Real Talk With Your Partner: How to Set Yourselves up for Success This Semester

Real talk: COVID was rough. We had to learn how and consistently adapt to being partners, parents, and teachers at the same time, in real time. We had to be ok with just being ok — and acknowledge that “success” might need to be redefined as “getting by.” To be honest, COVID is still rough, and a lot of that is because the end isn’t in sight. Not knowing how much longer we need to be in survival mode can take a huge emotional and physical toll on us, and stress can manifest in mysterious ways.

While it may feel impossible to plan for the future, we can still plan for the near-present and give ourselves some semblance of control that we’ve been lacking for the past six months. While you and your partner may have fallen into a routine that worked for the time being in the spring, this fall semester is a great opportunity to step back, review the situation, and work out the best way forward for you and your family.

Living in this pandemic has taken an emotional toll on all of us, whether we’ve had the space to acknowledge those emotions or not. As part of talking to your partner about the upcoming school semester, set aside some time to purely talk about how you both are feeling, without worrying about logistics. This is a great time to share if you’ve felt overwhelmed, like you haven’t been yourself, or if you’re feeling alright (!) and ready to provide emotional support. Using language like, “I am anxious about how to keep our family safe,” or “I am stressed about my performance at work,” will help give your partner context into why you may react to certain situations or decisions that you make moving forward.

This is also a great time to use “I feel,” statements. As listeners, it’s important to acknowledge how our partner is feeling. Saying, “Oh I didn’t mean that,” or “it wasn’t on purpose,” can invalidate your partner’s feelings. Instead, try saying, “I’m really sorry you have been feeling this way. How can I support you and help so that you don’t keep feeling like that?”

Recognize how you communicate, how your partner communicates, and ask for what you need. Letting your partner know up front, “I’d like to share how I’ve been feeling and want to check in with you,” and saying explicitly what you need from them — be it to just to listen, to share, to comfort, or to be solution oriented — are great ways to set expectations all around. It’s important to recognize what you need from each other and each other’s tendencies. If you are a better communicator once you have a good cry or a good scream, then do that first. If your partner is great at responding in the moment, have that cry together. The idea is to create a platform of safety, understanding, sincerity and openness. It’s nice to know that both of you have a sacred, judgement-free place to cry, scream, and let it all out.

Are you immediate feedback people, or do you prefer taking some time to reflect? For the former, do a quick scan: have you taken a longer view as a family for the past few months? Is everyone on the same page? If yes, excellent communication all around! And for the latter, this is a great time to do a debrief, learn, and grow as a team.

Give yourselves a couple of days after your cry-sesh, and then sit down and go over how your family managed the lockdown. Celebrate what you did well! It’s important to acknowledge the successes you’ve had, as minor as they may be. It can also be helpful to identify these bright spots and build a plan around them moving forward, rather than try to recreate the wheel.

When you talk about what could have gone better, show yourselves some forgiveness and remember that we were and are all operating in a situation that we’ve never had to navigate before. Try approaching this from the outside looking in; think of your family as a team that simply needs to iron out its strategy and come up with an improvement plan. Then, make a plan for regular check-ins to see how you’re doing (and feeling!) We’d even recommend scheduling weekly or bi-weekly times on your calendars, so you have a structure to keep up the strong communication and take that outside, analytical view.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Are you both working remotely again? Can one of you return to the office? Do you both have to work outside of the home?

As part of your post-mortem, talk about whose work can be flexible in terms of hours, what your solution for childcare is if needed (check out our recs here), and see if the way that you handled things in the spring truly was the best option for both of you.

We wrote on how to set goals for your family, but take time to sit down and share your own goals and priorities as partners. Maybe one of you really wants to gun for a promotion this quarter. Maybe you want to make sure you carve out time for a workout 4 days a week. Listening to why this is important for each of you will help you commit to making sure you support each other in these goals. It will also help you understand why one of you may react the way you do when certain things don’t go the way you need them to that week.

Dr. Stephanie Lee, a child psychologist at the Child Mind Institute , suggests that “parents agree to talk about a specific topic for a limited amount of time.” When your child is napping, have a 15 minute conversation about who is handling dinners for the week. This way, you can keep your planning conversations focused and efficient.

Dr. Lee also says to “set clear boundaries around what is, and isn’t, out of bounds when you talk about parenting.” It can be easy for relationship issues to blur into parenting issues, so be clear about what exactly you’re discussing when you have conversations.

Finally, parenting is a work in progress — what you decide to do for the school semester is likely to change, especially with the number of school closings that have already occurred! Remind yourselves that you’re doing the best you can with the situation we’re facing, and keep up those check-ins so that you can adapt as necessary.

If you feel like you and your partner could use some extra support through these discussions, you can also consider working with a therapist. We love Actually as a great virtual and affordable option, and there are many others.

Originally published at on August 16, 2020.

We’re not here for small talk. We’re here to get into the nitty-gritty details and tackle the fears every parent-to-be faces.

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