Dear Auntie Alfawhore,
I have only recently moved in with my partner (to another country, no less) when quarantine struck and we found ourselves under the reality of living together 24/7. Even though we love each other, our relationship has always been rocky because we have very different ways of dealing with many things – from free time to our arguments – and we’ve been fighting non-stop under this new normal. I don’t want to continue this cycle, but we just can’t seem to quit.
Fighting the Bad Fight
Oh honey, do I feel you. Moving in with a significant other can be tricky under the best of circumstances, and I think we can all agree that these are not those circumstances. Add to that the stress of moving to another country and it’s truly a recipe for some intense situations – at best, great sex and companionship; at worst, well, that’s precisely why you’re writing to me.*
No relationship is meant for mandatory 24/7 time together. Sure, there’s people that handle it better than others, and kudos to them, but the truth is nobody goes into a relationship saying “Hey, let’s spend every waking hour within 10 meters of each other for the foreseeable future.” Our lives? Sure, let’s see how that goes – but every hour of every day? No thanks.
But this wasn’t something we planned – this wasn’t something anyone planned. This reality has nothing to do with what any of us wanted to be doing in April 2020. I’m not going to go as far as to say we are at war – I don’t think adding drama is what this situation needs – but it is true that we are living through trauma, and that even alone, we’re experiencing enough feelings to drive us insane. Add to that a second person – a partner, a roommate, a family member – and things can get tricky.
Everything you are feeling; the anxiety, the sadness, the despair, the anger, the mood swings – whatever it is, odds are that they are feeling these things too. Will your quarantine partner’s mood swing in a way that matches yours? Probably not. Will they be able to articulate these feelings in a way that makes you feel understood? Well, that depends on how long they’ve gone to therapy. Regardless, you need to remember that this person is also going through trauma. When someone falls down, you don’t beat them with a stick; you try to help them up. You may not have it in you to help them get up right now, and that’s alright, but then it may be best for you to put on some headphones and grab a book instead of continuing to interact with the other person – at least for a few hours.
You tell me your relationship was always rocky, and from what you’re saying, it sounds like you two may embody the cliché of “opposites attract” (a romantic notion, for sure, but less so during a quarantine). This is not the time to try and sort that out. If you two have different ways of dealing with being stuck inside, then you should both deal with your new normals exactly in that way and not impose it on the other person. Are you more of a sportsperson or a classic couch potato? Whatever it is, indulge in it, but you can’t force them to enjoy the same things you do.
I understand that being in a relationship means wanting to share what you love with your significant other, and that’s a beautiful notion, but it has its limits. Imagine your partner saying the same thing, would you enjoy being put in that situation?
All you can do is create the space for them to join you if that’s what they want. From time to time, that may happen – but you need to do what you want to do for yourself, regardless of what the other person ends up doing. Otherwise, your satisfaction will depend on their actions, and that’s no good.
What you (and all of us) need to remember is this: we’re in survival mode. This is not the time to try and fix something that was an issue before quarantine. This is not the moment when we have at-length discussions about where our personalities don’t match or about the problems in our relationship, or where we tell the other person how they should act in a certain situation when they didn’t ask us.
We are sensitive. We are angry. We are bored. Above all, we are fragile – so this is the moment we let the other person be, and we try and treat them (and ourselves) with as much love and care as possible, communicate clearly about what we are feeling, and not expect them to come up with any sort of solution. Above all, this is the time where we don’t take things personally.
In my house, we’ve reached a new agreement: when one of us is having a bad quarantine day, we announce it the moment we realize this. “Today is going to be a hell day,” we say, and then the other person knows not to pay attention to anything coming out of our mouths. It is a bit dramatic, yes, but it takes the pressure off. The bad day is here – you just need to get through it, and start again tomorrow.
Finally, something to remember whenever you’re upset: fighting in a relationship should never be you against your partner, it should be the both of you against the problem. Perhaps it’s worth asking what exactly the problem is when the two of you are fighting so much.
Wherever you end up after this, dear, I know you’ll be all right. Nothing lasts forever – not the fighting, not the quarantine.
*Fighting with your partner can suck, but while having disagreements is part of a relationship, abuse is not. If you’re in a situation where you’re quarantined with your abuser, please reach out to the authorities or, in Argentina, call #144 for support, advice, and assistance. Abuse is never your fault, and you are not alone.