8 Ways to Survive Isolation With Your Partner (And maybe even enjoy it)

Couple on couch woman in blue dress kneeling man in gray coat and khakies pointing at her

The truth is, we didn’t love marriage off the bat. It took some time – and a lot of work – for us to adjust to this whole thing. The first year was a bumpy one.

That’s part of why our extended honeymoon became so important to us. We were traveling in some of the most beautiful places in the world as newlyweds, but we had also just been through a really rough patch. So we didn’t just visit temples, we also got to know each other again.

We asked questions we had never thought to ask before. We got to see each other in completely different ways–note, these were not always flattering–when we were placed in the uncomfortable situations that came with long-term travel

Because of this effort, we came home happy, fulfilled, and in our “proper” blissfully happy newlywed stage. 

Then, we hit another bump in the road. Joe and I have lived on very different schedules for the last couple of years. At least before we were quarantined, we did.

I work nights and weekends bartending. He works a more typical, Mon-Fri, 8-6 schedule. Sometimes, we eat meals together. Even more rarely, we get a full day of together. 

Honestly? Things felt crappy.

We had trouble connecting with each other and communicating, felt further apart, and didn’t know how to fix it.

Enter quarantine and suddenly we’re together! Always. Constantly. Day in and day out. And we are LOVING it.

Joe and I have been together for almost a decade (eep!) and married for over 3 years. Through the years we’ve found that we really need consistent time together. That’s part of why that long trip abroad was so good for us.

In isolation, we have loads of consistent time together, and we’re absorbing it like the gleeful little sponges that we are. Unlike other people who keep rolling their eyes and snarkily quoting quarantine divorce rates, we’re quite happy being together 24/7. 

There are skills you can learn to help you to survive isolation with your partner.

Through our time living in a miniature sized Manhattan apartment and extended bouts of travel, we’ve learned how to enjoy one another even when–or especially when–we don’t have anything or anyone around to distract us. Like, say, a national lockdown. 

It doesn’t mean we don’t fight. It just means that we know our relationship can survive long periods of time alone together. So by the time we do leave our house, we’ll actually probably be a lot closer. 

Whether you’re crammed into a campervan on a road trip, or you’re stuck inside to avoid a deadly virus, there are real techniques and skills you can develop to survive long periods of time alone with your partner.

Who knows? You might even start to enjoy it. 

1. Fight quickly so you can forgive quickly.

Fuses are short as a motherf*cker around here these days. They explode on a whim, sometimes with almost nothing to ignite them. A sideways look, a muted response, a changing of the channel…there’s no shortage of excuses to just, you know, FREAK OUT, right now. 

Instead of resisting these arguments, let them play out. This way, it’s just a short burst of condensed emotion instead of a full-blown argument. It starts quickly and ends quickly. 

This makes it much easier to get to the part where you forgive each other. As much as that fighting feels good, forgiveness may actually make you a happier and healthier person.

Quick fight, quick forgiveness. 

2. Hash. It. Out.

Your baggage, we mean. We all have it, most of us have enough of it to fill a damn storage unit. Add that to the isolation you’re experiencing and things can get a bit hairy.

When it’s just you and your partner, there is nothing else to distract you. This is PRIME TIME for your issues to show themselves.

So you might as well sit down, welcome all of your baggage to the table, and figure it out. Do whatever you have to do to settle in for a long conversation–brew some tea, bake some biscuits–and then do the damn work.

Yes it’s messy, but it might not be as bad you think. More likely, it will help you to start to actually understand why your significant other is the way that he/she is which, shockingly, will bring you much closer together.

3. Use this time to do all “those things” you’ve been meaning to do.

No, I don’t mean write your novel. I mean, write it if you want to, or watch every season of Star Trek in your underwear. Whatever. Quarantine life is a strange and isolated place where the rules don’t apply and NO ONE CAN SEE YOU. Do whatever you damn please. But that’s not what I’m talking about here.

I’m talking about doing those meaningful things you’ve been wanting to do as a couple. 

Joe and I have been wanting to work on certain aspects of our marriage to bring things that we want into our relationship. But they take up so much time and attention that they never seem to happen. It leaves us both feeling deflated and unsure of how to prioritize our marriage when life is busy. 

Well guess what, we got nothing but time now.

So we’re using it. We’re slowing down again, asking each other different questions, engaging with one another in different ways. It’s gentle and awkward, almost like the beginning. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It certainly doesn’t feel like one. 

Things change a lot over the years, yet we tend to treat our partners like they’re the same person as the one we met and fell in love with. After 9 years, Joe and I are very different people than when we first fell in love. Suddenly, we have the time and space to see that and we’re sure as shit not going to waste it.

4. Catch up on what you missed.

For us, it’s been holidays. Working as a bartender means working holidays. This past year was especially rough. My mom died Thanksgiving week so that was a wash and then I worked both Christmas and New Years.

So we had Thanksgiving in April. My dad emailed me a stuffing recipe, written in my grandmother’s handwriting. Joe whipped mashed potatoes and roasted a pork tenderloin. We drank a lot of wine and ate food for hours until, in true Thanksgiving fashion, we were in physical pain.

We celebrated Greek Easter by cooking enough food for all the family that we missed and wished we were with. I cracked open my mom’s recipe box for the first time since she passed and made dishes from my childhood. 

The result? A lot of quality time with my husband without the stressors and complications that normally come with the holidays

There have been simpler things, too. 

  • We’re cooking together again, which we love and so rarely get to do in our normal lives.
  • We wake up earlier than we need to so we can walk the dog together every morning. 
  • We go to bed at the same time. 
  • We spend weekends snuggled on the couch, watching movies and mediocre TV shows.

These are things we’ve deeply missed in our marriage. So we’re taking them back while we can. 

5. Take it one millisecond at a time.

Sometimes the simplest solution is the right one. If you are losing it, ready to tear each other apart if one of you breathes in the same air as you, dial it back.

Take it one second at a time. In each of those seconds, focus solely on not killing each other. Try not to say awful, hurtful things or throw plates or whatever at each other, either. 

Survive one second, and then another, and then another. At some point–it may take many, many seconds–you will probably not want to kill each other anymore. If you still do, that’s above my pay grade. Which, as a reminder, is zero…be sure you’re taking all of this information with a big, fat clump of salt.

6. Talk about the small stuff, too.

I have a theory that this very item is what’s making people get slightly–ahem–frustrated with their significant others. For some of us, it’s been a while since we listened to our partner talk this much. It can be a lot to take in. This is less about learning to survive isolation with your partner and more about learning to enjoy it.

But even if we find our partners annoying or needy while they’re over there yapping away, there is a lot to be gained from all of this communicating. This is a rare opportunity to actually listen to our significant others. These are the people we choose to spend our time with, it could help to know their thoughts on certain topics other than politics at large.

Maybe you find they actually hate that one song you’ve been listening to in the car. Or perhaps you catch them laughing at a video by someone you’ve never heard of. There are SO many possibilities and ways to connect when we check-in about the little things, too.

7. When it inevitably does gets heated, cool off.

Back up. Take a time out. You don’t need space to calm the f*ck down. 

We shared a roughly 200 square foot apartment in the Upper West Side of Manhattan for almost 3 YEARS! When we fought in that apartment, I would stomp off into the only room with a door–the bathroom–loudly shut said door, and huddle on the tile floor or bath tub to cool off/cry/angrily text my friends. 

You don’t need a lot of space to separate. Walk away when it gets heated, even if away is a 3 foot sprint into the closet. 

8. Have a marriage meeting.

I learned from a Tim Ferris podcast episode. He laid out a format that he and his girlfriend used to check in with each other every week. We’ve tweaked it to suit us so it’s something like this:

  • What did I do well this week
  • What did you do well this week
  • What could I have done better
  • What could you have done better
  • What did we do well as a couple
  • What could we have done better

The point is not what you talk about but to schedule this time for potential conflict talk. It’s a time to discuss the less important issues that, if left alone, could later turn into more of those meaningless arguments.

Bonus: Adopt a puppy!

Ok, not really. But maybe. It helps us. Or at least it makes our insides feel all soft and fluffy like her perfect puppy hair.

But I digress.

Whatever you do, try to hang in there. Connect with friends and family for support (or shoot us a message!) and do your best to get through this time together. You might even find that you come to enjoy it.

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Alicia is a freelance writer, bartender, and the MLT wife! She loves running, beaches, and tiny animals.

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