We’re all coping with COVID 19 in our own ways. Some people are becoming extra productive, using their downtime to write a novel and deep clean the pantry, while others consider it a triumph to shower daily. Some are attending to their hygiene and health with surgical precision, while others feel the suggested precautions are utter nonsense. What do you do if you’re anxious about catching the virus, and your partner is not?
The answer, in the big picture, is the same I give to any of my clients experiencing conflict in a relationship. First, talk it out and see if any of your partner’s behaviors can shift. Then, regardless of how much or how little they have changed, work on shifting your own feelings and perceptions. This combination of increased communication with turning your attention to yourself is the only way to feel like you have power over the situation—because the only one we really can change is our self.
First, tell your partner how it makes you feel when they don’t wash their hands, or get together with friends, or whatever it is they’re doing that drives you batty. Use the basic rules of effective communication: I statements and emotion words. For instance, instead of “You’re so selfish to bring germs into our home,” try “I feel really nervous whenever you go out.” By focusing on your own fears and concerns, for yourself and your partner, it’s more likely your partner will feel empathy for you (as opposed to feeling defensive and attacked).
The other half of communication is listening. After you talk, get curious about their point of view. They might make a few good points that could help you find middle ground. You will probably not change your partner’s mind to the point where they do everything exactly as you do, but there’s a better chance you can find a compromise that works for both of you.
Because communication isn’t about getting our way, we often end up a bit frustrated. This is when it’s so important to know how to soothe and take care of your own feelings, by yourself. Here are some ideas for feeling better about living with someone who is more cavalier about coronavirus:
Know that no two people will approach the same situation in exactly the same way. Let go of the romanticized idea that you can influence your partner to the point that they will do what you want them to.
Know there isn’t actually a perfect approach to safety right now. There are many different opinions and varying advice about how to approach this crisis, and even though your point of view seems ideal, others may have validity.
Reframe how you are interpreting your partner’s actions. Often we take others’ actions personally, in this case feeling that their lack of anxiety over the virus means they don’t care about our fear or our health. Instead, it’s likely that they feel their approach is the most logical and reasonable, and believe that they are in no way harming you.
Separate yourself from your partner emotionally. Allow them to do things their way while you concentrate on and take care of you. Your own hygiene habits will go a long way toward protecting you. Try to turn your thoughts from your partner’s behaviors to your own self care, and be kinder than ever to yourself.
If necessary for your health or for your anxiety, separate from them a bit more physically. If possible, ask them to wash before entering the house, shower daily, even sleep in a separate room.
Practice compassion. Both to you and your partner, be as loving and caring as possible. Anxiety makes us want to be as in control as possible, but since we can’t actually control other people, this tactic often backfires, making our partners feel rebellious. Instead, take a deep breath, allow them to do things their way, and open up space that maybe they aren’t being as (insert negative thought here) as you fear. You don’t have to hug them or agree with them, but the more compassion you allow in, the better you will feel during this difficult time.
For many, their gratitude for not having to face this crisis alone can go a long way. Remember to turn to your partner as much as you can, for as much comfort as you can get—and give. Hopefully, these anxiety management strategies will help you in establishing relationship harmony during these extraordinary, unprecedented times.