LoveAndLifeToolBox

Couples and Differing Social Distancing Ideologies

Summer is close.  The warm weather beckons.  He wants to get together with a big group for a BBQ in someone’s yard, not worrying so much about wearing masks or if it spills inside.  She feels strongly about maintaining 6 ft distance from others, wearing face coverings and staying outside.  He’s feeling caged with COVID-19 fatigue and missing social connections.  She feels a similar fatigue but is more focused on remaining cautious  around the virus for now.  They argue and it causes a rift.  He is frustrated.  She feels unvalidated and alone in her fear.

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As a couple they’ve been pushing out socially, practicing social distancing, enjoying the contact.  Their children are also monitored, having limited and safe contact with only a few kids.  The parents have a medium size group over for a party outside in the yard during Memorial Day weekend, in theory meant to be “safe,” but as the alcohol flows it gets out of hand and caution is thrown to the wind.  One of their children bursts into tears observing the scene, scared his family will get the virus.  The parents not only feel shame about losing sight of their good intentions but mixed messages given to their kid’s triggering fear and anxiety.

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These are just a few situations among the countless that have surely been unfolding all over the country as people try to figure out how to “be” and where their comfort zones lie after personal risk assessments in this pandemic.  With such a range of opinions on the topic of concern (or lack of concern) about virus spread, there is bound to be the same divergent thinking among couples as well.

What do you do if you and your partner disagree on how to be out in the world?

The basics of healthy relationship functioning can serve as guidance.  The most important aspect of secure relationships is the level of emotional safety, the glue that binds the couple together through the changes, crises and inevitable curve balls of life (I’d say a pandemic would qualify).

A few aspects of emotional health:

  • feeling heard
  • feeling understood
  • feeling validated
  • feeling empathized with
  • feeling prioritized
  • feeling respected

In a loving relationship, a couple feels at ease and a port in the storm for each other during challenging times.  COVID-19 has been an ongoing storm, harsher for some and more forgiving for others, but none the less has triggered a catalyst of feelings, conversation and divisions on many levels.  How we move around in the world and among each other is under the microscope in a sea of conflicting information.

If someone in a relationship feels vulnerable in any way, ideally the partner meets them to help establish security in whatever way possible.

If you have different opinions about how you as an individual, a couple or family should be moving around in the world with regards to contact with others, it’s important to talk about it.  Have an open, honest discussion about your feelings.  Hear the person who expresses their fatigue with being home, with not seeing friends or enough of them, with a need for normalcy.  And hear the person who is more cautious, worried and waiting for more data to come in on the virus.  For them the jury may be out and they aren’t ready to surge out with the same enthusiasm.

Though in normal circumstances finding a compromise of some kind would be suggested, this situation is a bit more challenging as compromise might still feel threatening for the perceived safety of the more conservative.  In the case of relationships with unattended or invalidated fear for one partner, erosion of the relationship foundation can occur.  It’s for that reason to preserve the stability of the relationship, the position of the one with virus fear may need to trump the one with frustration around virus fatigue.

Continue to check in on it with each other.  The future is unclear around many things integral to our society; schools, economy, employment and health.  It’s important for you both to continue to share your feelings about all of this.  Keep the big picture in mind and remember that things will change at some point.

Maintaining the emotional safety and security of your relationship is most important.

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Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT

Lisa Brookes Kift, MFT is the creator of LoveAndLifeToolbox.com with emotional and relationship health articles, guides, courses and other tools for individuals and couples. She is a frequent consultant for the media having appeared in CNN.com, HuffingtonPost.com, MensHealth.com and others. Lisa has a private practice in Marin County, CA and offers Emotional Health and Relationship Consultations via email, phone or video conference.