This article originally appeared on VICE US.
It’s stupid at this point to play the remember one month ago!?!? game, but, for these purposes, it’s worthwhile: One month ago, your partner’s rugged individualism and unwillingness to read an entire article before weighing in were charming personality quirks; the kind of stuff that’s either endearing or aggravating, depending on your mood.
But now, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, you might be viewing those traits in an entirely different light. Alex’s individuality and and “fuck it, let’s party!!!” nihilism isn’t just Alex doing Alex when we’re talking about social distancing and other necessary precautions. Seemingly personal choices are now a literal matter of life and death, and could reveal a significant difference in values within your relationship, making you wonder if this person is the right match for you. (So many people are facing similar dilemmas, there’s an entire website dedicated to documenting quarantine partner drama.)
Maybe you were considering breaking up before you got stuck in an apartment with your partner for the foreseeable future, or maybe being stuck with them has made you realize this isn’t working for you. While the ongoing pandemic has slowed (or completely halted) most parts of our lives, this one particular thing doesn’t have to be put on hold. You can still end a relationship, provided you can do so safely (more on that later).
Conventional wisdom tells us to not make any big, life-changing decisions during times of increased stress, the idea being that our little brains can’t think clearly when we’re processing intense emotions. But the nature of this unprecedented situation may actually provide necessary clarity. There might be no better way to learn how you want to live your life—and who you want to share it with—than staring down your own mortality.
Rosara Torrisi, a certified sex therapist based in New York, told VICE that this moment is essentially a compatibility test for a lot of couples, old and new. The coronavirus pandemic is going to reveal not just how they respond to this specific situation, but also how they might deal with other rough life moments. “Being in a high-stress moment for a long period of time in a relationship… that’s gonna happen,” Torrisi said. “Whether it’s COVID[-19], or someone getting really sick, losing money, or losing a job, there’s a million ways that you will be stressed in a long-term relationship. This is one of those moments.”
The way individuals react to a stressful situation—and react to each other’s reactions—is a fairly big part of their overall long-term compatibility. And if those responses are drastically different—perhaps you skew more doomsday prepper, while your partner is more Margaritaville-chillin’, stocking up only on weed and video games and telling you to calm down—and lead to problems, that’s important information to have. Are you cool being with someone who will never be freaking out along with you, or who you think is constantly overreacting?
Alternatively, Torrisi points out that extremely similar ways of coping might be just as bad. “Let’s say two partners are together and they’re exceptionally anxious and following the news, just kind of amping each other up; that’s not really helpful, either,” she said. That can be harder to spot, because it typically feels good when someone agrees with you and eggs you on. But if you’re getting a nagging sense that the person you’re with is not bringing out the best in you, it’s worth paying attention to that feeling.
The actual logistics of managing a break up right now are where things get a little trickier. If your partner is simply a pain in the ass who you no longer want to be with but can tolerate for a while longer, and you’re already secure in your pandemic bunker, Torrisi said you may just want to stay put. “If your safety is still intact, you always have to prioritize that,” she said.
For the actual breakup, it’s important to try maintaining the peace in your pandemic bunker. To do that, Torrisi recommended having a radically empathetic conversation. Even if you find your partner’s behavior to be batshit and wrong, trying to understand it will lead to a calmer conversation than holding up an empty box of rigatoni and screaming, “HOW DID YOU ALREADY EAT ALL OF OUR PASTA, YOU FREAK, THIS IS EXACTLY WHY WE CAN’T BE TOGETHER!!!!”
“Even if you disagree, you might have a better understanding of where they are coming from,” Torrisi said. “And then you can say, ‘OK, I understand why, I can empathize with it, but I completely disagree with it. It makes it really clear for me that your decision making is not something I can get on board with, or that I want to be a part of long term.’”
If you’re currently sharing a space and you’re worried your partner may harm you if you try to break up with them, but you can’t currently go to a shelter or family member’s house, an appropriate alternative would be to find a friend who lives within walking distance, and will agree to hunker down with you for the foreseeable future. Otherwise, resources like the National Domestic Violence Hotline are equipped to help you, even during a pandemic when there’s limited mobility.
The TL;DR here is this pandemic sucks hard enough without adding the unnecessary pressure to stay in a bad relationship into the mix. DTMFA, and soothe your pains with one of your favorite rations.
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