Staying connected in times of crisis.
All people’s emotions are intensified when they face traumatic challenges. When intimate partners face a crisis, their heightened thoughts and feelings can threaten their relationship. When they most need comfort and stability from one another, their own distress may take precedence over caring for each other.
Each person also has his or own way of dealing with the emotions that accompany crises, and many times one partner’s style does not match the other’s. One partner, for example, may clam up in order to martial personal resources, while the other may need physical touch. Or, one may just need relief from obligations while the other wants to work together to share the load. Some people react with anger, others with silence, and some pull in, dealing silently with their internal anxiety.
But, of all the potential emotional responses to crises, fear is the most likely to cause the most harm. Fear of what needs to be faced, fear of the unknown, fear of abandonment, fear of exile, fear of loss, and fear of isolation.
Love is the best and most reliable challenger of fear. In whatever way it can be expressed, it can penetrate even the deepest anxieties. But some expressions of love, no matter how well intended, can be misunderstood or rejected if a frightened partner cannot accept the way it is offered. Because of that disconnect, many people stop trying. The disheartening result is that the partners give up on one another just when they needed most to open up to one another.
When a couple is facing intense fear, its partners most need to trust the other’s offerings of comfort and care. Sharing their love during those times can truly conquer those overwhelming emotions, deepening their faith in each other.
Perhaps if a couple understands what love-within-crisis appears like in each other, they could not be both more accepting of receiving it and also improve the way they deliver it to the other partner.
Many years ago, I became very familiar with the Greek culture’s description of the seven different ways that love can be expressed, and have found them to be the most helpful for couples during times of acute stress. So much so, that I have made them part of every counseling process where fear is the driver.
Practicing the Seven Greek Types of Love During a Crisis
Eros: Sexual Passion
One of the first types of love that often diminishes during times of stress is the ability to become sexually aroused. Being a 24/7 sentry is typically incompatible with the most important necessity for good sex; not being preoccupied with something else.
There are some people who can sexually focus when they are upset by using the pursuit of orgasm to detract from the situation at hand. More men than women seem able to do this, so it is not always mutually rewarding.
If your sexual relationship has always been a healing experience for both of you and you are compatible that way, you can choose to use that physical connection to get closer, even in the midst of distress.
Couples who are good friends, devoted to each other’s goals and happiness, can more easily keep those feelings intact when they are facing tough times. They understand sacrifice and loyalty and haven’t had to keep score to make certain neither feels taken advantage of in the long run.
When hard times hit, individuals or couples who practice this love style work hard to make sure each is okay.
If you love easily this way, add extra energy to that behavior when your partner is afraid. Just be present in any way that makes him or her feel less anxious. The deepening of that behavior may not be noticed during that hard time, but it will leave traces of comfort that will sustain long afterwards.
Storge: Parental Love
Though normally meaning a parent’s love for a child, this love style is also crucial between intimate partners to soothe fear. Fear can make people regress to earlier ages making them more needful of “parental” love. That is especially true if the current situation triggers earlier trauma.
During times of hardship, both partners often are experienced as symbolic parents to the other partner. The experiences that emerge out of those criss-cross parent-child interactions can heal or deepen childhood wounds.
Caveat: If you are the kind of person who finds it natural to sacrifice to a child’s needs, you can utilize this love style to help allay your partner’s fears. But, if parenting is hard for you, be careful not to rewind your partner’s inner child if he or she emerges.
This love style may be the hardest to maintain when people are frightened, yet it can be the most healing when it does work.
Ludas is laughter, silliness, flirtation, dancing, light-heartedness, diversion into simple pleasures that bring momentary relief from sadness or anxiety. New lovers, children at play, friends sharing mutual moments of laughter or enjoyment, all are ways this love style expresses itself.
Many years ago, there was a television show called “Candid Camera.” One of the most notable health pioneers of that day, Norman Cousins, was able to maintain calmness and faith while fighting a life-threatening illness just by watching those videos every day.
Diversions like that can bring relief and dispel tension, giving people access to parts of themselves that are too often lost when crises hit hard.
Caveat: Trying to make your partner laugh when he or she is unable can be experienced as mocking or minimizing. Be careful. You can still use this form of love to keep yourself more light-hearted even when under pressure.
Agape is selfless giving. Not martyrdom. All people are capable of it, but most for only limited periods. Mothers and fathers of small children know well this kind of love. It is the art of chivalry, the kind of giving that is complete within itself without need for remuneration or score-keeping.
Agape is selfless giving, never to be confused with other reasons. Giving for a reward, giving to avoid loss, giving to look good in the eyes of others, or giving out of obedience are not what Agape is about. When this type of love is given, the reward is in the act, itself and needs no other payment.
If your love style falls into this category, you couldn’t pick a better time than during a crisis to express it to your partner. You will not only help him or her to conquer fear, but you will deepen your capacity to use it again in the future.
Pragma: Mature Love
I have been fortunate enough to witness this kind of love in couples who have been together for a long time and love each other more deeply every day.
Pragma is a mature, honest, authentic, give-and-take love in a relationship where kindness and fairness are part of its very fabric.
If you have been fortunate enough as a couple to have created this kind of love between you, strengthen it together during times of stress. Keep one another calm, comforted, and hopeful, even if the outcome feels uncertain.
I will always remember a gentle man holding his wife’s hand as she was fighting for her life during a terrible illness. His words will always remain in my heart: “We’ll be OK whatever happens. We always were, and we always will be together, as we are now.”
Philoutia: Preservation of Self
I’ve saved this love style for the last because it is the most susceptible to abuse during times when it could be used to heal.
Crises often bring out the best and the worst in people. Self-serving, self-protective, self-survival, and self-promotion are all too often seen when one partner is driven to save him or herself over the other.
Yet there is a positive side to loving in this way. To calm and heal another, one must be as emotionally and physically healthy as possible, even if doing that may temporarily keep you from caring for your partner.
The balance between self-love and love for another is often difficult even during good times. Many people are deeply conflicted as to when one is more appropriate than another and those concerns are increased when panic emerges.
A crisis is a good time for you to evaluate yourself as to how you balance between self-care and caring for your partner. If you tend to be selfish when you are frightened, it would be a good time for you to consciously compensate. If you are more likely, during times of crisis, to neglect your own needs, take better care of yourself.
* * * * * *
You may have your own unique love styles that have been successful in the past to help your partner conquer fear. Whatever they may be, the determination and intent to deepen them during crises will strengthen your love every time you go through a trying time. Those who practice those behaviors find their love for, and faith in, each other deeper after the crisis is over.