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When You and Your Partner Disagree on How to Handle COVID-19

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Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD - Blogs
By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhDPsychologistJune 24, 2020
From the WebMD Archives

For some disagreements, there is no middle ground. If you want a beach vacation in San Diego while your partner would prefer exploring the rocky coastline of Bangor, Maine, it’s unlikely that either of you will be happy with visiting the midpoint of Conway, Missouri. But with COVID-19 and people fearing for their lives, this problem has been heightened. Your actions affect the health of your partner (and vice versa), with potentially life-altering consequences. So, how can you resolve your differences of opinion?

As you think through your particular disagreements, it’s best to start with consciously reflecting on how you love your partner. Assuming this is true, they are the most important person (or one of the most important people) in your life. Being respectful of them and protecting the health of your relationship are, by default, a priority. While you don’t want to lose yourself in your relationship, you need to balance your preferences and fears with theirs. (To learn more about how to negotiate differences of opinion, check out my brief video, One Simple Strategy for Resolving Conflict

Of course, neither of you wants to get sick, or wants the other to get sick. However, it is practically impossible to reduce your chances of this to zero. So, if you and your partner differ in regard to how much you need to protect yourselves from the virus, you may end up in a standoff when social events arise or you try to figure out what “getting back to normal” means. Even simple activities like going for a walk in the park can be stressful – to wear a mask or not to wear a mask?

You can find ways to work through some differences, even if one of you thinks there is basically nothing to worry about and the other one fears for your lives or the lives of loved ones. You might agree to keep all social interactions to a minimum, but also agree to attending some gatherings, so long as they are outside and include social distancing. You might also agree to picking a couple of friends to be your regular socializing buddies because you trust they are taking precautions.

However, there might be some situations that don’t allow for compromise. Perhaps you are invited to a wedding or other celebration that is being held indoors. One of you is totally up for it. The other one feels badly about missing it, but is not willing to take the risk of attending – even with social distancing and wearing masks. So, now what?

This may be one of those no-middle-ground situations. In a relationship where you truly love and respect each other, there is not much choice. When you balance fear of life against a desire to attend an event, the former must win out. The person who is okay with attending may feel frustrated and upset, but those are not reasons to ignore your partner’s fear. It can also be very helpful for the fearful partner to recognize the other person’s missing out as an act of love and to empathize with how hard it might be to make the accommodation.

This pandemic can strain relationships in many ways. But when you keep your love and caring in the forefront of your mind, your relationship has a much better chance of remaining strong through these difficult times.



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About the Author
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Dr. Becker-Phelps is a licensed psychologist in NJ and NY, and is on staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset. She is dedicated to helping people understand themselves and what they need to do to become emotionally and psychologically healthy. She accomplishes this through her work as a psychotherapist, speaker and writer. She is the author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love.

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