Is This Normal? My Partner and I Disagree About Covid Boundaries
"He's not blatantly breaking any of the rules we established, but I know he thinks I'm being overly cautious."
You’ve got embarrassing, tricky, and otherwise unusual life questions. We’ve got answers. Welcome to Is This Normal?, a no-nonsense, no-judgment advice column from HelloGiggles, in which we tap experts to find out exactly how typical (or not) your situation is.
Dear Is This Normal?
I was wondering if you could talk about couples who have different opinions about coronavirus and the coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions. My partner takes the virus far less seriously than I do. He wears a mask but he is much more comfortable seeing friends in public and wants to expand our pod so that he can catch up with people he hasn’t seen in a year. He also often goes into grocery stores just to pick up one or two things (I prefer to make one big trip) and has been wanting to go to a restaurant outside, which I still feel weird about.
Neither one of us has been vaccinated so this still makes me feel really uncomfortable but I can tell he’s going stir-crazy and starting to get really frustrated with the situation. (Who isn’t??) He’s not blatantly breaking any of the rules we established, but I know he thinks I’m being overly cautious. Am I the one who is being dramatic here? I want him to be happy but I can’t get rid of my fear. Please help, thank you!
Stir-Crazy but Safe
Relationships are hard. Throw in a global pandemic and suddenly they’ve become even harder. And in the age of coronavirus, couples might find themselves engaging in a new set of arguments. Is it safe for us to book a hotel for the weekend? Can we go to a restaurant for a date night? Are we cool with expanding our pod? I know you’re not alone in experiencing these sorts of discussions because I’m experiencing them myself.
In my opinion, it’s almost harder when the answer isn’t as obvious as “wear a mask.” I’m not sure if this applies to you, but some relationships might experience heightened tension when one or both parties has lost their job, have children, or are pulling long hours as an essential worker. In any case, we’re all still in a national state of fight or flight, making us more susceptible to arguments and generally feeling more stressed out, which only makes these “coronavirus fights” harder to navigate.
“A lot of couples are experiencing challenges right now,” sex and relationship counselor Callie Little, tells HelloGiggles. “I’ve seen a major spike in interest in couple’s sessions due to the difficulties that have come up in this time.” This is especially true when arguments about COVID come into play because it’s such foreign territory for us all. And if you and your partner have struggled with communication in the past, it’s only going to be exacerbated during these stressful times.
So yes, it’s normal for you and your partner to disagree about COVID, because you’re different people who are under are a lot of stress and have a different set of opinions. I don’t think either one of you is “wrong”—it’s hard to gauge that without knowing all of the details of your situation. And as you stated, you and your partner aren’t arguing over the obvious stuff, but rather things like how often it’s safe to go to the grocery store or whether or not you can see friends.
It sounds like your partner is feeling really cooped up. This is understandable, but it’s also important that they understand where you’re coming from. Try to set aside time for just the two of you to have a grounded, respectful conversation about your fears and his restlessness. You both deserve to feel seen and heard. If you explain to him why you’re nervous, he might be better able to empathize with your hesitation to spend more time outside.
“When it comes to safety decisions, consider focusing first on the conservative partner’s preferences, but set a time limit followed by a check-in,” says Little. This way, both partners have an opportunity to feel heard and seen. It’s important to avoid having this conversation when you’re tired, drunk, or hungry, and instead, pick a time where you’re both feeling open and calm. In these conversations, you can work to set some established “rules,” even if it just applies to the coming month.
“Indefinite ‘rules’ can feel stifling even when they’re made with the best intentions, so checking in on the first Saturday each month, for example, about assessing the current boundaries may be a good plan,” Little adds.
For example, you and your partner might decide that for the next month, you’re going to avoid eating in restaurants, but that you can revisit the conversation after the designated time. This way, your boyfriend might feel a little less stir-crazy, because he’ll know that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to negotiating these rules.
Another tactic might be to find an area where you can compromise. It’s totally valid that you don’t feel safe seeing other friends outside your pod indoors, but what about outside and with masks? Obviously, I don’t want you to do anything that makes you uncomfortable, but perhaps there is a way where you can feel safe and your boyfriend can get some of his social needs met. Experts agree that socializing with a limited number of people can be done outside if some precautions are taken. (This includes wearing a mask, practicing good hygiene, and social distancing.) Though this time is certainly stressful and chaotic, you might even find that eventually, it brings you and your partner closer together.
“The good news is that we’re all learning a lot about our true needs in this time—even if it’s not a very fun lesson,” Little says. “For those going through a particularly rough time together, couple’s counseling, therapy, or coaching is a great resource.” Remember that there’s no shame in therapy and that there are plenty of options for video or FaceTime sessions. Having a licensed professional “in the room” might help facilitate a more empathetic and communicative conversation.
“Sometimes the best way to start a conversation is by talking about the goal of the conversation,” says Little. “Is the goal to understand one another and create a healthy relationship environment? Stating this at the beginning can help to keep the focus on actually solving the problem.”
If your partner refuses to see where you’re coming from, that’s not cool. You both need to do the work to empathize with one another. It might be hard, but you’ll find that the communication and empathy tools you developed during this chaotic time can serve you in the long run.