The beginning of a relationship is the best, isn’t it? Everything is new, a first, a discovery. I’m in a new relationship that started out like any other — lots of dinners out, seeing each other a couple of nights a week and sometimes on weekends, all while balancing our busy schedules and introducing him to my friends. However, on March 26 — the trajectory of our relationship, of all our relationships — changed when we were put under a stay-at-home order, thanks to a global pandemic, COVID-19. You might be familiar with it?
While my boyfriend Alex and I are still getting to know each other, I knew from the start he was an extrovert. He loves meeting new people, he’s adventurous, he’s lived all over the world, and he’s energized by new experiences and social events. I, on the other hand, am most content in small groups of close friends or at home with a book on a rainy day. At first, I was nervous about whether our budding relationship would survive COVID-19. We decided to stay-at-home together, despite the newness of our relationship, but it brought up a few worries for me. Would he associate the boredom of quarantine with the fact that he chose to do so with me? Would we run out of things to do or talk about without the stimulation of the outside world?
I couldn’t imagine navigating this world without the tools I’ve implemented over the last two years of sobriety.
Luckily, my fears have not come to fruition and our relationship has only grown during this uncertain and stressful time. My partner has shown himself to be communicative, adaptable, and supportive. I am so grateful to have a partner like him right now, and most importantly of all, I am so grateful to be sober. I couldn’t imagine navigating this world without the tools I’ve implemented over the last two years of sobriety. These tools have proven to be lifesavers, not just for my sanity, but also for my relationship in quarantine.
No matter what stage your relationship is in, whether you’ve been together for two weeks or twenty years, we’re all navigating uncharted waters. Relationships always require work, but in times of high stress, implementing tools is critical to keep your partnership afloat.
Here are a few I’ve implemented personally — and with my partner — that are working:
Keep sobriety your number one priority
Without my sobriety, there is no way in hell I’d be able to handle a new relationship, working from home, isolation, instability, etc. all at once. I prioritize the things I need to do to stay sober — podcasts, checking in regularly with sober friends, journaling, yoga — because I know that if I don’t have my sobriety, I won’t be able to hold onto anything else.
Without my sobriety, there is no way in hell I’d be able to handle a new relationship, working from home, isolation, instability, etc. all at once.
Set your boundaries
Sometimes, especially when you’re living with or are in proximity with someone, it can be nerve-wracking to set boundaries as it may feel like it will disturb the peace. However, setting boundaries usually has the opposite effect because it prevents resentments from building and turning into a blowout later. For example, if your partner likes to play video games on their lunch break while you’re on a weekly Zoom meeting, it’s OK to ask them to turn the volume down or even ask them to wait until “office hours” are over.
Remember it is not about you
In high-stress, high-emotion situations like the one we’re all in now, people process their experiences differently. In fact, people process all experiences differently because one objective reality does not exist. We all live in our own world and your partner’s reality may feel very different for them than yours does to you, even though you are experiencing the same day-to-day life. Take this into consideration if your partner seems more depressed than usual, snaps at you, or needs more time to themselves than you do. Respect their boundaries, put yourself in their shoes, and think before reacting from a place of heightened emotion.
We all live in our own world and your partner’s reality may feel very different for them than yours does to you, even though you are experiencing the same day-to-day life.
Flip your perspective
If you believe this is the worst thing to ever happen to your relationship, then it will be. Rather than looking at all the experiences you feel like you’re missing out on as a couple, take this time as an opportunity to get to know your partner better without distractions. Ask them questions you may have never taken the time to ask before. Introduce them to one of your favorite hobbies you haven’t yet tried together.
Explore new activities together
My boyfriend and I go on daily walks and occasionally practice yoga together in my living room. We’ve also started to cook more often. He’s new to yoga and I’m new to cooking without a microwave, but we’re both enjoying exploring each other’s interests.
Have your own space
Finding your own space within a shared space is difficult, but necessary. Whether it’s a room, a closet or even a corner, create a dedicated area for yourself where you can go when you need some time alone. If you don’t have a space that can be dedicated as yours all the time, ask for a set amount of time alone in the bedroom or the living room (or the bathroom if necessary).
Don’t be afraid to be alone together
Often Alex will be in one room watching TV and I’ll be in another reading, and I don’t worry about us doing everything together or keeping each other entertained. In “normal times,” especially in a new relationship, it may feel like you “should” want to spend all your time together, but often the best kind of relationship is the one where you can be comfortable in the silence.
Remove the word “should” from your vocabulary
There is no one right way to feel right now. There is nothing you “should” be doing or way your relationship “should” look. For example, I was concerned that Alex and I shouldn’t be spending so much time together so early in our relationship. In the end, we decided to do what felt right for us, without worrying about a “timeline” or playing games to keep the other interested. Do whatever makes you most comfortable during this time at whatever pace makes sense for you. “Should” is a word that can go out the window in general, but especially in a time of global crisis.
Keep your sense of humor
If Alex and I couldn’t laugh together we’d probably have clawed each other’s eyes out by now. We’ve both accepted that there isn’t much we can control in our current situation, so we may as well make the best of it and have fun together, whether that’s laughing about bodily functions, watching terrible reality television, or dancing around the kitchen.
Communicate. Communicate. Communicate — even if it terrifies you. Use your words. Your partner is not a mind reader. Do your best to articulate your wants and needs in a healthy way (read: not in the heat of emotion). This goes back to your partner having his or her own take on reality. What you are going through, what you need, or what you want might not be something they pick up on immediately. You have to articulate it.
Navigating a sober relationship in quarantine — especially while tackling all the other stressors you may be faced with — requires work, there’s no doubt about that. However, if you incorporate tools from your sobriety toolbox and communicate openly with your partner, not only will your relationship survive, but you may even come out stronger on the other side.