Relationship Management During A Crisis
© Dr. Dennis Neder
** Like you, I was personally devastated by the attack on America last week. My deepest condolences go out to those that have lost loved ones, and my highest praise to those that have helped during this difficult time. My own company, Remington Publications, has already donated 10% of this year's retail sales to the Red Cross and will continue to do this until the need no longer exists.
We wish for the safety and happiness of you and your loved ones.
Managing relationships when crisis hits is a difficult task. You often get into things you wouldn't otherwise or even use your relationship as a way to console your feelings of helplessness, anger and fear.
Here in California, I've seen this many times happen during our earthquakes, fires and riots. Even during the Gulf War, people naturally wanted to help ease their suffering and often turn to their relationships.
It's a good idea to draw off the strength of those you love, and to share yours with them, but be careful not to use the stress brought on by crisis against your partner, or as an excuse to over-commit. Let's look at both of these scenarios:
Turning Your Anger, Fear or Anxiety Inward to the Relationship
Some people don't handle crisis very well. This isn't a bad thing -- who in this country really gets much chance to learn how? Frankly, up until now, we've had it pretty good. Because of this, when a crisis DOES hit, many are just not prepared.
Everyone hopes that they will act like a hero during a crisis. Obviously, there are a relative few that actually can. Of course, everyone wants to be that person, but few get the chance to prepare themselves, and even fewer have it in them naturally. This lack of preparation leads to overreaction, frustration, fear and anxiety. Many people start to lash-out at those around them, and often strike the person in closest reach -- their lover, wife, husband, or partner.
Dealing with this situation is a double-edged sword -- both from the standpoint of the person inflicting the damage, and from the person receiving it. How do you handle all the conflicting emotions? Is there a way to vent them without harming someone you love?
Yes -- the first key however is to realize that you're having difficulty dealing with the crisis. During a crisis, you want to take extra care to deal with all the conflicting emotions you may feel. You may need to talk to someone.
You should also recognize that your partner might be having his or her own issues. It's easy (and natural) to turn your focus inward, but try not to forget that he or she may be going through many of the same things you are.
Using a Crisis as an Excuse to Over-Commit
We've seen this every time there is a major event -- be it a disaster like an earthquake, or a war; people decide to step-up their plans or jump into commitments they wouldn't otherwise make.
During both World Wars, the war in Vietnam, and even as recent as the Gulf War, many people chose to get engaged, married, pregnant, etc., before leaving to separating. While this may seem romantic, it is rarely a good idea. Why should a crisis change the path of your relationship?
Of course, knowing that there is someone waiting back home may make the distance seem less important, but consider what may happen when you return. Perhaps this person has changed their minds. Maybe they only agreed to this to appease the person leaving, etc. There are hundreds of reasons why someone may decide to agree to change their relationship.
If you're the one staying home, you too may be tempted to change your relationship. Consider that, while your partner is away, many things may change -- for both of you. The promises you make today may not be practical in a few weeks, months or even years.
What Should You Do Right Now?
If you haven't already, try to define your relationship to yourself. Be brutally honest -- not wistfully unaware! If you're in the relationship for convenience or because you just don't have the heart to break it off, realize that. On the other hand, if you're building your relationship to a goal, accept that and define the goal even more clearly. Also try to view your relationship (as clearly as possible) from your partner's eyes, but don't feel compelled to share this with your partner however. You're building a personal definition only.
Then, do nothing.
What? I hear you asking, "If I'm going through the effort to really define my relationship, why shouldn't I do something about it?" Because, you need to have a stable platform to work from. You need to understand that your definition of the relationship may be colored by your emotions of the crisis. However, if you don't give (or haven't up until now given), your relationship some meaning or purpose for existing, you can't easily decide the best way to act within it.
Unfortunately, too many people live lives as "wandering generalities". That is, they do all the things most of us do, but they tend to wander; to and from their jobs, with their friends; and in their relationships. Thus, without some definition, any action is the right one -- even inflicting unintentional harm or over-committing to future plans.
Try to keep your relationship on a consistent path. Do the same things you did before the crisis. Go to movies or rent them if that's what you're used to doing. Spend time together but don't think you have to force yourselves together more often or for longer periods than before. There has never been a more important time to "live for today", because you don't know what tomorrow will bring.
What Should You Do In The Long-Term?
It's ok to have plans -- even to make them during a crisis. However, be careful not to act on them until you're in a more rational time and place. By taking the previous step and defining your relationship (for yourself), you at least have a yardstick to measure it by.
What if you already have future plans for your relationship? Don't change them -- in fact, don't change anything about your life. Don't take money out of the bank or stock market, don't cancel plans with friends or family, and don't make major changes to your relationship plans.
Everyone in the world is affected by this recent cowardly act. Some are affected in deep, profound ways. Remember, you don't have to go through this alone. In fact, you owe it to your loved ones and yourself to insure you have the strength to move ahead with your life.
As President Bush has said, this is going to be a "dirty war". We are going to grow up as a nation and need to grow up as individuals. This involves learning new, more effective coping skills. Here are some resources you might want to use in helping to cope with this tragedy:
Crisis services, coping information, forums, and hotlines
Author of Being a Man in a Woman's World, Dr. Dennis Neder is dedicated to advancing the arts and sciences of relationships. His mantra: start having the relationships you deserve! New articles are posted every Wednesday!
Do you have a love, dating, relationship, sex or man/woman question? Dr. Dennis Neder answers all email, so send him an email for answers. For more information about his books, "Being a Man in a Woman's World" (volumes I & II), and other products, please visit BeingAMan.com.