Survival strategies for sheltering in place with your special someone
Updated: Dec 21, 2020
Let’s be honest: cohabitating with your spouse/partner/significant other/special someone (hereafter referred to as your “person”) can be difficult even in the best of times. Like, you know, when you can both leave the house whenever you want to, and possibly for extended periods of the day. Every day.
And sheltering in place with your person can be insanely challenging, even if you love each other very much, and are already well adapted to sharing a living space.
If you’re new to living with your person, on the other hand… sharing the same space all day every day for an indefinite period of time can be, um, mind-blowing. And not necessarily in the good way.
If your relationship with your person was already in a rough spot before COVID-19 hit, sheltering in place may seem like an excruciatingly bad twist of fate.
I say it doesn’t have to be that way.
And even if you and your person decide you don’t want to continue your relationship, sheltering in place doesn’t have to be a horrendous nightmare.
Use these seven strategies to survive – and maybe even enjoy - sheltering in place with your person:
Set a schedule for your day and stick to it as best you can. If your person doesn’t manage their own time, let them do their thing. Time is our most precious resource. Take charge of the way you use yours.
Establish some time every day for attending to your own needs. Get outside, if you can. Or exercise indoors. Or read, or draw, or listen to a podcast, or cultivate a spiritual practice. Or start writing your novel, or learning French. Figure out what you need the most right now and dedicate time to doing it, every day. During this time, your focus is on your relationship with yourself – NOT on your relationship with your person.
If your person is driving you crazy, let yourself be annoyed or frustrated or angry or whatever you feel. Don’t try to minimize your feelings, or shove them aside. But take responsibility for feeling how you feel, rather than taking your feelings out on your person. Go write in your journal about how ridiculous or sloppy or inconsiderate or insensitive they are – or whatever you think the problem is. Go yell into a pillow if you need to. Talk to a neutral third party who will listen to you vent (I am one source of such support!). Do whatever you can to get your feelings out without blaming your partner for how you feel. Yes, I understand that you may have some legitimate complaints about their behavior. But we’re all doing the best we can in these crazy circumstances. Their behavior is their responsibility, but your response to their behavior is yours.
Ask yourself what you can do to contribute to your relationship/household/living situation in a positive way, and then do it. No contribution is too small. Maybe you usually never do the dishes, and you know that drives your person nuts. Could you do the dishes today? Even if you don’t wanna? Can you make an effort to be more present with your person when you’re talking, rather than checking your phone for the 75th time this minute? Can you turn down the volume on the television news without being asked to when your person is taking business calls? How can you be a better citizen of your household and participant in your relationship?
Establish some time every day with your person to do nothing but enjoy each other’s company. There are many ways to do this. You could set aside an hour to trade off giving each other compliments. You could spend an hour giving each other sensual pleasure (and there are many forms of sensual pleasure, not all of them sexual – get creative!). You could take an hour to trade off asking each other questions. No matter how long you’ve been together, there’s always an opportunity to get to know each other in new ways. Or maybe there’s something you’ve always wanted to try doing together, but have never tried. Or something you used to do and enjoy, but haven’t done in forever. Even if the two of you are totally irritated with each other for the other 23 hours of the day, see if you can put all of that aside for an hour and make a concerted effort to enjoy each other. You can always go back to hating your person when the hour is up.
Know that there’s a difference between empathizing with your person’s feelings, and taking on the burden of trying to relieve them of their uncomfortable feelings. We’re in a pretty crazy historical moment right now, folks. It’s normal to experience worry, anxiety, stress, fear, frustration, and all kinds of other negative emotions. And we can all support our loved ones as they feel their feelings. But it isn’t your job to ensure your person never experiences negative emotions – or to make them feel better when they do. Moreover, it's impossible to do this. We're all responsible for our own emotional state.
If you need space, i.e., some distance from your partner, find a way to get it. Yes, you may have to get really creative. You may live in a tiny apartment that has only one real room. If that’s the case, put up a wall of sheets between the two of you! Make yourself a cushion fort where you hide out for an hour, so the two of you don’t have to look at each other. Take turns taking an hour-long walk outside, if possible. It’s okay to need a break from your person during an indefinite period of confinement. It doesn’t mean you’re selfish, it doesn’t mean you don’t love them, it doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed. (And if you have decided that your relationship is in fact doomed, this practice is even more important.)
When going stir-crazy at home with your person is your problem, it’s a problem worth taking seriously.
And… if you want a little dose of perspective, read this lovely Modern Love column on the travails of health care workers separated from their loved ones. Sometimes – not in all cases, but definitely in some – the only thing worse than being stuck at home going crazy with your person is not being able to be stuck at home going crazy with your person.
Hang in there, folks.