You look out your front window and see your partner laughing loudly with the neighbor standing 3 feet apart, no masks in sight. Your boyfriend is excited to tell you his team won, and he watched the game at the local bar with his best buddy. Your girlfriend hugs her friends the minute she walks into their backyard for a socially distanced glass of wine. You watch your partner pull down his mask to ask the Home Deport worker a question. THIS IS NOT SOCIAL DISTANCING. The examples are never ending and extremely challenging for people trying to be safe while respecting their partner’s views. Love in the time of COVID-19 is a challenge we therapists didn’t learn about in graduate school, but we are quickly catching up.
Many couples are fighting regularly about the challenges this pandemic presents when their levels of concern differ. One client has an 85-year-old mother they visit weekly to bring food and supplies. With the health implications for an elderly person exposed to COVID-19, a visit from someone who has the virus, possibly asymptomatic, could prove deadly. This client’s partner doesn’t believe the virus is a serious threat and is afraid there is a government conspiracy at play. Their vastly different perspectives led to serious arguments, separate bedrooms and a home life filled with anger and resentment. It doesn’t matter which one is correct, they are both entitled to their beliefs, but a compromise must be struck, or their relationship will not survive peacefully.
Couples must be able to communicate, respect each other’s views, find a compromise, and trust that each are keeping their word. This requires a lot of nuanced skills and cannot be avoided for couples who are not on the same page during this pandemic.
This is the starting block. Couples must start by taking turns listening to their partner’s position. Listening to understand, not listening to respond. As in all communication, we cannot be effective unless we truly understand where the other person is coming from and what they need. This can take time, usually without interruption, to restate, ask questions, fully understand and acknowledge what each partner believes and feels.
This is the foundation of any relationship. Even if you disagree with your partner, you must respect it is their belief and is important to them. And vice versa. Without this basic level of respect, the relationship is not healthy and there are bigger problems for the couple than this pandemic.
This is a tough one. Yes, there must be an agreement you both can live with, but this is also a public health concern and matter of life and death for some with underlying health problems. Some therapists recommend the couple abide by the beliefs of the most cautious person to avoid illness and transmission to the vulnerable. This is a logical choice but leaves the power/control in the hands of one while the other doesn’t have a voice. Some suggest social distancing within the home until the virus is under control. Great idea, but we don’t see many homes with separate kitchens/wings/living rooms where airborne particles can’t reach. You and your partner will need to come up with your own unique compromise. This requires patient communication, and we have been impressed with the love and patience couples have exhibited in trying to find a compromise. If it simply doesn’t seem possible, it is time to contact a therapist. Most are able to meet online!
Once a compromise is made, each person must trust that their partner will follow through with their end of the deal. Even if there is part of the compromise you don’t agree with, if you’ve agreed to it, there is no choice. You must continue to earn your partner’s trust throughout a relationship by doing what you say and saying what you mean. If there is no trust, there is no relationship.
The Covid-19 pandemic will eventually end. Think about how you want to feel as a couple at the end of it. Practicing compromise strengthens a relationship in the long run and brings peace in the short run.