How to live together, suddenly, under duress with your long term sweetie

Suddenly, you’re living with your sweetie. You hadn’t planned on doing it, but with sheltering in place being the normal, it seemed better than the alternative, which would have been not to see them at all. Because you know you’d miss them dreadfully.

And now you’re realizing that it was an absolutely terrible idea. Your fantasies of blissful togetherness are running up against the reality that you find them irritating and smothering and they find you distant. Or vice versa, but you get me.

So what can you do?

1. Put off deciding if you should break up with them. No one is at their best right now, and now is probably not the time to make major decisions. Also, you’ve got enough changes going on that you’re going to want to avoid this if at all possible. Thirdly, some couples work together really well but live together poorly. It may be a lovely relationship, even if you aren’t living together particularly well right now.

2. Figure out how to balance each of your needs for space and connection. This is likely going to be difficult. Especially if you don’t have a history of being able to articulate your needs very well or have a partner who can hear you when you do. But you can try the following:

  • Take some time apart. Stay at a hotel for a night or two. Or maybe you have a friend who is also shacked up with their sweetie who can let you stay at their temporarily unused place.
  • (NB: A reader of this blog, who is a medical doctor, wrote in to let me know that “from the purely medical side of the equation, spending the night at a hotel or with friends not a good idea in the present context. That increases the chances for spread of the virus (spending time with different groups of people, using public transit to get there, etc).” He goes on to suggest that instead, “perhaps one could set aside time during the day to get out and be separate? A nice long walk or something of that nature. I’m not sure what is considered acceptable in NYC at this point. At least here in LA people are still allowed to go out and walk around the city as long as they maintain social distancing and wear a mask. Many are discovering or rediscovering the (lone) walkabout.” Shout out to him for this additional information, which I hadn’t considered. More proof, as if we needed it, that we are all better when we work together!)
  • Make the time you’re going to be together explicit. This could be something like a specific amount of time together per day where you are committed to having high quality, connecting time. Phones away. The rest of the time is “free” time where you are allowed to ignore them, connect with your other friends, or retreat into your own solitude. The specifics, obviously, will need to be worked out. Especially if one partner is feeling smothered and the other partner is really wanting a connection to help themselves regulate.
  • If you are living with roommates as well (a common situation in New York City), make sure that you have time just as a couple. Figure out ways so that this can happen.

3. Figure out what you can do to support your partner. So often in relationships, we’re focused on the ways in which our partner isn’t meeting our needs. The “solution”, then, is to explain to them why they “should” support us better and to either weep or rage (which is really two sides of the same coin) if they fail to do that. A better solution, because it gives us back our power, is to figure out how you can better support your relationship. How can you give your partner enough so that they are also able to give you what you want?

4. Forgive yourself and your partner. No one is at their best right now. We’re all a little bit regressed. If you’re running at 70% capacity, consider it a goddamn miracle. Same for your partner.

5. Thank your stars that you don’t have children in the mix. For people raising children right now, it’s almost certainly much, much harder. Oh, wait…shit. You do? I can refer you to someone to help you with that!