How well do you and your partner understand and accept each other's coping style?

Picture this - you and your partner have both been deeply affected by the loss of a dear friend. You've talked to friends about how you feel, reached out for support. You've tried to reach out to your partner too - not just to receive nurturance and comfort, but to offer it too. But your partner has turned away from you, and seems to be spending every waking moment keeping busy - working long hours, bringing work home, and using his down-time to zone out rather than connect with you.

You are convinced that your partner isn't coping - that if only he were to reach out and connect, then he'd be able to truly grieve and move on. He thinks that you aren't doing so well - if you were to just move on, focus on the good things then you wouldn't be so teary and upset all the time, and need so much support from other people.

After a whlle, you become progressively more disconnected, and seem to get into fights about insignificant things. Each of you are convinced that the other one has the problem - and attempting to communicate that makes matters worse.

The scenario described here captures two common ways of coping in response to stress, grief or other adverse events in life. Some of us are 'connectors' - coping best when we reach out to others, talk and maybe cry it out. Others are 'disconnectors' - coping best by shutting down emotionally for a time, distracting ourselves until things settle some more for us internally.

There's nothing wrong with either of these coping styles! Of course, both have their 'pros and cons'.

If you're a 'connector' - the benefits of this are that you're able to articulate how you feel and why you feel that way - research shows these skills are key to working through difficulties. The downside of this coping style is that you may get bogged - and find it hard to lift yourself out of an intense emotional state and keep going, to do what needs to be done. For optimal coping, you may find it useful to acquire some 'disconnect' skills - distracting yourself, keeping busy, making a choice to focus on something positive for a bit.

If you're a 'disconnector' - the benefits are that you're able to keep going, and ensure the practical aspects of life are taken care of. The downside is that you may become too removed from your emotions - and in doing so not compete the necessary processing required for healing and recovery. For optimal coping, you may find it useful to acquire some 'connect' skills - be with your feelings, talk to a trusted friend, family member or counsellor who can offer support.

Couples who manage best through times of adversity have a capacity to tolerate differences in the way they cope, are able to draw on the resources and strengths of the other's coping style, and are willing to let their partner draw attention to when the limitations of their coping style are placing too great a strain on the relationship. They are also able to identify where more support may be required in order to get through something, and to draw freely on that support - whether it's a space to connect and talk things through, or to take a break together from sitting with painful feelings.

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