The stress of quarantine can easily bring out your worst self — and your partner will probably feel it.
Take China, which is a few months ahead of the U.S. when it comes to pandemic effects. At least two provinces reported a surge in divorce applications during or following lockdowns.
Heightened anxiety like this can easily drive a wedge between romantic partners. Couples might be dealing with job loss, or they might be without child care — and since everyone’s staying home, it’s hard to vent concerns.
“If there were already problems in the relationship, this isn’t making it any better,” said Algernon Baker, a Philly-area marriage and family therapist. “We depend on so many relationships to make our main relationship work. Not having that interaction with other people, that’s part of the challenge.”
It’s normal for this kind of thing to exacerbate existing problems. And after three weeks in isolation, even folks in strong relationships might be starting to get sick of their partners right about now.
Scroll down for tips on how to not hate your partner, sourced from counselors all over the region.
Work out the logistics early
Your home is your office, your office is your home. Your coworker is the person you sleep with. We’ve gotta draw some boundaries here, or you’ll go justifiably insane.
It might sound hyper-formal considering the closeness you already have with your live-in partner, but you need to meet up and work out the logistics of an indefinite WFH relationship. Do each of you have designated workspaces? Can you work in the same room, or do you need to be separated? What hours are you “on” and “off”?
“The work boundary must be respected, meaning partners must wait until ‘off hours’ to bring up concerns or updates,” said Philadelphia couples therapist Natasha Taffet. “It is essential that the couple work as a team during the day so that all members are successful in the amount of work they can do throughout the day.”
Be extra grateful
It sounds corny, I get it. But you should be thanking your partner more than usual right now, according to marriage and family therapist Rebecca McDermott.
“If your partner loads the dishwasher, thank them,” McDermott said. “If you like something they did, let them know.”
Isn’t that overkill? Maybe for some couples. But in McDermott’s experience, a super frequent complaint from couples is that one partner feels underappreciated.
In normal circumstances, your partner might get some praise at work, or field a compliment from their friends. But without those relationships to bolster their sense of worth, they might have gaps that need filling. That’s where you come in.
Build in legit quality time
It doesn’t matter that you’re spending all your time together if it doesn’t feel purposeful. In fact, if you spend all your time with your partner, it might be hard for any of it to feel special.
That’s why Algernon Baker, a marriage and family therapist, recommends building a special ritual with your partner. This is a healthy exercise all the time, he said, but it’s especially useful during times of high stress.
Baker and his wife have a ritual of their own: “At the end of the day, I build a fire and sit out back with my wife,” he said. “That’s one of our rituals.”
Something that simple, Baker said, can help a couple stay connected in hard times.
“It represents this shared moment we have, when we can come together at the end of the day and reconnect emotionally,” Baker said. “That can be a healing ritual.”
But also, carve out alone time
There is truly no shame in the getting-annoyed-with-your-partner game. Under normal circumstances, you’d have a ton of time to spend away from them — at work, with friends or doing your own individual hobbies.
When you’re together all the time, they might start to push your buttons.
To make quarantine feel more like normal, continue to take that time for yourself, said couples and family therapist Jeanae Hopgood. If you don’t take care of yourself, your relationship will suffer for it.
“If you can get time to go for a walk, sit in a room by yourself, watch a show or read a book by yourself, do it,” Hopgood said. “It is important for your sanity and your relational health.”
Just ask for what you need
Passive aggression can be a thoroughly satisfying way to behave, but it doesn’t get you very far — especially in a relationship under quarantine.
If you want something, you might as well say it. If you need some extra support, ask your partner to talk. If they want to unload the dishwasher while you’re working from home at your kitchen counter, ask them if they mind waiting 20 minutes.
“Truth is, whether we ‘shelter in place’ or not, eventually, our spouse, children, pets… drive us crazy,” said marriage and family therapist Debra Sutton. “That’s OK. Pay attention to yourself and the irritation that is coming up. Ask for what you want and need.”
Feel the losses and validate them
At the end of the day, this situation is weird! You’ve lost access for the foreseeable future to the outside world — including activities you enjoy and people you love. It’s OK to feel that loss, said Deb Owens, a counselor who specializes in couples. Really feeling it will help you cope with it.
And when your partner is feeling it, try to validate what they’re going through. That means hearing them out and acknowledging that their pain makes sense.
“If one partner is anxious over this, find that balance of being able to acknowledge and validate and show compassion and understanding,” Owens said. “It actually makes people feel more hopeful.”
Go to therapy remotely!
I mean, look, you’ve got the time. There are extra hours built into the day now, whether you’d normally spend them commuting or working. You might as well use them to strengthen your relationship, or just talk to someone about your individual needs.
Plenty of therapists are offering virtual sessions via Zoom or by phone. Check out Psychology Today to search for Philly-area therapists, many of whom accept insurance.