Space is a non-negotiable, essential need for me.
I came across an article recently about how distance is the little-known sixth love language; it resonated with me. Jordan will typically leave our apartment for 5-10 hours during the day, as many times a month as needed, whenever I feel cagey. When we made our love lists, filled with ways to love one another better, giving me space was in my top five.
Getting out of the house myself doesn’t always do it for me. Neither does just being in separate rooms.
What I need most often is to have our entire apartment to myself. It feels like breathing – it is essential to my well-being, my creativity, my sexual desire, and my ability to relax into life.
And now, my friends, as many of you have found this week… it is no longer possible for that need to be met in the way it once was.
As an extrovert who needs a lot of space and freedom, social distancing and staying inside together is not so far away from my idea of living hell.
I love Jordan with all my heart, and we’ve been quarantining for the past 5 or 6 days together in a small two-bedroom apartment. We’ve bickered about stupid things more than we ever have (mostly resulting from me snapping, because all I want is to be alone).
And we’re both sex and relationship coaches – usually our arguments are pretty smooth, loving, and productive – so if you’ve been struggling more than usual, I just want you to know you’re really not alone (I even heard divorce rates in China have spiked, lol).
After much processing, we’ve come to a good place around it, so I want to share these tips with you if you’re feeling similarly (or if you have a partner who is!).
Here are 7 things to do if your partner is driving you crazy during quarantine:
1. Give yourself permission to not be the best version of yourself.
Having space in a partnership is an incredibly valid and important need. Know that you’re not a bad person if you need alone time; you’re human. If you start beating yourself up every moment you aren’t as kind and loving to your partner as you usually are, that will result in a cycle that won’t be beneficial to either of you.
This isn’t a pass to be mean to your partner, but if you have a bad moment, just own up to it when you feel ready. Fully take responsibility, don’t blame them, and apologize.
Our needs will always vary, person-to-person and even day-to-day. You might find yourself feeling cuddly and content in one moment, feeling like being quarantined is not so bad, and then thirty seconds later you might feel internal rage that your partner even exists in your apartment.
If you had an overbearing parent(s) in particular, not being able to have space might hit you extra hard. It might bother you way more than it bothers your partner, or maybe it will come up for both of you at different times.
Being quarantined is not a normal situation. If it’s hard for you, it doesn’t mean you’re not doing a good job. It means you’re having a human experience in a really difficult time, and that’s okay.
2. Understand that you and your partner are probably relating to this experience differently.
We relate to the world through the lens of our past stories and experiences. We’re all going to have different levels of feeling anxious, sad, depressed, completely stressed out, anger, excitement, joy… any and every emotion is to be expected. Some of us will have financial worries, children/people to take care of, and people we’re concerned for.
Forming a deep understanding of how your partner is relating to this experience, and accepting that it will likely be different than your own, is absolutely essential. Have them share that with you. Ask detailed questions.
What are they most afraid of about this experience? How are they feeling about the world right now?
3. Share how you’re feeling with one another.
Yes, in the way I mentioned above, but also in an ongoing way. If you wake up one morning and suddenly feel the urge to have space, tell your partner this. If you don’t feel like being touched, share that with your partner. If you do feel like you want to touch, share that with your partner.
Communication is always essential in a partnership, but now it’s even more essential.
Don’t judge your own needs. If you judge your needs, you’re going to resist saying them out loud, and keeping your needs in will result in you exploding at some point.
It’s also not that nice to do to your partner, because you’re deciding your need can’t be met without even asking about it first. If you automatically decide the way your partner will respond, and you hold back on sharing what you need with them because you’re afraid of hearing a “no,” you’ve effectively taken away the opportunity to even get a “yes.”
Even if they can’t meet your need or do anything about the way you’re feeling, you will feel better having said it out loud and been accepted in it. Hopefully you have a wonderful partner who gives permission for all the ways you’re feeling – now is a great time to practice that.
4. Accept that it’s going to be weird.
It’s going to be unusual. This is an abnormally stressful experience, and your body and mind will probably react in ways that are abnormally stressful. If you’re reacting to your partner in ways you typically wouldn’t, that’s normal. If you’re feeling angry and irritated at the entire experience – normal.
Give room for your experience to shift and change. When you give room to your entire experience as it arises, you also make room for the beautiful moments, as well.
Yesterday morning, Jordan and I decided to share an entire package of bacon, he told me to blast my music (something he doesn’t typically love), and he danced with me in the kitchen while I was cooking breakfast. We stood there holding one another, music playing loudly, bacon sizzling… and I burst into tears. It was an incredibly joyful and beautiful moment in the midst of everything else.
After we ate breakfast, I was immediately irritable and ready to have him be away from me.
If your needs normally change throughout the day, expect them to change on hyperspeed.
5. Feel the feelings that arise.
If you’re holding onto a lot of grief and sadness and anger and unfairness about the way the world is right now, it’s a great time to allow that to move through your body and let it go.
If you push the feelings away, they’ll get stronger and they’ll come out in ways that are detrimental to your relationship. Likewise, if you dwell in the feelings and decide it’s somehow your responsibility to feel the pain of the entire world without processing it through and out of your body, that will be detrimental to your mental health and to your partnership.
Scream into pillows. Dance. Do breathwork. Go for runs (if you’re allowed to leave where you live right now). Exercise at home. Write in a journal.
Whatever it is, it should be with the intention of sitting inside your body, feeling what you’re feeling, and letting it physically move through you. Meditating is great, but it is not the same as physically letting emotion move through your body – I recommend both.
Emotion is energy in motion. You don’t have to hold onto it.
6. Get creative in ways you can have space.
If you’re able to leave your home at all, consider yourself lucky. If it’s nice out, either you or your partner can go for a very long walk or sit outside somewhere.
Today, Jordan went into the courtyard of our building to read a book for a few hours. I’ve gone on a few long walks/runs/outside time to call family and friends.
If it’s raining, take an umbrella and go for a walk. If you can go outside, you’re lucky. Stay away from others and give each other space.
If you can’t go outside, get creative. If you have separate rooms, decide when one of you will spend time in one of them, totally unbothered by the other. Watch shows and movies separately – you don’t have to do everything together.
If you have a studio apartment (oh my god, my heart goes out to you), consider buying a room divider or making a space that’s only yours in the apartment – think like a fort when you were a kid. Tell your partner they are absolutely not allowed to bother you when you’re in there.
Something else that helps me on a regular basis is to have a tiny space in our shared apartment that is only mine. I have an altar set up in a small corner of our office, and Jordan doesn’t touch it. That does so much for me – to know there’s a little space that he can’t touch that’s only mine, and I can sit in front of it and it’s only my own energy.
Consider setting up something like this for yourself – even the ritual aspect of it can be so soothing. You can place offerings on it (even if it’s as simple as a bowl of water) each day – dedicated to yourself, to a certain energy, or to whatever you want.
If you have a friend who’s out of town and this is a possibility, ask if you can use their space while they’re away. I have a friend who offered this to me, and even though I haven’t gone yet, the knowing that I have that as an option feels lifesaving. You could even rent an Airbnb for a few days and use it to go work in for a few hours a day (again, depending on your level of quarantine and if you’re sick yourself).
7. Set up a schedule for space, and be proactive.
Having structure around this is proving to be really important for me. Jordan and I have a shared calendar, and he has now marked times he will leave the house in the calendar. It feels calming to know that there are times coming up when he’ll definitely be gone.
Our brains don’t feel safe in an unpredictable environment. Having a need taken away and not knowing exactly when you’ll get it back can feel life-threatening – you can calm that feeling by adding as much predictability, routine, and structure to your life as you can. You can schedule times one of you will be in a separate room, times you’ll leave the house, or times you definitely won’t bother the other.
Adding routine will help a lot – wake up at the same time, eat around the same times, and do some things on a schedule. Plan this out before you get irritable, if possible – take space even when you don’t feel like you absolutely need it.
Humans are highly adaptable, and though this time is hard and scary for many, we will adapt to this experience.
Healthy relationships are resilient. Know that your partnership can handle the stress, even if you’re both not at your very best over the coming weeks. There will be an end of some sort, and you can work together to get your needs met as much as possible in the meantime.