So here you are.
You and your partner are in quarantine together. This “new normal” commands new levels of communication; appreciation; and sometimes, yes, disillusionment and disagreement.
Here is a handy survival guide to help you navigate these murky waters—and reach some Venetian canal-style clarity. Before we get started, here’s what you will need.
A visible shared calendar
A sense of humor
An open mind
A room divider
No one is a mind reader. Your partner will not know what is on your mind unless you express it. This is an excellent time to keep a journal, and writing down your thoughts and feelings may also aid in the clarity and introspection of your communication.
Don’t: Harbor resentment.
“Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies.” Harsh, but accurate. Share your thoughts and emotions, even if they aren’t always positive. If you need to write things out for yourself first, do it.
We all want to feel heard. Practice nonjudgmental silence as your partner shares of themselves with you. Instead of being reactive, practice active listening (nodding, maintaining eye contact, fully focusing) and acceptance.
There is a time and a place for rebuttals, but when you’re stuck at home together, often the best response is no response. This also allows you time to process what you’ve heard and perhaps to revisit the discussion at a future moment when you are both calmer. Neither of you is going anywhere.
Do: Assume the best.
Operate with the assumption that your partner is doing their best and has good intentions. Just because we may not act or feel the same way does not make anyone wrong.
Refrain from expressions such as, “This is how you were when…” and “You always…” This is unprecedented territory for all of us, so your partner’s reaction to other trials in life is not relevant right now.
Do: Apologize and forgive.
If you behaved or spoke in a manner that you internally know was not kind, say you’re sorry. Practice loving forgiveness for your partner as well. “Perfect” is only a sticker put on your math test in fourth grade. Together, you are perfect as you are.
So things are not the way we planned or would like. Avoid making your partner the recipient of any negative feelings that you’re harboring over things you cannot control. If you find yourself doing this, apologize and take a look on Amazon for Everlast sales.
Do: Keep an individual schedule.
Your work meetings, social online hangouts, exercise classes…just because they’re happening at home does not mean that they’re any less important. Write down the dates and times of all events, and remain accountable to others and, most saliently, to yourself.
Don’t: Try to share everything.
It may be convenient some days to coordinate work or exercise schedules, but by keeping a balance with independent activities and schedules, you can make your time together all the more special and communicative.
Do: Embrace the wall calendar.
…Or white board, or other visual (non-tech, ideally) form of displaying your schedules, work or otherwise. Highlight meetings that will require your camera or mic so that your partner can provide the space/silence required.
Don’t: Assign hierarchy to tasks.
Don’t assume that a Zoom meeting takes precedence over a yoga class. In these times, how we nourish our souls is paramount to overall well-being and should not be ranked.
Do: Have date night.
…Or nights! Plan a time to join together at the end of the day for interaction (read: save the Netflix for later) to discuss your days, plan together for tomorrow, discuss goals, and so on. Walks get bonus points because you’re getting fresh air, exercise, and serotonin.
We are all isolated during this time, so retreating from your partner may have a negative impact on your mental health. Our Hierarchy of Needs peaks at “Sense of Belonging,” and you are indeed part of something greater than yourself—and quite fortunate to have them, as they are you.
Create or order a room divider, if need be, to delineate work or exercise space. This will create freedom from distractions.
This is an odd one, but bear with me. Rather than shouting a question to your partner while they’re in a mic-off Skype meeting or walking up behind them when they’re in a cam-on session, drop them a text saying, “Are you free?” At worst, a phone ding is much less invasive and allows for a yes or a no (and probably best to presume that no response is a no).
Do: Use headphones.
Aside from the obvious auditory use, wearing headphones can also serve as a “signal” to your partner that you’re occupied in that moment, in the case that you are in view of one another.
This is the time to get nostalgic; share quality time; and enjoy card games, board games, puzzles, and other non-tech-related activities. Bonus points for those decks of card from which you ask one another “deep” questions! You can even engage friends in an online game if you’re creative.
Sure, we all love our shows and movies (New Releases, anyone?), but if you find you’re spending most of your together time looking at a screen, try and balance this with interactive activities.
Laughter lowers cortisol, elevates mood, and even tones the abs—and if not now, when? Our world circumstances are serious, and some appropriate levity will help us to feel better, connect with one another, and appreciate what we do have.
Don’t: Add stress to the plate.
Stress will be natural during this time, but a good evaluation of what we can control and what we can release may be instrumental in overall well-being. Any time we can reduce our stressors, we lower cortisol, boost immune capacity, and thereby attend to our goal of remaining healthy.
Do: Have a weekend.
Just because you can’t see your friends or family doesn’t mean you can’t “see” them (unless they don’t have much tech prowess, but that’s what flip phones are for). Socialization is good for the soul, so use weekend time to make some online hangout dates with others—extroverts and introverts alike.
Don’t: Overdo expectations.
So it’s Friday evening and here’s your weekend, which looks much like your week. It’s okay to rest and recharge, it’s okay not to have any socialization, and it’s okay to sit out any online social plans that your partner makes. Make it work for you.
Of course, mental health.
Do: Mathematize experience.
Although in uncharted territory, it can be important for our mental health to create a “timeline” for this quarantine. We aren’t fortune tellers, but we can create hope and vision for a certain time that this will be behind us. Use this timeline to remain motivated and optimistic. This too shall pass.
Don’t: Project this math.
What we need to do for our experience of this reality is purely individual and based in survival. It is important not to assume that your partner is coping in the same way nor to project your own projections for this “timeline” onto them.
Do: Understand practices.
Your partner’s and your actions and precautionary behaviors may differ during this time. There is absolutely no substitute for communication here; instead of judging your partner for any choices that differ from yours, ask, “Why is this (not) important to you?” Then invite them to ask you the same question. (Our “whys” go much deeper than the circumstances at hand and can prompt an insightful discussion between you.)
In the case that your views and consequent actions do differ, remember that this is ultimately about survival and where our individual instincts guide us. Keep in mind that by acting on their best instincts, your partner is ultimately choosing life—and you are part of that life.
Finally, special considerations.
Avoid the word “choice.”
In the case that one of your jobs requires front lines interaction with patients and the other is not comfortable with this, remember that you are each entitled to your own perspectives and resulting choices. If you must divide living spaces or interaction for a time, calmly place this conversation on pause, ride out this time, and return in a time of more stability to a conversation about what this situation has elicited. Go toward rather than away from.
This guide is intended for partners who are sharing space without children, primarily because I do not have kids and would feel fraudulent offering parenting advice during this time. However, I believe that the tools offered for partners can still be applied in the case that homeschooling and child raising is concurrent.
Taking your partner for granted is a natural consequence of strong togetherness, so carry on with your routines, quirks, rituals, and rhythms with as much normalcy as possible. That being said, it is still lovely to surprise your partner with a gift now and then, whether tangible or intangible, to show appreciation and love. Pro tip: study up on The Five Love Languages in order to gift your partner with the ideal display of gratitude.
Keep calm and quarantine on.
*Your partner is anyone with whom you are voluntarily living and sharing space as equals. Partner may be be plural in the case of polyamorous relationships.