When most people first start dating all they can talk about is how much they wish they could spend more time together. All their time together. Day and night. Just to stare into each other's eyes and finish each other's sentences.
For some of you, that has now become a reality. At least the 'spend all your time together'.
Unfortunately, with the stress and uncertainty of what is happening outside your door, those stares can sometimes become glares. And sentences are cut off with angry words instead of lovingly finished.
In a weird trait of human nature, one which we should be able to control better, we tend to take out our anxiety and fear on those closest to us. I see the 'logic' in that. We feel safe to be ourselves, and right now 'ourselves' are a mess.
But not only is that unfair to your partner, but it is also extremely damaging to the relationship, which hopefully you have every intention of continuing when life gets back on track. So to make sure your relationship is not another victim of this hideous virus hovering over all of us, here are things to consider.
Don't Assume You Will Always Agree
That might sound silly. Of course, you already understand you guys won't agree on everything. That's why you flip a coin on pizza vs hot wings night.
But when it comes to this crisis and all the rules, speculations and responses, you probably expect your partner to agree with you. Because you know you are right. Right?
So much about what is going on in the world today is confusing and unclear. And depending on where you get your information from, it ranges from cataclysmic to conspiracy theories. You must allow your partner to have a different view than yours.
Insisting that they align with your beliefs is opening the gate to ongoing conflict. Now I trust that no one really believes in conspiracy theories or a cataclysmic ending, and I hope everyone is getting their information from consistently reliable sources. But even then, there may be times when you guys disagree on what to do, how to do it and when to do it.
You absolutely should do what it takes to stay safe, but give each other the space to manage their own expectations and fears. You can be supportive and comforting without totally understanding their immediate struggle and perception. You guys need each other, so don't attack each other now.
Accept Their Coping Skills
You probably are already aware of your partner's coping skills. So you shouldn't expect them to change now.
During stressful times, some people want to talk about it. They need to verbalize their fears and discuss options and solutions. Others feel the need to retreat, reflect and develop a wait and see approach.
Neither one is inherently wrong. And if you and your partner share opposite coping skills, then there needs to be a fair amount of compromise going on. If your partner wants to talk, let them talk. Listen with empathy and support.
On the flip side, if your partner doesn't want to talk, respect that. Don't try to force them to open up or express their thoughts. Give them space and time to internally process what is going out in their external world.
(On a side note - I am also very aware that this crisis will have a damaging effect on the mental health of many individuals. I am not suggesting that you ignore critical signs of withdrawal or depression. I am merely saying everyone doesn't feel the need to constantly scroll through social media and the news and talk about the impact of the virus all the time.)
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with feelings and hopelessness and helplessness, please reach out.
Suicide Prevention Hotline
NAMI - National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine
Have a Routine
Whether you guys are working from home or not, having a routine will greatly increase your chances of weathering this storm with your relationship intact.
Routines can be as different as the people that need them. Tailor them to fit your lifestyle and any work requirements. The important thing is to be consistent. That will help bring comfort and stability.
Have separate work/living space. If you are having to work from home, this can be challenging if you live in a small place, but try to set up a separate work area. When you 'enter' that space, you are at work. And your focus remains there for your job. When you are finished working, you should 'come home' and relax.
Have fixed work times. Just because your work computer is at home, doesn't mean you must always work. You need a beginning and end of the workday set and stick to it.
What if you aren't working. If you are unable to work from home and you guys are just hanging out, you still need a routine. As tempting as it is, don't sit around in your pajamas all day. It's ok to do that some, but not all the time. Work on home projects. Start a hobby together, or even separately.
(If you have suddenly become home-schoolers, that's an entirely different post, and one I know I'm not smart enough to tackle.)
Review the Terms of How to Fight Fair
Despite your best intentions, disagreements will still arise. And that's ok. Just remember to keep your temper in check and fight fair.
Admit when you are overwhelmed and need a minute.
Tackle the issue and not each other.
Use "I" statements and don't accuse.
Avoid "always" and "never" statements.
Choose your battles wisely. Everything isn't worth the added tension.
Be honest about what you need and what you can compromise on.
Practice actively listening. Repeat back what you hear your partner needs/wants.
Don't let things get out of hand, but if they do, apologize and reset.
Hold off on any big decisions and discussions until things get back on track.
Remember, This is Temporary
While we really have no idea how long all this craziness and fear will last, it too shall pass. There may be things about our world that are different, but one day we will most likely resume our pre-COVID lives.
Your relationships are intended to be permanent. Please don't sacrifice the enduring for the temporary.
Your partner is your shelter, support, and safe place to fall. Treat them with respect and gratitude. Hopefully, they will do the same.
That's really all that is required to make it through this.
That, and to....
Hope With Abandon