Being quarantined with loved ones can challenge the best of relationships
By Barbara Pierce
“Your breathing is bothering me! You’re breathing way too loud!” someone added.
This isn’t far from how many of us feel. We’re going through the ultimate stress test for couples.
“It feels like a pressure cooker in this house!” said Bev Buto of Houston online. “Definitely way too much togetherness! Not going out to escape is taking its toll.”
“We’re sick of looking at each other!” added Katy Lyons of Philadelphia. “We’re getting to know one another way too well. I love this man and I know we’ll weather this, but it will change us.”
If you live with another person, this quarantine is about finding a way to be around that person every minute of every day in a confined space for an undisclosed amount of time.
It’s tough because we don’t like to be thrown out of our routines.
And it is tough because we’re scared. Life has changed — dramatically, fearfully and stressfully. Stress spills over into our relationships and makes us lash out at the person(s) we live with. It makes us irritable and easily annoyed by things that wouldn’t have bothered us before.
Don’t let this be the tipping point to decide to end your relationship.
Here are some things I’ve learned, living with one partner or another for most of my life. With my ex-husband, I lived on a 40-foot sailboat in Mexico. That was hard.
But this is harder. In the second month of being stuck at home with only my partner George for company, he annoys me more each day.
Hopefully, our quarantine will be over by the time you read this. Even if we’re no longer trapped with each other, we still get on each other’s last nerve. May you find relevant things in this article to help you get through it.
It’s normal to be irritable when we’re stressed out and scared. We don’t have the usual outlets that keep us sane — chats with a friend, time away from each other, whatever our usual routine is.
Also, we expect too much from each other. We shouldn’t try to be each other’s everything.
I like how Elizabeth Gilbert puts it after she lived in and studied Asian cultures for her book, “Committed: A skeptic makes peace with marriage.”
“In Asian cultures, you don’t expect your partner to be your best friend, your most intimate confidant, your emotional adviser, your intellectual equal, your comfort; Asian women get that from each other,” Gilbert writes.
Keep plugged in
Keep up your connections with the outside world. Keep in touch with friends and family through social medial, the phone, or whatever works for you.
“Social media is marvelous. It’s like prisoners finding a language of tapping to say, ‘I’m here. Are you OK?’ This is our tapping,” says conflict-resolution consultant Elaine Yarborough online. “As cellmates go, your partner is probably the best-case scenario.”
Time and space apart from each other are essential; build that into each day. If you both work at home, work in different rooms. Though we’re both retired, George and I get along well because each morning he goes out to his workshop and continues to restore a ‘68 Ford Galaxy while I write in the house.
On my boat, the cozy space where I could go to be alone to read was essential.
Lack of alone time can grate on everyone. Spend some time together, some time apart, depending on your individual needs.
Another thing: Try to let the irritating behavior wash over you and ignore it. Look at the big picture — it’s probably not a deal breaker. George has a habit of repeating certain idiotic phrases. He’s been saying them for all the years we’ve been together. And I’ve been able to ignore him. But now I say to myself: “If he says that one more time, I’ll scream!”
But he does say it again and I choose not to scream. I just let my irritation flow out of me. I know he’s not doing it to it irritate me; it’s part of who he is and most of him is OK.
And that’s another thing — don’t take your partner’s irritating behavior personally.
Accept the other’s shortcomings and weird behaviors. That doesn’t mean being blind to it; it just means stop fighting it. When I lived on a boat, I couldn’t tie a bowline knot, which is considered the boater’s No. 1 essential knot. This bothered my husband a lot. But he accepted that and focused on the things I could do well.
Getting angry with the other person and explaining what’s bothering you doesn’t really help. The other person probably won’t change — not for long anyways — and you’ll just make yourself even angrier by venting; angry feelings will diminish on their own.
Think about this: It could be worse — you could be alone. As tough as it is to live with another person during these times, it’s got to be tougher to live alone. I feel for those getting through this without anyone.
• Barbara Pierce is a retired licensed clinical social worker with many years of experience helping people. If you would like to purchase a copy of her book, “When You Come to the Edge: Aging” or if you have questions for her, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.