Dear Wayne and Wanda,
My husband and I have always gotten along pretty well, with minimal fighting, and even minimal disagreements. We just have a pretty harmonious relationship. One of my favorite things about us is this peace we’ve always had. After a series of serious relationships that were way more dramatic and emotional, our marriage has felt like a safe space with someone I just get along with so well, almost without even trying. It’s great.
Since COVID-19 came along, though, things have been different. It didn’t start immediately, but after the first couple weeks of quarantining, I noticed we were just picking at each other more. We started bickering about the stupidest little things that before wouldn’t have been even worth a mention. For example, I scolded him for not loading the dishwasher the way I like. I could literally hear myself doing it as I was thinking to myself, why are you even talking about this? I know I should have just been grateful he was helping.
Some other examples: he yelled at me the other day because I did laundry and didn’t ask if he had any clothes to contribute. We argue frequently about what to have for dinner. I lost it over some hair in the bathtub drain. He flipped out when he stumbled over a pair of shoes I left lying around. I could go on.
I want my happy marriage back, I want to quit acting like a crazy nit-picky person, and I want my husband to mellow out too. Help?
Several weeks ago, I verbally snapped when my partner accidentally shrunk a sweater of mine. Never mind the fact it was a sweater I hadn’t worn in years and only found on an overzealous, quarantine-fueled closet purge — and never mind that he was trying to be nice by washing it in the first place.
This is what stress does to us. Layer on the fact that most of us are still stuck in close quarters, and have little alone time and limited or no access to our usual means of decompressing. In a way, letting off some steam by venting at our loved ones is a safe space to be a little unhinged because what are they going to do about it? Leave? We always have more leeway to be crazy, irrational, and a little emotionally reckless with those close to us — but that doesn’t mean we should.
You’ve already surmounted an obstacle by recognizing your behavior is somewhat toxic and out of character. Now what? Let’s revert to the classic “I statement” advice that can work wonders in conflict. Next time your husband does something that irks you, instead of launching full-nuclear on him with accusations and criticism, try this: “Babe, I know I am feeling this way because I’m super stressed/tired/anxious right now; I feel (irritated/brittle/frustrated) when it appears you’re (leaving things messy/indecisive about dinner/shrinking a sweater I never wore).”
Beginning by owning your own feelings and acknowledging that those feelings have created a skewed lens that you’re applying to otherwise perfectly tolerable behavior will hopefully help create a safer space to have an honest and vulnerable conversation about the bigger issues of stress and anxiety that are in play.
I’ve found the most interesting way to destroy a sweater is having someone hold a strand as you walk away …
Look, you and your husband aren’t alone in struggling with the realities of this wacky new alternate universe we’re all living and locked in. In fact, everyone’s going COVID crazy nowadays. Some are still hunkering down and avoiding the world outside. Some are tossing their masks into a bonfire and dancing around with a bunch of buddies and strangers like it’s the Summer of Love 2020 — we’re looking at you, Girdwood! Some are doing takeout or delivery once a week and slowly easing back into their workplaces, friendships and other routines to create some level of safe and thoughtful normalcy.
I’m confident you can chalk up your recent struggles and squabbles with your husband to the added time together and, as Wanda noted, the new and sometimes overwhelming stresses, anxieties and unknowns we’re all feeling these days. And if you’re spending more than five seconds watching cable news or cruising your social media feed, those feelings are probably instantly exasperated and intensified. It’s easy to get worked up or knocked down these days.
This isn’t the beginning of the end for your relationship. These are annoying little mosquito bites in an endless summer. It’s also an opportunity for a reset. Why not adopt a mantra and repeat it whenever your husband does something that annoys you or when he snaps at you for some unreasonable reason: “I love my husband. My husband loves me. We are stressed. This is silly. We’re amazing partners. We’re gonna be fine.” Yeah, a little on the longish side as far as mantras go, but it flows. So, think of it. Say it out loud. Say it to him. Repeat it often. You’ll be amazed how ridiculous these fights will suddenly seem and how clearly you’ll see that your love for one another is much stronger than any dirty underwear that got left in the hamper.
And trust that this too shall pass. Hang in there.
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