by Susan Stork, LCPC, NCC
PACT Level 2 Therapist, PACT Ambassador
Many once soon-to-be-married couples have had their wedding plans altered due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You booked your venue, hotel, caterer, and entertainment – and likely spent countless hours and copious amounts of money in the process. Now you’re faced with making a decision with only unfavorable options: do you cancel or postpone the wedding, or do you potentially risk the health of your beloved guests?
Perhaps you’re one of countless couples who have had to reschedule or cancel your dream ceremony and reception. Travel for out-of-town guests and honeymoon have turned into a distant fantasy. Even the closing of some courthouses has made it seem impossible to legally tie the knot.
It’s only natural for couples stuck in limbo to feel disappointed or cheated that the celebration of your union has been indefinitely pushed back on an uncertain timeline. If you’re aiming to build a partnership that lasts, secure functioning is key.
In his book, We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection, and Enduring Love, Dr. Stan Tatkin states, “All successful long-term relationships are secure relationships.” If you’re stuck in quarantine during a time you thought you’d be on your honeymoon, consider how you can practice secure functioning and serve as support to one another.
According to Dr. Tatkin, “Secure functioning refers to an interpersonal system based on principles of true mutuality, collaboration, justice, fairness, and sensitivity. It means that you and your partner are in a foxhole together, protecting each other from the outside world.” Nowhere in that definition does it state that things need to be perfect and idyllic for secure functioning to occur.
Think of this quarantine as a way to gain extra time as a couple before your marriage begins.
One way to encourage secure functioning and reduce your stress levels as a couple is by practicing co-regulation. Co-regulation occurs when two nervous systems attune with one another. This allows partners to experience psychological soothing and will encourage the experience of safety, love, and connection. Some ways that you and your partner can co-regulate are:
In We Do, Dr. Tatkin reminds couples, “Your personal growth depends on your relationship remaining safe and secure at all times, because if either of you feel the least bit unsafe, untrusting, or insecure, you won’t have the internal resources for personal growth. Instead, your mind and body will be preoccupied by doubt and threat.”
During this pandemic, numerous factors are out of your control far beyond your wedding plans. However, you still have influence over the strength and security of your relationship. When your relationship is invigorated, both of you as a couple and as individuals are able to move past disappointments and challenges.
Another PACT principle that aids in establishing secure functioning is turning toward rather than away from your partner during periods of distress. This establishes both trust and safety within the relationship. It results in you both being better primed to tackle external stressors, such as cancelled wedding plans, lost deposits, and a rescheduled honeymoon.
Sometimes these external stressors can result in interpersonal conflict between you and your fiancé. Arguments are inevitable in any relationship. However, stressors and conflict may amplify due to the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19. Rather than turning away from these stressors and avoiding the interpersonal conflicts they may generate, make repair and resolution a priority.
For example, you and your partner may be faced with big decisions in regard to rescheduling wedding plans. While one partner may prefer to elope rather than go through the trials of re-planning the celebration, another may be in favor of making arrangements for an even larger event than originally planned. Rather than focusing on the disagreement at hand, turn toward your partner to generate solutions in which both of your needs and desires are met. Remember, at the end of the day, the relationship is what is most important – not the wedding reception.
From a neurobiological perspective, it is imperative that disagreements and misalignments are repaired sooner than later. When you and your partner argue, it is often a shared painful experience. However, when you are able to mend and reattune to one another quickly, the experience likely will not get coded into your long-term memory. This both positively reinforces your trust in your partner and makes it easier to recover from future conflict.
Rather than seeking to win an argument over your partner, search for win-win scenarios. Dr. Tatkin reminds us, “You win by aiming for a solution that benefits both of you.”
One day, this pandemic will inevitably end. Wedding plans will resume. Until then, pick up a copy of We Do: Saying Yes to a Relationship of Depth, True Connection, and Enduring Love by Dr. Stan Tatkin. His advice can help you prime your relationship for longevity and secure functioning to further your premarital connection.