So that the household doesn't end badly during COVID-19 pandemic

Passengers wearing facemasks at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (Chad Davis)

Tisha felt a strange sensation during the stay-at-home order that had lasted for a month: easier to be in a grumpy mood. Her husband, too. Because of that, they often fight.

"So, I was working on my laptop. I had been working since 6 a.m. I was so tired. A lot of revisions," she said. "Then after lunch, my husband talked to me. He was like, 'Are you with me? Do I have to repeat all my questions so many times?"

At other times, the trigger was moving the folding table. The next day, the issue was different. And so on. The common thread was trivial matters, according to Tisha, that had not been sticking out on ordinary days.

Tisha is not alone. Many couples have experienced this since the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to undergo self-quarantine.

Imagine that you have to confine yourself all day in a tight room, still doing office and domestic chores while leisure activities are very limited, and sleep and wake up with the same person.

"No space for yourself. Working time and family time, it's hard to notice the difference. Like, my body is at home, but my mind is somewhere else," added Tisha.

The real issue of the COVID-19 pandemic is that there is no certainty when the outbreak will end. This situation is very likely to be an extra burden that makes quarantine with your partner feels like torturing.

A church with a closure sign due to COVID-19

Scientists call Tisha's experience as cabin fever. The symptoms are ranging from stress, fatigue, easily ignited emotions, to insomnia, which affects your sleep schedule.

Psychologists formulate other signs such as increased distrust of people in the same room and a tendency to do irrational things.

Some argue that during quarantine, people tend to reveal their true nature. If what buried inside is a destructive character, then his/her partner must be more vigilant.

The tension and the case can be different in each country. Some end up as small fights. There is also domestic violence or even divorce.

Time reported that the National Domestic Violence Hotline received a surge in rescue calls. Victims reported that their spouse, who had committed domestic violence, used quarantine as an excuse to further isolate victims from family and friends.

Katie Ray-Jones, the CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, explained how domestic violence is actually rooted in power and control.

Poster against domestic violence in Bolgatanga, Ghana (Adam Jones)

"Right now, we are all feeling a lack of control over our lives and an individual who cannot manage that will take it out on their victim," said Ray-Jones.

Meanwhile, divorce trends have risen in China in recent months, for example, in the capital of Shaanxi Province, Xi'an. In that city, more than ten million people were quarantined. Local authorities cited one of the causes of the rise in divorce was quarantine.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported that similar situations occurred in Dazhou, Sichuan Province. Divorce rates skyrocketed in early March. In Miluo City, Hunan Province, divorce agency officials even "didn't have time to drink water" because so many couples lined up to file.

"Trivial matters in life led to the escalation of conflicts, and poor communication has caused everyone to be disappointed in marriage and make the decision to divorce," said one officer.

There is an interesting opinion from Laura Wasser, a divorce lawyer from Los Angeles who inspired Laura Dern in Marriage Story.

"A quarantine experience, particularly where there are underlying issues of resentment and poor communication, could be devastating to a marital relationship," she told The New Yorker.

Newlyweds after a civil ceremony in the tower of Stockholm City Hall in 2016 (Jacob Truedson Demitz)

Thus, the symptoms of cabin fever for each couple vary according to relationship condition. Even so, a relationship that looks good is not really safe from potential conflicts.

Then, how to deal with quarantine without imitating the ending of The Shining when Jack Nicholson lost his mind and hunted down his wife and son?

Therapist Dr. Orna Guralnik viewed that quarantine could be a kind of test for every couple who did it. To Emily Todd VanDerWerff of Vox, she described a number of solutions.

Firstly, realize the source of anger often comes from personal dilemmas that are poured out on a partner. The stronger the emotions are, the more likely someone drags a small issue into a big one. Is your anger really just because every afternoon it is your turn to do the dishes? Or, in fact, do you harbor technical problems in work that has accumulated since the beginning of the quarantine.

After realizing the dilemma, a person is expected to be able to control his/her emotions better. If you cannot solve it by yourself, instead of projecting them to others, you can invite your partner to talk about it, and try to find the solutions as well.

"Most of our fights are about some way that we interpersonalize our own dilemmas," explained Guralnik.

Secondly, make a clear schedule for daily activities whether it is about work, domestic chores, rest time, and leisure activities to refresh your mind. Guralnik called it "structure." This structure must be carried out in a disciplined manner so that 24 hours are not wasted by just one or two activities.

Watching television (Evert F. Baumgardner)

The question is, how readily does the couple adapt to the changes that inevitably have to be done, for example, a sports agenda? Ideally, the same activities can be carried out during quarantine, even sports that can be done indoor.

No less important is the schedule of us-time vs me-time. Quarantine makes a couple lose their privacy, and this situation often triggers quarrels. Working for me-time also doesn't have to be in a different room. Me-time can be by doing leisure activities individually without interruption in the same room.

Thirdly, still related to privacy, is to respect each other's uniqueness. So, don't be surprised if your partner completes his/her work in ways that might be unusual.

"We are, indeed, different people with different needs, and it's important for us to be able to do things differently," said Guralnik.

The same formula also applies outside of work. In your spare time, let your partner live his/her hobbies, or even his/her new hobby, to drive the term boredom out of his/her head. Suddenly, she wants to play TikTok? Okay. Trying yoga and meditation? Very nice. Cooking a new recipe? Why not?

"If they want to join, great. If they don't want to join, that's probably great, too. We need boundaries around this ambiguous, endless stretch of time that's all around us, so anything that can create differentiation, boundaries, or difference is really good for us right now," continued Guralnik.

The good news is, quarantine is not entirely negative. This time can also be the right moment to increase intimacy with your partner, especially for those who are usually drowned out by work in the office. Now is the right time to pay it all off.


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