blame-filled. Stop. Even if it's mid-sentence, stop yourself from blaming your partner and, instead, talk about how you feel and about specific actions. Rather than bombarding your partner with all of the reasons why he or she is "wrong" and a long list of what you don't like and don't want, make requests for what you DO want. Create agreements together that will help you both feel satisfied with whatever steps you decide to take to manage the current crisis.
4. Take good care of yourself.
Many of us turn to food, alcohol, drugs, sex or entertainment to "take the edge off" when we're anxious, worried, and stressed. Unfortunately, these activities — when used as a way to numb us — make us emotionally absent and difficult to be around.
Pay attention to what (and how much) you're eating, drinking, taking, and consuming (online or television), and make choices that will help you be at your best. Make sure you're getting enough sleep, and try out relaxation techniques like meditation or conscious breathing.
5. Find any chance you can to laugh and enjoy each other.
Who says that you can't find a moment to laugh when tough stuff is going on? You might not feel like giggling right now, and you may not have the funds to spend on an impromptu trip to Hawaii, but you can intentionally look for ways to lighten up.
Make plans for how to get the most out of your newly budgeted funds; talk with your partner about creative ways to get through the shutdown together: take a walk together in the park, tell each other jokes, have a silly moment, ride the merry-go-round at your local playground, watch a funny movie.
Most important of all... know that you have each other. That knowledge is precious and strong enough to withstand even the not-so-little bumps that life (or Congress) throws your way.
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