At first, you think you’re doing fine. You make dinner together every night. In the morning you each go to a separate part of the house and log in to Zoom to start your day. At lunch, you bump into each other in the kitchen and ask “How’s it going?”
It’s all polite and civilized.
But now it’s been weeks. Months even. You’re still in lockdown. The shelter in place order isn't going anywhere. You avoid the news, but something comes across your phone, you might be here till 2022. You start to panic.
Suddenly, you can't stand the way your partner breathes. You can hear them all the way down the hall.
“Shut up,” you yell.
“Huh?” they mumble, scratching at their five-day-old beard.
“That's it, this is is over,” you think, but you know that’s an irrational thought.
You get up and stretch, try to do some yoga. You give up and break out the jelly beans at the bottom of your bag.
You can still hear them at the end of the hall, laughing and joking on the phone with a coworker, and still breathing. Loud. You never noticed the way they snort when they laugh, leaving the end of every sentence unfinished. It makes you want to scream.
You realize then that you’re not going to make it. The love of your life is making you insane and you won't get through another month of working from home together in the same house, sheltering together, nesting, trying to be brave and face this stay-at-home order together.
You smile and go to the kitchen and make two quarantini’s out of the good vodka you’ve been saving for a special occasion. I mean, why wait?
They join you. You toast to your health. You think, “well, maybe it will be ok,” as the vodka slowly does its job and you start to relax. You wonder what's left to watch on Netflix.
Then wham, they surprise you. “What the hell did you put in here?” They’re suddenly yelling, criticizing, firing off complaints faster than you can rip their eyes out and you’re wondering what the hell happened. It had all seemed so easy a few moments ago.
You brush back your unwashed hair and straighten out your yoga pants, leaving the room in a huff. They slam out the back door and then a second later rush back in to get their face mask and rubber gloves and slam back out. You can hear them racing around outside the house, stomping through the yard. The yard is small and the neighbors are watching. There’s nowhere to go.
“Maybe we should just break up,” you think. “When this is over and we are finally outta here, we should just end this misery.”
They come back in the back door, and glare at you. You sip your cocktail and glare back. You know they're thinking the same thing.
STOP. Here’s some advice from an expert.
One, don't take anything that's happening now in your relationship as a sign that you should break up. Wait till the pandemic slows down and you can leave your house and get back to a relatively normal schedule. Now is not the time to make any permanent decisions about the state of your marriage or partnership.
Two, you are confined in a small space under extremely stressful conditions. You are bound to regress to your worse possible selves. It's not just your partner who is annoying. Look at your own behavior and see how you can improve as a housemate right now. Start by taking a shower every day, washing up after yourself and using some basic kindness when you run into each other at home.
Three, take some time for yourself. It's crucial to take space if you are living and working out of the same space and you feel like you can't get enough air to breathe. Hide in the bathroom for ten minutes, lock yourself in the car in the driveway. Don't underestimate the stress of working online all-day and give yourself a time-out every day as a reward.
Remember, Soon we’ll all be back outside, crowding in the grocery store, packed into movie theaters, waiting in line at restaurants. We might look back at this time fondly, we may wonder why we ever let it go to waste.
Appreciate each other while you have this time, don’t take forced togetherness for granted. Mix up a few of those quarantinis and toast once more — to your health!
Dr. Tammy Nelson is a sex and relationship expert, a TEDx speaker and the host of the podcast The Trouble with Sex. She is the author of five books, including When You’re the One Who Cheats.