5 All-Too-Common Quarantine Quarrels Couples Have—and How to Resolve Them
Yes, there is such a thing as too much togetherness.
You love your partner, truly. After all, you decided to spend your life, or at the very least, quarantine together. But there's a solid chance they're driving you absolutely insane right about now. Deep breaths, it's normal.
Pre-COVID-19, you might have craved an entire weekend of 24/7 canoodling, but these days, you probably feel a little differently. Since we're all operating our full lives under one roof, couples have been forced to be flexible, make compromises, and barter for personal space and time unlike ever before. For many duos—even the happiest ones—this might have meant an uptick in bickering.
As relationship expert and author Monica Berg puts it, quarantine doesn't cause quarrels, but it does create the perfect environment for issues to surface. "Constant togetherness forces us to come face-to-face with things we may have been ignoring, avoiding, or unaware of, such as a partner's habits or preferences," Berg says. "Living in close quarters can quickly turn personal quirks into annoyances, laying the groundwork for the bickering to ignite."
In addition to these nuances, many couples are also taking on the added labor of childcare and schooling, remote work, and the heavy burden of worrying about aging parents or vulnerable friends amid a global pandemic. It's a lot to shoulder for anyone—and any relationship. Here, relationship experts name the most common types of quarrels they've seen couples have—and which tensions are most likely to arise—during all the constant togetherness, as well as tips for working through them in a healthy way. The bottom line? Communication is crucial. Take these proactive and reactive steps to help resolve your own issues.
One of the main issues couples face, pandemic or otherwise, is their approach to finances and overall spending, says Jeffrey Ditzell, DO, a New York City–based psychiatrist. Whether you prefer to stow away your earnings for retirement while your partner wants to enjoy their income now, it’s unreasonable to expect to agree on all money matters. And that’s OK—but it’s important to discuss how you’re feeling.
Particularly when the pandemic has left millions unemployed, and you may be living off of one salary at the moment, those money conversations become even more vital. Anxiety around finances is tied to security, which is an essential human need, Dr. Ditzell explains. “Take time to understand your partner’s need for security from a needs-based perspective, in this case, the need for security and overall financial safety,” he says. “In the wake of recent furloughs, shutdowns, and job loss, you may find that your needs and those of your spouse have shifted. Strive to discuss upcoming purchases and expenditures regularly, and be willing to compromise.”
You read that right: toast. Berg says she knows two very rational and level-headed women who became outrageously angry over the proper degree of toastiness a piece of bread should have to be given to a teething toddler. The quarrel was so heated that both tears and accusations started pouring, and the couple was left exhausted. Of course, this wasn’t a fight about toast, but really a way for them to express the frustrations they were both feeling after many months into quarantine. Not all fights are about toast specifically, but many couples experience odd fights over surface-level things that are really an expression of deeper frustrations. Maybe it’s socks. Maybe it’s dishes in the sink. Maybe it’s the way they listen to their morning news podcast without headphones.
These irrational fights usually stem from underlying issues of not feeling appreciated, heard, or even loved. “When you find yourself getting heated over something ridiculous, take a breath and try to identify the true source of the problem,” Berg says. “Be honest about what is really bothering you so you can address the core issue.” In some cases, she says you could be bored and frustrated. If that’s the case, you need to focus on making yourself happy, and relaying those emotions to your partner with honesty and vulnerability.
“Sometimes, simply identifying that you are having a ‘toast’ moment is all it takes to restore connection and calm. Some things are worth fighting for. Toilets, remotes, and toast are not,” she says.
In 2019, a reasonable day for a busy household involved trekking the kids to school or daycare, working a full day in the office, shuttling them to their various activities, and joining together for a family meal before unwinding for bed. Today, that 24-hour period looks very different, and many parents are trying to balance their relationship, children’s schooling and care, professional responsibilities, and still, somehow, stay sane. When we feel like our schedule is out of our control, it’s natural to fight against it, and become upset when an unexpected disruption throws us off track. When this happens, you may take it out on your partner.
Adam Jablin, a transformational life coach and recovery mentor, shares this example: Your child’s school decides not to have volleyball practice because a team member tested positive for COVID-19. Now, one parent needs to pick up the child earlier, and choosing one person to give up their afternoon can result in an argument. “It can slowly destroy a marriage or special relationships by pointing fingers over which parent is doing most of the work,” he says. “Rather than being teammates in life, the quarrel makes it adversarial at best. It can mean the relationship has been on autopilot, which creates a lack of true intimacy and trust. Lovers become roommates. Parents become custodians.”
The best way to get through this is to have really healthy communication between the family, and a back-up plan for any sudden emergencies during the pandemic, Jablins says. He suggests having weekly or bi-weekly intimate talks about getting everyone on the same page—and preserving your intimacy.
Before COVID-19, you had ample time to catch up with friends, grab a cocktail with a colleague, take a fitness class, or read a book (or scroll through Instagram) alone at home. But during quarantine life, those simple pleasures aren’t accessible, making self-care less of a priority. So when your partner announces they’re “taking the afternoon off” when the sink is full of dishes and the kids are running rampant, you may lose your cool. You both need time to invest in your emotional and mental well-being, but Ditzell insists you need to talk about it.
“Working with your partner to help them find the time and to support their need to take care of themselves will not only promote harmony, but let both partners be at their best during the stressful situations that continue to arise,” he says, suggesting couples map out time for each person to take care of their personal needs.
As we inch closer to the one-year mark of stay-at-home measures, you and your partner may be on different wavelengths about the necessary precautions to combat the virus. Maybe you’re still sanitizing your hands 20 times a day, while they’re forwarding you flight deals to Mexico and not practicing the six-foot social distancing. According to Berg, if these disagreements leave you hot-headed and furious, it’s because it registers as a danger, thus triggering our sympathetic nervous system. This happens when our body perceives a threat and prepares itself to fight or flight, releasing stress hormones. “This increases heart rate, releases fats into the bloodstream, and increases your blood’s clotting ability,” Berg says. “This is very useful when you’re trying to outrun a saber-toothed tiger, but if you experience this frequently, you’ve got a problem on your hands.”
In this new reality, keep in mind that opinions and priorities can change over time, especially when the cases begin to rise in an area, or as vaccines become more widely available. Berg urges couples to have patience, be extra-empathetic to their partners, and seek ways to compromise when possible. “If one partner insists on seeing family, perhaps you can agree on certain precautions to take in that situation, like staying outdoors, avoiding hugs, and wearing a mask,” she says. Remember that your partner’s different behaviors surrounding the virus aren’t a personal attack on you and your opinions. They’re simply interpreting what’s going on differently based on their personal context. Allow them that, and then ask them to allow you yours. Talk about it, listen, and be open to their point of view, just as you’d like them to be open to yours.