Relationships in Quarantine: Solid Communication and Carving Self Space Can Keep Things Copacetic

couple in home

As the COVID-19 global pandemic sweeps the globe, stay-at-home orders are being extended from weeks to months. With all non-essential workers telecommuting or taking a break for the foreseeable future, couples are being forced to function under the same roof with little reprieve. At first, jokes circulated that with everyone hunkering down with little to do, we might see a baby boom leading to a generation of “Coronials,” whom thirteen years from now could cleverly be dubbed “Quaranteens.” But that buzz has died down, and in locations where lockdowns have been lifted, divorce rates are up.

Corona-related Points of Contention

So, what are some common points of contention between partners under quarantine? One problem is that we are all processing emotions related to the coronavirus pandemic in different ways, and if you and your partner are not on the same page, it can lead to constant disagreements. One of you might be more worried about getting sick, while the other is more worried about the economy. Or one partner might not be taking social distancing as seriously as the other thinks they should. Calm communication is the only way through these disagreements, and considering that this is a crisis, you might have to schedule a time to hash out your feelings and fears. Take turns. Don’t interrupt. Don’t raise your voice. Ask, “What worries you the most about the situation we’re in?” Listen, practice empathy, don’t be judgemental, and don’t feel pressure to fix things.

Check in with each other regularly, “How are you feeling about things today?” Some days you might be depressed about the heartbreaking stories in the news, some days you might be depressed that a favorite event has been canceled, and both are OK. Allow each other to mourn these different levels of loss, and recognize that many of us will be following the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance), over losses large and small, at our own pace.

Mood Management and Establishing Structure

Now, as if managing your world-pandemic woes weren’t enough, you also must focus on managing your moods, patience level and capacity for compassion during your day-to-day interactions. If being in close quarters with your partner all day every day is something you aren’t used to, you might start noticing annoying habits you hadn’t before. You might simply feel suffocated. You might start bickering daily over small things and reopening old wounds related to big things you haven’t completely dealt with. Passive aggression and resentment might build between you and your partner, which could lead to explosive arguments. This is where self-regulating emotions, carving space for yourself, and implementing structure can help.

When something your partner does annoys you, ask yourself: “Is it really their fault, or am I just in a bad mood?” If you catch yourself doing this, you can say, “Sorry I snapped. I’m in a bad mood, but I shouldn’t take it out on you.” You should also be careful not to inter-personalize your problems by blaming your partner when you are actually disappointed with yourself. You might be tempted to blame them for distracting you and preventing you from accomplishing a task. Or you might pressure them into being in charge of your daily motivation to jog, when really, you should rely on yourself. If they’re innocently driving you bananas, or an issue comes up that’s better discussed at a different time — journal it out; just don’t let it become a burn-book situation.

Having separate spaces is ideal for staying emotionally centered, but if you don’t have room, you can ask for space and wear earbuds as an artificial boundary. Carving out time for yourself when creating a routine is important. Some couples in quarantine have found it helpful to substitute their daily commute with a (solo) daily walk, or to use an evening walk, together, to calmly discuss any lingering resentments from the day. It’s helpful to stick to a set amount of time each day that you spend scrolling news, on social media, or watching TV. And though it might sound silly, an adult-version of a “chore chart” on a dry erase board can actually prevent partners from micromanaging each other or acting passive aggressive when something isn’t done. Lastly — and this might also sound silly, or at least cliche– but, be positive! If your partner loads the dishwasher, say thank you, (and instead of criticizing them, quietly rearrange the dishes when they leave the room.)