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Once you both get a deeper sense of how this moment in time is affecting each of you (again, the “process”), you can return to the content by trying this exercise: Argue your partner’s side of the disagreement. Doing this will make the other person feel deeply heard and understood, and also more willing to hear and understand a different point of view. If you’re arguing his side, depending on what you learned in your earlier conversation, you might find yourself saying something such as, “I don’t think I can cope without my friends,” and he might find himself saying (when arguing your side), “I’m terrified that our son will get very sick.”
This is where a shift begins, because after seeing the world through the other’s eyes, you’ll probably think, Wow, for him to not have that social outlet really sucks—and in a way that’s different from how it sucks for me. He, in turn, will likely reflect, It’s very reasonable for her to feel anxious about bringing people into our house, even though my experience of anxiety is different from hers.
At this point, you’ll start to realize that instead of being on opposing sides, you’re actually on the same team—neither of you would intentionally endanger your family, and both of you have the same goal, which is to keep everyone safe. Your task then, as team members, is to figure out what needs aren’t being met, and how you can work together to meet them—to preserve not only the family’s physical health, but also its emotional health. How can you help each other get through this?
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Can he support you by not allowing your kids to have friends or romantic partners over, especially given your son’s underlying medical condition? Can you support him in meeting his social needs by managing your own anxiety around his socially distanced, outdoor visits with friends? And together can you find ways to recharge, relax, and create some version of normalcy—through virtual dinners or happy hours with friends, family game or movie nights, and private time for just the two of you? (Lately, I’ve been saying to couples: “You know how when couples first meet, they pretty much quarantine themselves, as all they want to do is spend all their time alone together? Remember how much fun that was? What are some things you did then that you might try to revisit now?”)
Taking this approach will not only help resolve the current issue in this very difficult time, but also give you a framework for negotiating whatever comes up in the future, when you’ll look back and say, “Wow, if we could work together then, we can work together now.”
Dear Therapist is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice, and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, mental-health professional, or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. By submitting a letter, you are agreeing to let The Atlantic use it—in part or in full—and we may edit it for length and/or clarity.