I wouldn’t exactly consider myself accredited to talk about relationships or give relationship advice. In fact, I would gander that giving love advice broaches dangerous territory, and in an effort to not sound insensitive of other people’s situations, I acknowledge that in some households, there are bigger things to worry about regarding the stay-at-home mandate’s effects on significant others. I assure you, this post is not meant to belittle that fact. Rather, I only mean to share with the world what I am personally experiencing firsthand. What we are personally experiencing firsthand.
Which is, a state of S/Os in S.O.S.
In light of that, here goes.
How many times since the start of this COVID lockdown have I heard the words, “So-and-so is driving me insane.”? You may have even said it yourself. I know I have.
Since the advent of spending much of our time stuck in hobbit holes with our closest and dearest, the act of tending to our relationships has moved to the forefront of our head space (and house space). Unexpectedly, people have found themselves spending a LOT of time with someone they once voluntarily chose to be with, involuntarily. For some, I would hazard a guess that there has come to surface an awareness of disconnect.
With regards to relating with your better half, have you found yourself on edge? Do you find yourself bickering, nagging, or rolling your eyes? Are you praying to return to work just so you can step outside? Are you wondering, “Who this stranger is before me and why they are suddenly at my gym, my work place, AND my house?!”
To be fair, you are also in theirs.
Let’s face it. We aren’t used to being in our relationship twenty-four-seven. Most of us haven’t had the time to get to know our significant others outside of the home. Perhaps some of their at-work habits are foreign and new to us. As awful as it sounds, we also don’t know how to balance the role of being a significant other concurrently with the other roles we play. We are now expected to be the supportive figure at the same time as being the parent, home-school teacher, nurse, and money maker. Hardly a sustainable lifestyle. We are used to having things to do, places to go, ‘I’ll see you when I get back’. I know it isn’t fair, but it isn’t anybody’s fault either. It just is … erm, was.
I’ll be the first to say that this shift has been very hard for me. I’m an introvert, I like my privacy, I’m used to being busy, and I prefer an itinerary. Also read as – I’m withdrawn, controlling, anxious, and rather inflexible. So I’m sure it has been hard for the other party, as well.
Despite the difficulty, there are a few things you can do to combat your frustrations with a significant other. This whole new way of living takes some adjustment, surely. A change of pace, definitely. A new perspective? That’s on you.
When I am struggling, I try to remember this:
We are the gatekeepers of our homes, the guardians of our children, the warriors of our own existence and, also, the builders of our love.
As with any relationship, it takes work, probably the last thing you want to hear. Below, I wrote a few suggestions that will allow both you and your loved one a chance to successfully survive this period of stay-at-home, hopefully even thrive. I’ve thought long and hard about these, because we’ve had to implement a few in our house, too. In fact, we sat down and made this list together. Hardly romantic, but absolutely necessary. If you’d prefer, instead of reading mine you can make a list that works for you.
So far, here’s what we’ve got.
- Carve out alone time. We live in a busy, fast-paced world – or at least, we did. We aren’t well practiced in spending every waking moment with our significant others, especially not in isolation. So I can understand why for some, myself included, this sudden requirement to stay within the confines of a home with certain persons can feel unnerving. The air starts to feel edgy, people’s personalities get testy. It’s okay to feel encroached upon at this time. Being isolated in a space with the same person can feel maddening, and that doesn’t make you a bad person. If you think about pre-COVID (because this pandemic has now become a marker of a before and an after), we had a flurry of activities to tend to – work, school, kids, parents, friends, life in general … spaces we had to ourselves without a significant other. Perhaps, the way to transition is to carve out some “alone time”; time where you aren’t nagging each other about chores-to-be-done, asking insidious questions about lifestyle choices, judging each other silently or aloud… you get the gist. Getting used to being around each other 24/7 takes patience. We’ve had many years to train how to live life being apart. We can’t fully expect ourselves to immediately know how to live constantly together. By carving out alone time, you can slowly transition into a life of being in the same space, all the time (still sounds scary, I know). You can start to learn the tiny nuances that make a person tick, or dance. Just make sure to take it slow, lest you overwhelm your significant other with your own quirky “charms”.
- Schedule dates with other people. By the same token, we are social creatures. We need social stimuli from multiple different people. Therefore, it is important to expose ourselves to people other than our significant other, digitally speaking of course. Schedule Skype dates with friends you would normally have Happy Hour with, make Zoom meetings to keep up with book clubs, or pick up the phone and chat with your mum about whatever is going on in her life. You can choose to include your significant other in these activities or not, but I guarantee you that the time spent with other people can really widen your appreciation for those who are already close at hand.
- Find something new to learn together. Do you recall the days when your relationship first blossomed? Earlier years when you were both navigating the world together, learning things that you never knew before? How to balance a checking account. How to apply for a mortgage. How to read a cat, survive college, or grieve for a loved one. Along the way, you were learning things about each other, too. The way one laughs or what makes them chortle. The way a person responds to a challenge. The way we show love. Can we go back to that again? Sure, we can’t pretend to be strangers or turn back time. But maybe we can find something new to learn or do. We are creatures of novelty. Maybe the initial embers that burned in the hayday of a relationship have been blown out, but it doesn’t take much to stoke driftwood back to life. A little prodding, a gasp of oxygen, a teensy spark. So it goes with love.
- Pivot. Every relationship has a different dynamic and we have to respect that. What if you took the previous advice and found yourselves at the last straw, arguing over the best way to learn something new? Perhaps you have different learning strengths, pace, or interests? Or did you read my previous advice and already know from the get-go this would never work. In each case, pivot. Pivoting is the only way you can prevent problems from turning into disasters. It is a most necessary ingredient of love, the sphere wherein to practice compromise. It is the best thing in our arsenal, and also the most freeing.
- Hash it out. I am not against fighting. In fact, I think tending to a relationship sometimes requires a fight. Because when you’ve tried and pivoted and still feel perturbed, then there is something amiss. Remember when we were children and we got in some really good scuffles between brothers and sis? Shoves in the sand, nails and skin, bite marks and hiss? I do. And it felt GOOD. And we were FINE. We didn’t love each other any less. We were just upset. I’m not saying physical punishment is by any means the way to go (we’re adults now, remember?), but neither is bottled anger. Healthy relationships should have honest conversations, blatant words strung into hard-to-hear sentences, even tears. I’ve heard of couples who never fight, but I also have seen couples who never talk. You can’t fight if you don’t speak up, just as you can’t wholly exist in a relationship if you don’t have a say. Before you pick a fight with your significant other under my advice, do heed the following. Firstly, pick your battles. I wrote this post with intention, and compromise came first (see pivoting above). Second, be direct. None of this behind-the-back spitting and double meaning words. Say what you mean in the most direct way possible. And thirdly, help them fix it. Come up with a suggested solution or a plan. Do your part in identifying what you need. There are no mind readers here, as much as we want there to be.
- Get a counselor. Sometimes, what we really need in a scuffle is for mom and dad to step in. Well in this case, preferably not mom and dad. But a third party person who can be trusted, who has an even-footing, and who is more level-headed than two very angry lovers. Some feel a dark tinge hanging about the edges of the word ‘counselor’, although I know of a few good professionals, but even a non-licensed friend would do. At least find somebody who can dilute and fizzle out whatever tension there is. A friend, a sibling, a mate, a co-worker … certainly not the parents. A coach or a referee, doesn’t matter to me.
Lastly, it’s a choice. In the end, I’m not saying stay. It’s a choice, after all. Some people will choose them-self, some will choose each other. There isn’t a right, or wrong. But a word of caution for those who’ve reached the end of the road. This situation IS temporary. If it worked out for you during the normal routine, then it won’t be long until we are back at it again. The before and after are very different environments, and not every relationship flourishes in any habitat. Just because isolation isn’t a good environment for you two to be in, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be together at all.
Also, things take time. Getting used to a new situation is always stressful, but we are highly evolved to adapt, and adapt well. In fact, we adjust better working as part of a team. If you’ve made a pact, I have no doubts you’ll survive this. I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. You can cry today but tomorrow it’s my turn. Watch the kids in the morning and I’ll watch them at night. Hakuna mata, yata yata.
Good luck, stay strong, believe.