How to Be a Good Partner During Quarantine
“What also makes the situation incredibly complicated is that it's natural for people to have the need for different levels of autonomy and closeness,” says Elizabeth Hale-Rose, a licensed clinical social worker for Privé-Swiss Wellness in Connecticut. “Put this all together and you have the perfect recipe for arguments because people's feelings are being hurt in addition to the anxiety and lack of control that people feel.”
The good news, says Hale-Rose, is that the human brain is uniquely equipped to have a strong response in the face of unknown dangers. Understanding that tension is inevitable is good so that we can mindfully take steps to decrease the reactivity that is bound to happen in quarantine.
7 Ways to Be a Better Quarantine Partner
To help you better navigate long periods of quarantine with whomever you’re living with, follow this expert advice.
Lay Down Some Household Ground Rules
“Start by discussing how and when to divide and use your space,” says Dr. Stephanie Newman, a clinical psychologist and author. “She likes to have her coffee and check her messages alone. Let her have that time. He likes to schedule midday conference calls. Work around him. Everybody gives one and everybody gets one.”
Come up with a game plan for how the day will go, designated certain hours for using the kitchen, working and/or spending time alone, and period of time when you'll spend time together.
Simply creating more rigidity and routine in this nebulous time can help all parties feel more at peace and therefore less irritable. It also ensures each person can tackle their workload more efficiently if working from home.
Practice Even More Patience
Stress levels are higher than usual for all the reasons we’ve outlined above. Practicing patience becomes increasingly difficult, and therefore all the more important.
“[If an argument arises], you can use phrases such as, ‘I agree with you,’ ‘I understand,’ ‘I see your point,’ ‘We can do this together,’ or ‘I respect your space and privacy, please respect mine too,’” says Dr. Zlatin Ivanov, a board-certified psychiatrist based in New York City.
“In addition, give each other space to help calm down one’s mind and senses. We are social beings, but when we are frustrated and feeling overwhelmed, we sometimes need to stay alone for a while.”
Avoid Common Communication Pitfalls
Bickering is inevitable but can easily spiral into all-out brawls when confined to a small space without anywhere to go. In some cases, arguments might even be born out of boredom. When an argument does occur, make sure to avoid common communication pitfalls, which include raising your voice, spending too much time complaining instead of problem-solving, using sweeping generalizations (you always, you never), name-calling, and not listening.
When in doubt lead with empathy. “Empathy involves putting yourself in the shoes of another; it’s sliding into their viewpoint to see their perspective,” says Dr. Newman. “Broadening your experience to make room for your partner’s ideas and viewpoints leads to open discussion and brings couples closer.”
Try to Be Quieter in General
Being respectful of people’s space also means not infringing on their eardrums — a surefire way to incite frustration when you're sharing closed and close quarters. This is true whether quarantined or not, but becomes increasingly important when spending 24/7 with someone and even more true if each party is trying to get work done.
Dr. Ivanov says, “Show respect to the other person by understanding that they may not feel the need to be part of your activity at the moment. Try to do things in a quiet manner, like reading a book, working on a craft, or playing video games or music with a headset on.”
Go Out of Your Way to Foster Positivity
It’s easy to get bogged down by negative news and uncertainty about what the future holds, which makes it even more important to foster positivity within your home.
Hela-Rose says, “Small words, small gestures, and small acts are very effective in keeping bickering to a minimum (and improving household morale). Intentionally recall happy times that your partner has been generous and loving and kind towards you to help you keep a larger perspective about the relationship.”
Be Helpful Around the House
Chores still pile up even when we’re spending time at home. In some cases, there are even more tasks to tackle, such as making meals, doing the dishes, taking out the trash, and general tidying. Household work is often a source of bickering whether quarantined or not, but having to spend more time around clutter and mess can fuel the fire.
“It’s important to be helpful and not wait on the other person to take care of household tasks,” says Dr. Ivanov. “Taking part in these activities will take some pressure off the other person or people in your home, which helps reduce stress and improve bonding. Be pro-active. Don’t wait to be told what to do.”
Do Spend Purposeful Time Together
In addition to setting aside time to spend apart, it’s important to also allocate time to spend intentional together. Maybe it’s a few hours at the end of the day and/or a midday lunch break.
“Spending time together as a couple, as friends, or as a family can be useful in helping everyone keep a more realistic perspective during this stressful time period,” says Hale-Rose.
She adds that if you tend to naturally isolate, make an effort to reach out to your partner, roommate, or family member(s) to see how they’re doing. It may also be helpful to remind others that you’re wired to cope by being alone so that they don’t mistake your need to be alone as a personal rejection.
A Word From Verywell
Experiencing stress and anxiety in uncertain times is normal. Being deliberate about helping others and nurturing your relationships can help, and the above advice is a great place to start. That said, it's also important to make sure you're taking care of yourself by practicing self-care and reaching out to friends, family, and professionals as needed.