“Help, My Husband Won’t Wear A Mask!”
Quarantining with your partner during a pandemic can be a tense situation, one that has only become tenser as the months blend together with no end of the COVID-19 crisis in sight. Many people have reported that quarantine has been difficult on their marriage, and divorce rates have increased across the globe.
But, outside of financial strain, parenting woes, annoying personal habits, and other common household arguments, a new bone of contention has arisen among couples: Pandemic precautions and the differing ways that couples are processing these risks.
In an ideal world, you and your partner would have the exact same approach to the virus. But, for many of us, this just isn’t the case: Instead, people are butting heads with their partners over how to deal with the virus and whether to social distance or celebrate the holidays as normal. No wonder many couples are coming to me with complaints about the way their partner is handling the pandemic.
I’ve had people say to me, ‘My husband won’t wear a mask, and he keeps going to church even though our son has asthma,’ or ‘My wife is taking precautions to the extreme and I am sick of her wiping down our groceries with bleach wipes.' The tension is real, and it might only going to get worse as the vaccine rolls out, because not every partner is going to see eye to eye on the vaccine.
And this strain is only worsening during the holiday season, as couples find themselves fighting over whether or not it’s safe to see family or to travel or to enjoy common holiday traditions like Christmas Eve mass or visiting Santa at the mall.
This is completely new territory for couples, and if you were already struggling to communicate with your partner before the pandemic hit, then this situation can boil over very quickly. It’s important to be very intentional and careful about how you communicate with your partner and make decisions as a couple right now. The choices you make right now and the way you handle this pandemic and your differing opinions will impact your marriage long after the quarantine is over.
Below is my advice for couples who don’t see eye-to-eye over pandemic precautions.
Put your ego away. It’s so easy to get into a position of superiority when it comes to mask-wearing and social distancing guidelines. We can see this kind of mentality being normalized on a large-scale with people being shamed online for not wearing masks or with celebrities or politicians being ‘canceled’ if they’re caught traveling or enjoying themselves at parties.
But if you bring that energy into your relationship when you snap at your partner for not wearing his mask right at a store, or for standing too close to your neighbor at a driveway party, you’re going to not only harm your relationship, but you’re going to make your partner less likely to want to compromise with your viewpoints. Shaming and condescension don’t work long-term to change behavior, but if you educate your partner and whole-heartedly believe in their goodness and in their innate desire to be good citizens, you will help encourage better choices.
Rely on the experts. Instead of sending your partner a deluge of different articles and opinion pieces on why people who won’t wear masks are making a huge mistake, you can have a Zoom telehealth appointment with your family’s doctor or pediatrician. Get advice straight from the source about the best ways to keep you and your family safe, especially if anyone in your circle is high-risk or in a vulnerable population. Instead of arguing over whether it’s safe to have Christmas dinner with your elderly parents, ask your doctor(s) directly and agree ahead of time that you will follow the medical advice you recieve.
Be willing to work with your partner’s needs. If your partner is really struggling because they can’t go to the gym or attend church, you can find ways to support their need for community and connection in a safe way. Organize a neighborhood running group where neighbors can get together and run each morning (in a socially distant manner with masks) or virtually host a Christmas-themed Bible study. If possible, you can even invite a few people over for a small group Bible study as long as everyone is wearing masks and committed to social distancing. Yes, it’s possible some of this may make you feel a bit anxious, but be willing to step a little outside your comfort zone to support your partner’s mental health as safely as possible.
Most importantly, really set an intention that you're going to select to view your partner and their opinions in the best possible light. It can be easy to shift into a state of fear and anger, but that's going to negatively impact your ability to create the relationship and reality you deeply desire and deserve. So, yes, your partner may be at odds with you over the virus or the vaccine, but you can still select to believe that they are operating from a place of sincerity and love, and that even if their opinion is different than yours, they're doing their very best and trying to navigate this very unexpected and often frightening new world we find ourselves in. When you operate from this home base, you're going to be much less likely to find your discussions devolve into screaming matches, and you're going to be able to use your intellect and whole-hearted intuition to come to a compromise that works for both of you.