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Coupled Up in Quarantine

"I guess it's really good we like each other."

I scoffed good-naturedly the first time my husband, Dustin, turned and said that to me back in April 2020. At that point, we were a few weeks into a lockdown that we hoped would be over soon (spoiler, our city never fully reopened and is back under "hunker down" orders 8 months later). As the days, weeks, and months of quarantine stretched on, Dustin repeated this sentiment several times. Each time made me pause and consider the recipe for what was making our forced proximity enjoyable.

Facing the pandemic as it stretches into the long, cold winter months, I've heard more from friends, acquaintances, and strangers about the difficulties they're experiencing with their partners during lockdown. There are a few things that, just by virtue of our personalities, I think make Dustin and I a bit more predisposed for success, but there are certain things that can be done to make the process of prolonged quarantine more palpable with a partner.

  1. Work/life separation. In non-quarantine times, you likely don't see your partner all day as you work. Try to mimic that rhythm as much as you can. If at all possible, locate your work spaces in different rooms or at least different areas of your home. This allows for you to have some separation. It also means you’ll have things to talk about when the work day is over.

  2. Don't expect your partner to fill every role. This isn't fair to them or you -- instead, lean on your friends and family members to still provide the support, humor, and entertainment they always have. Do you need to alter the way this takes place? Sure. But it's important to still stay connected and find a way to get those things from others, not just expect your partner to be the cure to everything. On that same note, don’t try to be everything to your partner, encourage them to connect with their own support system.

  3. Be gracious. Anyone else feeling a little emotionally erratic throughout this pandemic? You’re not alone. It’s likely you and your partner are experiencing the highs and lows at different rates -- be gracious to one another as you navigate the situation. This isn’t carte blanche to be complete assholes to one another, but if someone is a little short one day, it’s okay to acknowledge the circumstances are weird and maybe they’re just having a bad day. Accept the apology with grace and empathy.

  4. Own your behavior. Remember how we’re all a little erratic right now? It’s also important to own and apologize when you’re finding yourself taking out pandemic stress on your partner. This doesn’t have to be a massive soul-bearing discussion. A simple “I’m sorry I was so short with you earlier, I’m just really feeling the weight of the lockdown/isolation/etc. today. I’m going to go do a yoga class by myself and try to get my shit together.”

  5. Do things on your own. Go for a run/walk/drive/etc. alone periodically. Listen to your music as loud as you want, sing along terribly, call a friend, even if it’s something you technically can do while your partner is around, it’s still nice (and NORMAL) to enjoy the privacy of doing those things alone.

  6. Remember you’re on the same team. This is always important in relationships, but it’s particularly essential to keep in mind now. You’re in this together -- neither person is TRYING to annoy the other, we don’t want to cause the people we love to feel stressed, or angry, or frustrated. Frame it as the two of you against the pandemic. You’re in this fight together.

  7. Find something you can enjoy together that brings you joy. Relationships must be cared for, even in the midst of a pandemic. While date nights might look a little different, they may take a little more creativity during the quarantine. Order takeout once a week and dress fancy. Choose a TV show you can enjoy together. Find a board or video game the two of you can play with one another. The list goes on -- but it should be something that brings enjoyment and connection.

None of us has a manual for how to navigate this situation. It’s a wild ride we’re all on together and the reality is, there are going to be challenges. As is the case at any time in a relationship, it’s less the presence of conflict and more the way that those bumps are addressed that dictates the relationship climate.

Reflecting back on Dustin’s off hand comments about liking one another -- sure, liking each other is a good first step, but as is typically the case, actively working to maintain and nurture the relationship is critical to long-term success and happiness.

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