How can my partner and I sync our self-care routines?
“Is there a way to get your partner’s self-care routine and your own synced up? I feel like we are just out of a rhythm—one of us needs to workout/plug into a podcast while the other needs to chit-chat, and when you finally need some alone time you can sense your partner wanting to hang out with you. It’s just been weird getting into a flow with so much time together in a small one-bedroom apartment. I’m not sure if there anything to do or just accept that we are living in a weird time with COVID.”
I’ve been no further than 30 feet away from my husband at (almost) all times in our one bed and one bath apartment since March 2020. The only thing that feels truly synced are the tired jokes we make at the exact same time. And, sometimes horrifyingly, our bathroom schedule. As I type this, I can hear him watching the news in the living room while I work in the bedroom. And it’s…*grits teeth into a smile*…fine. All this to say, I understand what you’re feeling.
For us, this started even before COVID; I’d wake early and drink my coffee, so by the time he groggily emerged from the bedroom, I was properly caffeinated and ready to share my energetic to-do list. Then, I’d come home from a stressful commute, and he’d be there, eager to tell me about the minutiae of his day. Our energies were so often the opposite that, finally, we had to have “the talk.”
I can’t always hold space for you to list off everything you did today, I explained. I can’t properly respond to your enthusiasm first thing in the morning, he told me. As it turns out, passive-aggressive statements and glances weren’t working for us. But here’s how we worked through our disconnect; I hope it can be helpful for you as you navigate some of these same conversations.
Start laying the groundwork with a conversation about this very out-of-sync-ness. Explain how it makes you feel, and open yourself up to hearing how it makes your partner feel, too (this is a vulnerable thing!). Then, agree together on non-confrontational ways to ask your partner if they need space, or vice versa. For my husband and me, we need honesty and the space to soothe our own reactive feelings of rejection. It’s okay if I ask for my space, I still love you.
It was also in that first conversation that my husband and I discussed practicing boundaries (and patience) when it comes to things like being in our small kitchen at the same time. There’s more strategy there than you might think; being close in a busy kitchen stresses him out, while proximity doesn’t bother me in the slightest. We both had to recognize and reconcile our styles.
Importantly, I recommend using clear terms—almost ones that feel embarrassingly simple. (“My brain is tired, I’m going lay here on my phone in silence” or “I can’t focus on this right now, can we talk about it tomorrow?”) I consulted my husband about this, and we both agree that pairing a mature tone with a simple vocabulary is a good way to be direct without being patronizing. Don’t get me wrong, occasionally an annoyed and bitter, “I just need you to leave me alone” slips out of desperation. It’s okay. We give each other the space we need, then connect later to discuss how that tone makes us feel (which is: not great). Apologies ensue, and we re-commit to being patient with each other, because COVID is a really weird time.
And if you or your partner are the planning type, which I am maybe 50 percent of the time, take a look at your days or week in advance. I like to plan out my self-care for each week and tell my partner what I’m doing, when, and whether he’s invited. We’ve also become intimately familiar with our standard ebbs and flows of energy and communication needs—I know to go about my own business and self-care in the mornings, while he’s much more of a night owl. That means I don’t throw a fit when he stays up at night to play video games virtually with “the guys,” which is important community time for him. That also means he occasionally hears my mom and me talking on speakerphone in the mornings while I wash my face. As the months progress, we’ve found that these “outside people” are really important to help us feel less like we’re in an echo chamber together.
If and when you can, intentionally set aside time to spend together and apart. If you can safely plan a weekend walk in your neighborhood together, go for it! Even a planned walk can give you a little boost of anticipation and optimism to get through the drudgery of the week. But you don’t always have to do everything together; get comfy with walking by yourself, or maybe even just sitting alone on your stoop. It gives you some fresh air and your partner space to just… be. It is also well within the bounds of a healthy relationship to ask a partner to plan something outside of the house so you can have some you-time. Difficult in a pandemic? Yes. A strange request? Not at all.
Imagine that you and your partner are a Venn diagram—during this pandemic, it’s easy to squish together into a singular circle. But by finding—and supporting—each other’s individuality, it keeps you whole on your own, and makes the space where you overlap feel all the more special. It’s not always easy, and it takes a hearty dose of humility. But there are people worth syncing with, and it sounds like you’re excited to put in that work with your partner. Sending you all the patience and noise-canceling headphones you can find!
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Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio. Say hi on Instagram!