One way to stock your couple’s psychological first aid kit is to practice some of the strategies, like just being there, active listening, partner care, and identifying needs at low-stress, neutral, and even positive times. The benefits of practicing these skills include:
+ It is easier to learn a strategy or skill at a low-stress time.
+ If these strategies become part of the fabric of your relationship, you will be more likely to utilize them during the painful moments.
+ Noticing and celebrating each other’s triumphs is a natural buffer for dealing with crisis.

With this in mind, try out the following:
The next time your partner forgets his or her cell phone at the office, go along for the ride to pick it up. If one of you is excited to buy an item on sale at a local store, plant some bulbs in the garden, try out a new recipe, or polish the car, just go along and be there with your partner for a while.

Pick a certain night of the week and decide that on that night, at dinner, before bed, or while taking a walk, each will take a turn sharing something positive that has happened. The other partner will actively listen to the positive—listening to the words, tone, and nonverbal expressions of positive feelings. When you are the listener, put yourself in your partner’s shoes and then let him or her know what you have heard. For example, you might say, “That’s great. I can see how excited you are to have gotten such great seats at the game for you and your friends,” or “You made the deal! Oh, that’s too good. You sound so proud—you deserve it.”

Practicing partner care at positive times means observing when your partner is taking good care of him- or herself in an effort to reset the body’s rhythms after trauma, by sleeping, eating, and doing stress-reducing activities. For example, you might say, “You are looking so great from all the walking you are doing,” or “One thing about you—you really know how to calm down by going to that piano. It’s great.”

Share in fulfilling some non-crucial need your partner has, just because this is a person you love. For example, see the “chick flick” with her. Go to the car dealership with him, just to look around. Pick up a cup of the coffee he likes or the CD she was talking about.

Keep your eye out for the positives as a way to reinforce positive coping skills. So, if you notice that he really is a good cook or she is really a great driver, say something. If you know she can help the kids with their homework in a way you can’t or if you know he keeps your social life going, say something. If you had a wonderful time or a funny experience together, remind the other so you both store it as a positive memory.

Excerpt from: HEALING TOGETHER: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress (New Harbinger Publications)

Author's Bio: 

SUZANNE B. PHILLIPS, Psy.D., ABPP, is adjunct professor of clinical psychology in the clinical doctoral program of Long Island University. She is on the faculty of the postdoctoral programs of the Derner Institute of Adelphi University and the Suffolk Institute for Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis. A program co-written by Phillips’s coauthor Dianne Kane was implemented by the New York City Fire Department to help support more than 300 department employees.

DIANNE KANE, DSW, is assistant director of the counseling unit of the New York Fire Department. She was responsible for developing and implementing trauma recovery services after 9/11 to a workforce of approximately 16,000 employees of the Fire Department. She is an adjunct associate professor at the Hunter College School of Social Work of the City University of New York.