By Cameron Brewer (He/Him/His) | Education and Outreach Coordinator
The COVID-19 pandemic has added significant amounts of stress to all of our lives over the past few months. With more and more communities making the smart decision to abide by shelter-in-place orders, many people are finding themselves quarantined in their homes. A lot of people have reported that this has increased feelings of isolation and anxiety.
For cohabitating partners, quarantine can bring a number of new challenges. While living together can present challenges under normal circumstances, with the added restrictions and stress of quarantine, minor disagreements can escalate into major relationship issues. Arguments about chores can become fractures over personal responsibility. Regular social interaction is disrupted, leaving partners without their usual outlets for attention and energy. Differing needs for personal space can seem impossible to manage. No matter what the circumstances are, everyone deserves to feel safe, secure, and heard in a relationship—especially during a time of crisis. Here are some tips to help deal with the pressures of cohabitating during quarantine.
1. Be Honest: This is good advice for any relationship, quarantine or not, but is especially important when everyone is more or less stuck in the same space with each other. Honesty will be important in setting boundaries as you navigate your new relationship with your shared space. Being up front ,without being overly critical, will go a long way towards alleviating stress and stopping potential miscommunication before it happens. Additionally, honesty about things such as potential symptoms or exposure to COVID-19 can be vital in stopping the spread of the disease.
2. Set Expectations: Navigating shared space can be challenging. It is important that everyone is on the same page about what their partner’s needs, wants, and expectations are for the duration of their shared time at home. Partners should have conversations to manage each other’s expectations about what living together during quarantine means. This can range from basic household responsibilities to how conflicts should be handled. The more you communicate on the front end, the easier things will be down the road.
3. Define Privacy: For most, alone time is important. Even in long-term, committed partnerships, there are some things we simply prefer to do on our own. However, with stay-at-home orders going into effect and with limited physical space, maintaining privacy can be exceptionally difficult. To work through this, first identify when you need privacy — is it reading quietly? Being alone to work during the day? Exercising on your own? Then think through how you can still meet those needs, and what privacy can look like under the current circumstances. Set aside an hour for house-wide quiet time. Find separate space to work, or use headphones in communal spaces. Make one room the exercise room during the morning. Sharing with one another what privacy means to you, and negotiating what amount of privacy you each need is key to ensuring each partner’s needs are met.
4. Use Active Listening: By far the most useful communication tools during this time will be listening and apologizing effectively. Active listening is an integral part of attending to a partner’s physical and emotional needs. A key component of active listening is paying attention to our body language. Simple things like maintaining eye contact, leaning in, and nodding keep us engaged as listeners, and let our partners know that we are listening. Summarizing what our partner has said at the end of a statement helps us retain information and may prompt them to clarify or share additional information. Being purposeful in receiving and understanding the information that a partner shares can go a long way towards preventing miscommunications.
5. Address Arguments and Apologize: Even with all of these tactics, miscommunications will happen, and can easily become arguments. Whether it’s a minor disagreement about household upkeep or coping with financial strain after a COVID-19-related job loss, arguments happen—but they don’t have to lead to feelings of animosity. First, try not to start confrontations with accusatory “you” centered language. Own your feelings and needs by using “I” centered language to express your concerns. Listen to your partner’s concerns or clarifications, as they will help you work through miscommunications faster. Remember that a proper and meaningful apology can be the best remedy for most situations. Finally, recognize that we’re all coping with COVID-19 in different ways, and are usually doing the best we can. Stress can cause new tensions to form or exacerbate old ones, but by both admitting fault and making an attempt to move forward with mutually beneficial solutions, you can openly deal with feelings that might otherwise boil over into resentment.
No amount of stress or tension ever excuses abusive behavior. For folks quarantining with an abusive partner, the next few months will be even more difficult. If you or anyone you know is experiencing abuse or intimate partner violence, these resources[LL1] may help.
We may be social distancing for a while. For some of us living with partners, this means having a lot of conversations about how to best navigate the days ahead together. By working to create a shared understanding of each other’s needs, partners may be able to come out of quarantine more connected than ever.
Tags: healthy relationships