What To Do If You & Your Partner Don't Agree On What's Safe Post-Quarantine
Even if you and your partner have both spent the past several months desperately wishing for things to get back to "normal," now that restrictions are beginning to lift, you might not be seeing eye-to-eye on what your family's next steps should be. Maybe you're still too worried to send your kid on a playdate while your partner is ready to plan a neighborhood barbecue, or maybe it's the reverse. Either way, you're both pretty stressed. So what should you do if you and your partner don’t agree on what's safe post-quarantine? The last thing your relationship needs right now is more stress.
“It's definitely a difficult time to be a parent and to have to make some tough decisions for your kids when this is something that we have no certainty about,” couples therapist Jessica Cline, MSW, LCSW, tells Romper. “Of course, it leaves parents with the huge decisions that they may not necessarily agree on.”
And just to make your life even more complicated, depending on the state you live in, what's "OK" today might not be OK tomorrow. In a world where things feel increasingly unstable (especially for your kids), it's important for you and your partner to work together to stabilize your relationship.
1. Write It Down
When arguments get heated, it's easy to get off track. Use a pen and paper to keep the conversation on point. “Write down the things you agree upon, and then build from there,” Cline says. “Information is power, so the more you and your partner are able to talk through the scenarios, the more power you have to make a decision.” Once you know the points that you agree on, you might find that you think more similarly than you might have realized before and can come up with a parenting playbook for the pandemic.
2. Discuss It Privately
“First, always discuss parenting differences privately,” Dr. Fran Walfish, Ph.D., a family and relationship expert, tells Romper in an email. “You want to avoid triangulating by inadvertently inviting your 'listening' child to chime in with his vote.” In some scenarios, your kiddo might wind up pitting you against your partner as a way for one of you to change your mind, which is never a good thing.
3. Err On The Side Of Caution
“When you dialogue with your partner privately, my suggestion is that the final decision should lean on the side of caution,” says Walfish. “We are living in unprecedented times, and no one knows or can predict who will be exposed to COVID-19 and/or become symptomatic.” So if your child wants to go to, say, a pool party and there might be a lot of people there, you might have to tell your kiddo that they can’t go — and both be OK with the decision.
4. Be Unified
“It's really important to create security for the kids and show up as a cohesive unit,” says Cline. Even if you're divided on an issue, your children need to see you and your partner as a united front. Although it can be good to ask older children to weigh in with their opinions, ultimately the decision should be between you and your partner.
5. Nurture The Relationship
“When one partner in a couple is frightened and in an anxious state, it is part of the committed relationship’s defined duty to nurture, nourish, and comfort each other when suffering or hurting,” says Walfish. At the end of the day, everybody is trying to do their best. Just because your partner has a different opinion doesn't mean they're any less stressed about making the decision.
6. Find Common Ground
Chances are there are some activities that you can both feel OK about, but you'll need to put in the work and find them together. “Recognize that relationships are about negotiation and inner compromise at this time,” licensed psychotherapist Babita Spinelli, LP, tells Romper. “Find a time that is mutually convenient to communicate your stance and fears. While it will take some effort, decide together what activities may be safer than others.” Do some research together to find a solution that works for both of you. It can help to put yourself in your partner’s shoes and try to understand their thinking.
7. Give Yourselves A Time Out
When an argument has gone past the point of no return, it's unlikely any real conflict resolution is going to happen in that moment. “Take timeouts if it feels like both of you are moving into a territory in which the conversation is not conducive to resolution,” says Cline. “If your partner needs time to understand and accept things, build time in the decision-making process to allow for that.”
8. Listen To Each Other
“While disagreements are normal and to be expected, especially at this moment when we are experiencing lots of upheaval in our lives, how we respond to our loved ones makes all the difference on the impact it will have on our relationship,” Suzie Pileggi Pawelski, MAPP, and James O. Pawelski, Ph.D., co-authors of Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts, tell Romper in an email. “You and your spouse will have different opinions and will disagree on a number of matters, but it’s key that you both listen to one another.” Half of the battle in any relationship comes down to feeling like you’re being heard, so make sure that you listen to — and validate — your partner’s feelings before responding. “Couples should be on the lookout for communicating tones, language, or harsh startups with their partner,” agrees Spinelli. “During stressful times, how we communicate is extra important.”
9. Don’t Social Distance From Each Other For Too Long
Some couples clash and then retreat to their respective spaces. But in the case of COVID-19 concerns and your kid, you need to be on the same page. And that’s why you should dig in your heels and try to really understand each other without withdrawing from the relationship. “Remember, while we need to be socially distancing, we shouldn’t be emotionally distancing with our spouse, children, and friends,” advises Pawelski. “We are all in this together. We are social animals who need one another to thrive.” As parents trying to work together through the pandemic, you should take time to decompress, but don’t stay distanced for too long.
10. Ask Questions
Last week, your partner was fine with your child’s friend coming over for a playdate. But today, they flat out refuse to let your child go to that friend’s house to hang out. What gives? Before assuming (or worse, assigning blame), talk to your partner to figure out their line of thought. “It’s important to be curious and ask questions in a relationship,” says Pawelski. “By being curious (like you probably were in the beginning of your relationship) and trying to find out where the other person is coming from, you will better understand their concerns, hopes, and fears.” In this case, you might realize that your partner is afraid your child could come into contact with a contagious person at their friend’s house and that they feel that your child would be safer at home.
11. Seek Outside Help If Need Be
“Our brains like to use our old tools and ways of thinking; the brain has never had to experience something like this before,” says Cline. “So if you can’t come to a decision, it may be important to seek some outside help such as talking to a friend, a therapist, a spiritual adviser to aid in making these decisions.”
Parenting on a regular day is challenging enough, but doing it during a pandemic is next-level difficult. So try not to let it take too much of a toll on your relationship. Foster the loving connection you had pre-COVID-19 and try to be a source of strength to your partner right now. At the end of the day, you really both want the exact same thing: a safe world for your child.
If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and cough, call your doctor before going to get tested. If you’re anxious about the virus’s spread in your community, visit the CDC for up-to-date information and resources, or seek out mental health support. You can find all of Romper’s parents + coronavirus coverage here.
Jessica Cline, MSW, LCSW, couples therapist
Babita Spinelli, LP, licensed psychotherapist
Dr. Fran Walfish, Ph.D., family and relationship expert
Suzie Pileggi Pawelski, MAPP, and James O. Pawelski, Ph.D., co-authors of "Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts"