You thought being stuck together might be a cutesy rom-com. Turns out, it’s a horror story. Deadly glares. Screaming. A shocking crime scene. Well, not really, but the kitchen looks like a crime scene. (Whatever you do, do not open my microwave.)
Marriages are strained. We have been stuck in our respective bubbles since March, and it stinks in here.
Advice columns written by psychologists suggest: Make a schedule, Communicate, Organize Date Night, Ask your partner, “How can I support you?” but, honestly, this quality advice sounds exhausting.
What if you have nothing left? What if you stopped making dinner months ago and everyone’s living off cold tapas (fancy word for snacks) and using hand towels to dry off post-shower? What if you don’t want to organize anything, let alone Date Night; you just want to be alone?
Here is a marriage survival guide for burnt-out partners who are only trying to power through this strange time and not kill each other.
(Before we begin, let’s take abuse off the table. If your partner has ever been violent or has threatened violence, get out. Now.)
No abuse? Everything was decent pre-pandemic? Let’s proceed.
1. Remind yourself: It’s not your partner.
If you were locked down with your dreamiest celeb or favorite Instagram personality, you would be rolling your eyes at them too. You found a dozen of Chris Hemsworth’s socks in the couch cushions again. He ate both Ben & Jerry’s pints. You keep tripping over Chrissy Teigen’s wet bath towels.
It’s not your partner; it’s the circumstance: the loss of everyone’s personal space on top of mourning, stress, and uncertainty. It sucks. It doesn’t matter whom you are cohabiting with; anyone would annoy you.
2. Go to sleep angry.
Don’t try to work out every grievance. Let most of them slide. Don’t criticize. Sing it with me. Let It Go. If there were ever an excuse for poor coping and strange behavior, it is now.
At the end of a long day when you feel the need to tell your partner how annoying they are, don’t. Do not unleash an exorcist-style word-vomit that you can’t take back.
Don’t say, I cannot stand to hear you chew and I am tracking how much you eat, how many hours you sleep, and how much time you spend in the bathroom and I hate…
Don’t do it.
Frustrated with your roomie? If your partner is a man, maybe text him one of those articles on gender work inequality during lockdown. Then, watch a show, read a book, and go to sleep (angry).
3. Try sex.
Why not? You need something to track time by. Sunday night sex will let you know tomorrow is the start of the workweek. Or, at least it is supposed to be. Oxytocin, the feel-good love-hormone, can only boost mental state.
On the other hand, if you can’t remember the last time, cut yourself slack. Especially if The Kids Are Always Right There. That COVID baby boom people are talking about? If you already have kids, they are not talking about you.
4. Play pretend.
Pretend this isn’t happening. Crank your favorite song while cleaning or working, and don’t think about how your partner is napping on the couch while your little one screams and your older kids have been playing video games for six hours straight. Play pretend the same way you did before lockdown, just so much more.
If you have done that for days, weeks, months, and are sick of it, leave. Grab your car keys, oh God, pray you have a car, pack your mask and your Clorox wipes and say cheerily (so as not to traumatize the children), Call me when the house is clean, and food is on the table. Better yet, say, I’m leaving every day from 6 to 8. Look at that; you are scheduling!
Hide in your car, the garage, the shed, or a parking lot. It has to be somewhere you can’t hear them. Otherwise, they will be extra loud in their desperation.
5. Walk, bike, run.
Motion changes emotion. Better yet, combine pretend with exercise. Lace up your sneakers and pretend you are running away (for a mile or two). When you get home, you might be too tired to complain. You might even be happy to be home. With your partner.
That’s it. If you and your partner were rowing along in your modest boat under mostly good weather before lockdown, enjoying the calm water and the occasional rolling, and now you both find yourself capsized, shivering in cold, murky water, hanging on to the edge of the boat while lightning cracks overhead and spray stings your eyes…hold on, try not to panic -- panicking tires you out and puts you at risk for drowning -- and wait out the storm.
When this is over, pretend your lockdown relationship was a rom-com instead of a horror story.
My psychological thriller, She Lies Close (available September 8, 2020!), explores what crimes a couple is willing to keep secret to stay together and what sins are marriage-breakers. She Lies Close has already gathered strong early praise, with New York Times bestselling author Mary Kubica declaring it “an explosive, darkly comedic thriller with one of the most memorable protagonists I’ve read”. In the story, recently divorced Grace Wright moves her two small children into a new house, hoping to start fresh, longing to reset her crippling insomnia, but finds out she’s moved in next door to the only suspect in the kidnapping of six-year-old Ava Boone. Grace becomes obsessed with her menacing neighbor and the family of the missing little girl, and then a body turns up...