“I didn’t know this pandemic would bring out a new side to my relationship, but it absolutely has. My boyfriend and I keep getting into daily, stupid fights—what to eat for lunch, whose turn it is to do laundry, etc. We have never spent this much time together without outside influences. Is this a sign we are not meant to be, or will we rebound after this awfully long phase of togetherness?”
It’s really important to remember that nothing about this pandemic is normal. The toll on our healthcare system is not normal. The impact on the global economy is not normal. The fear of entering a grocery store is not normal. The sheer amount of time we’re spending indoors is not normal, and the stress on our relationships and mental health is not normal.
What is normal? The fact that you are having friction with your boyfriend right now. During an incredibly stressful time in the world, you only have him to lean on with any consistency. And if he’s not responding to your fears as you’d like, it can trigger a lot of sadness and misunderstood feelings. So, it’s natural that you’re feeling doubt about the relationship.
Here’s the thing: We’re not really meant to be with one person, day in and day out, seven days straight, six weeks in a row (and counting). Humans are social creatures. We need families, friends, colleagues, mentors. We need a change of scenery. We need to cool off from fights with our partners, only to return a couple hours later and realize it wasn’t that big of a deal. Right now, we can’t have that.
But, hey. Relationships take work, even if things aren’t normal right now, here’s how to work on your relationship in quarantine.
1. Try to clear the air, so you know where your partner’s head is at.
It’s completely possible that your partner has been holding in his grief, sadness and frustration, and it’s OK to assume that the stress of the pandemic is impacting him. Give him space to open up about how he feels right now. We love using the “tell me” trick to unlock the dialogue. If you can understand what your boyfriend is really feeling, you will forget about the lunches and feel more empathetic and in turn, clear some space in his mind to reciprocate the kindness.
2. Get out of your element, at least once a day.
When the vast majority of your life is now lived in your home, it’s important to create the opportunity to step away. If you’ve had too many fights over laundry and lunches, then you need to remove yourself from the stressor (home) and come back to it fresh. It’s a mindset shift. And you don’t always need to leave the house with your partner; in fact, you shouldn’t. Sometimes, it’s best to just lace up your shoes, take a long walk, call your mom or best friend, and cool off.
3. Divide labor, so you don't build resentment.
As you were flung into this new normal, you probably didn’t have the chance to sit down and pen that declaration of labor division. It’s not too late to go back and do just that. Don’t wait for your partner to make the move. Suggest it in a way that’s not critical or accusatory, “Honey, now that we’re both at home working, it would be great if you could do garbage and dishes, and I will do laundry and cooking.” Of course, be patient with the learning curve, and don’t expect everything to be done perfectly. Just be OK with the contribution. You’ll be able to relax more as a result.
4. Plan legit date nights
You can go on “dates,” even if that’s just a scenic drive or a meal you can cook together. Be together, and then dream together. While date night with my fiancé no longer involves going to a restaurant and putting lipstick on, we’ve found happy new ground. I bought twinkle lights to line our patio, and we’ve been sitting outside with a glass of wine and candles, just talking about future things we want to do—whether that’s a move homes or travel.
As stressful as these times are, you can use it to try to improve your day-to-day lives. Be patient with each other’s stress. Be kind when they let you down and communicate as clearly as you can about your needs.
Jenna Birch is a journalist and author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, a relationship-building guide for modern women, as well as a dating and relationship coach (currently accepting new clients). To ask her a question, which she may answer in a forthcoming PureWow column, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.