Summer is here. The warm weather beckons. He wants to get together with a big group for a BBQ in someone’s yard and not worry about wearing masks or if the party spills inside. She feels strongly about maintaining 6 ft distance from others, wearing face coverings and staying outside. He’s feeling caged with COVID-19 fatigue and needing social connections. She feels a similar fatigue but is fearful and more focused on keeping the family healthy. They argue and it causes a rift. He is frustrated. She feels unvalidated and alone in her fear.
As a couple they’ve been pushing out socially, practicing social distancing, enjoying the contact. Their children are also monitored, having limited and safe contact with only a few kids. The parents have a medium size group over for a party outside in the yard, in theory meant to be “safe,” but as the alcohol flows it gets out of hand and caution is thrown to the wind. They play loud music, dance and intermingle closely, forgetting for those moments their own guidelines. One of their children, observing the scene, bursts into tears, scared his family will get the virus. The parents not only feel shame about losing sight of their good intentions but mixed messages given to their kid’s triggering fear and anxiety.
These are just a few situations among the countless that have surely been unfolding all over the country as people try to figure out how to “be” and where their comfort zones lie after personal risk assessments in this pandemic. Despite an alarming and growing virus surge in this country, there still exists ranges of concern about getting it as demonstrated by lack of mask compliance in some areas. There is bound to be the same divergent thinking among couples as well.
What do you do if you and your partner disagree on how to “be” out in the world?
The basics of healthy relationship functioning can serve as guidance. The most important aspect of secure relationships is the level of emotional safety, the glue that binds the couple together through the changes, crises and inevitable curve balls of life (I’d say a pandemic would qualify).
A few aspects of emotional health:
- feeling heard
- feeling understood
- feeling validated
- feeling empathized with
- feeling prioritized
- feeling respected
In a loving relationship, a couple feels at ease and a port in the storm for each other during challenging times. COVID-19 has been an ongoing storm, harsher for some and more forgiving for others, but none the less has triggered a catalyst of feelings, conversation and divisions on many levels. How we move around in the world and among each other is under the microscope in a sea of conflicting information.
If someone in a relationship feels vulnerable in any way, ideally the partner meets them to help establish security in whatever way possible. If this doesn’t happen, resentment can build leading to relationship disconnect.
If you have different opinions about how you as an individual, a couple or family should be moving around in the world with regards to contact with others, it’s important to talk about it. Have an open, honest discussion about your feelings. Hear the person who expresses their fatigue with being home, with not seeing friends or enough of them, feeling a desperate need for normalcy. And hear the person who is cautious and profoundly worried about the well being of the people he/she cares about.
Though in normal circumstances finding a compromise of some kind would be encouraged, this situation is more challenging as compromise might still feel threatening for the perceived safety of the one with the conservative approach. When deep fear is invalidated, it can cause a cascade of deeply rooted problems for the relationship. “I can’t rely on you to keep me/us safe.” This is a primal need that if not met in a relationship, or is invalidated, can be incredibly damaging.
To preserve the stability of your relationship, the position of the one with virus fear needs to be prioritized over the one with frustration around virus fatigue.
But this doesn’t mean you can’t set ground rules that attempts to honor both. Can the need for social connection be done safely in a way that feels acceptable to both? Can masks, distancing and group numbers be adhered to in order to allow for the fearful partner to feel safer while allowing for contact with people? If you can at least validate each other’s experience, that’s a great start.
Continue to check in on it with each other will reflect effort to prioritize the emotional safety and security of your relationship. The future is unclear around many things integral to our society; schools, economy, employment and health. It’s important for you both to continue to share your feelings about all of this. Remember that this is HARD for everyone. Remain compassionate for yourselves and each other during this time. Keep the big picture in mind and know things will get better again.
Many marriages and long-term relationships are feeling the strain of this pandemic. If yours feels in jeopardy or disconnected, it’s important to remember to give your attention to it in order to best weather the COVID-19 storm. If couples therapy is not an option at this time, I have another option for you:
I’ve collaborated with other licensed therapists and marriage sites to offer The Marriage Bundle, with 14 products and tools for a amazingly low price point for the value, offered only the week of July 20th to July 26th. It includes marriage courses, ebooks and printables to help you strengthen your marriage.
Get more details in my latest article, Now is the Time To Strengthen Your Marriage, Here are 14 Ways.