You’re Going to Get on Each Other’s Nerves — Here’s How to Work Through It
Even in the healthiest relationships, partners don’t always get along perfectly.
That’s completely normal — and part of what makes it so important you enjoy time apart to do your own thing.
In a typical setting, you can probably create time for yourself without much trouble. Partners often spend time apart during work, school, with hobbies or exercise, completing errands, and seeing friends.
But during the COVID-19 pandemic, these options aren’t viable for most.
And if you’re sheltering-in-place in close quarters, your relationship might be under some strain already.
It’s understandable to feel increased uncertainty and stress, but it’s important to remember that neither of you is to blame for what’s going on in the world right now.
Letting tension color your interactions with each other can make it tough to get along and support each other.
But you can express your frustration in helpful ways instead of lashing out. Here’s how.
Don’t underestimate the power of a check-in
Before you raise an issue, check in with yourself about the problem first.
Ask yourself exactly what you feel
Naming the emotion that’s troubling you can help you take the first steps toward managing it productively.
Closer examination might reveal an entirely different emotion than you first thought you were facing.
When irritability creeps up, for example, take a break from the situation. Sit with those feelings and do a little digging.
Maybe you’re not annoyed with your partner, but frustrated by the inability to go out and do something fun. Or maybe you’re restless because you haven’t had a chance to exercise.
Mindfulness tools like meditation and journaling can help you practice accepting your feelings. Sharing frustrations with a trusted friend can help you uncover and make sense of difficult feelings, too.
If your annoyance does stem from something they did, explore the situation further by asking yourself:
- When did I start feeling like this? (Maybe you woke up and found they hadn’t washed the dishes for the third night running.)
- Have I felt like this before? (I always feel short-tempered when I’m scared.)
- Is it related to something I’m doing? (Maybe you haven’t taken any time to recharge on your own lately.)
- Is it related to something they’re doing? (Maybe they won’t stop humming while they work, making concentration impossible.)
- Is it related to something else? (The world is pretty frightening right now, so your emotions likely relate at least partially to the general upheaval around you.)
Make time to talk to your partner
Once you identify the feeling, then you can bring it up. Even if it doesn’t have anything to do with them, talking can still have benefit.
Stress and fear are easier to bear when shared, and sometimes just opening up about difficult feelings can decrease their intensity.
When they have done something to irritate you, a respectful conversation can improve the situation.
Talk when you feel calm, not angry, and make sure they’re in the right mood for a conversation, too. If you aren’t sure how they feel, it’s always wise to ask.
Before you bring up the issue, consider how to open the discussion without judgment. Start by validating the situation and any stress they might feel.
If, for example, they keep neglecting their share of the chores, you might say:
“I know it’s hard to maintain our typical routine during this difficult time. But I feel even more stressed when everything around me is cluttered, so I’d really like to keep up on housework together. I’m wondering if it might help to switch chores or work on them at the same time. What do you think?”
Then, listen to their side. They might struggle with chores when anxious and didn’t realize how stressed you felt by things going undone.
Acknowledge and affirming their feelings helps them feel heard, too.
If tensions are already high and the mood doesn’t seem right for a conversation, try writing a letter.
Open the letter with a similar validation of the situation and their feelings before getting to the heart of the matter. No matter how you address the issue, remember they’re dealing with challenging feelings, too.
Wrap up your letter (or conversation) by touching base on how to make things easier for each other. It never hurts to reaffirm your love and affection, either.
Different emotions often have different resolutions
Working through challenging emotions doesn’t always play out the same way.
Your approach can vary depending on exactly what feeling you’re attempting to navigate and whether they’re part of the issue or not.
Also remember people don’t always work through emotions in the same way. You may have different instinctive approaches toward managing tough feelings.
When tension intensifies unwanted emotions, both of you can end up struggling.
You might find it even more frustrating when their preferred method of resolution doesn’t seem to help. You might wonder why they don’t want to try things your way.
Keep in mind, you’re not the same person, so you won’t see things in entirely the same way. But honest, open discussion can help you come up with a solution together.
If you’re feeling stressed or anxious
You’re far from alone, if the global pandemic has triggered some stress. Many people around the world currently live with fear and anxiety, and your partner probably numbers among them, too.
Bottling up feelings of stress and anxiety can make them worse. Other coping strategies, like drinking a lot of alcohol or watching show after show on Netflix, may not help much either.
But a team approach can help. Commit to sharing feelings with each other by talking about emotions as they come up or making a point to check in once a day.
If you’ve been together for some time, you can probably read each other’s moods fairly well. If they seem a little on edge, try suggesting a distracting activity or something that offers a tone shift.
Whether they’ve contributed to your stress or not, keep in mind it’s not a bad thing to want time apart.
Try spending time separately doing something relaxing like listening to music, reading in the bathtub, or taking a long walk. This can help you feel better and distract you from triggers before they become overwhelming.
If you’re feeling scared or concerned
Fear, confusion, and uncertainty are completely normal right now.
You might joke about the apocalypse as the world begins to resemble the dystopian setting in your favorite movie or TV series, but generally speaking, fear isn’t comfortable.
Most people don’t like being afraid of things they can’t control.
Instead of trying to bluff your way through what you feel, try talking about it instead. Honesty and authenticity can help bring you closer together.
Acting like nothing’s wrong, on the other hand, might have the opposite effect. They might get the idea you aren’t taking things seriously and become irritated or even more fearful as a result.
Beyond general uncertainty about what to expect, you might also have some specific worries about:
- loved ones
- life ever getting back to normal
If one of you still works in a public position, you might have a lot of concerns about potential exposure, which can worsen fear and stress.
But having a plan for how you’ll handle potential infections can help you feel more in control.
Addressing specific fears can help you come up with potential strategies to help improve even worst-case scenarios. This can empower you and help make the situation seem easier to deal with.
When working through fear, make sure to talk about boundaries.
It’s important to talk about your concerns, but ruminating on them or revisiting them again and again generally doesn’t help.
Respect each other’s boundaries around needing space from these topics.
If you’re feeling sad or upset
The pandemic has disrupted life in countless ways. Many people around the world are dealing with grief over missed events, inability to interact with loved ones, and other pandemic-related changes and losses.
When struggling with sadness and other distress, remind yourself your feelings are entirely valid.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re miserable over the postponed Olympics or dejected over having to cancel your wedding.
It’s OK to feel sad, so make sure to give yourself space and time to grieve any losses or missed opportunities. Just remember that everyone has losses to grieve, even if they aren’t the same as yours.
If you’re sad over not getting to see your family and annoyed because it seems like your partner cares more about the cancellation of their favorite show, remember that people deal with sadness in different ways.
Try offering compassion and empathy, even if you don’t quite understand where they’re coming from. Their grief might seem small in comparison to yours, but it’s their grief.
If you’re feeling angry or unheard
Got a lot on your mind right now? You’re in good company.
If your partner seems to brush off your emotional state or ignore your feelings entirely, you might feel a little angry.
But before you let your anger fuel a conflict, try working through it in more helpful ways.
- Take a minute to relax with deep breathing or other calming exercises.
- Ask yourself how you might communicate what’s bothering you.
- Remind yourself that their stress and unease might have an impact on their ability to be present for you.
- Let them know you feel unheard — they may not realize until you say something.
- Leave the room when you feel anger bubble up. Getting some physical distance can help you see the situation more clearly.
As you might realize yourself, it’s not always easy to handle someone else’s intense feelings when trying to cope with your own emotional turmoil.
Respect their frame of mind by asking them to let you know when they feel like talking. This can make a big difference in your success at resolving issues.
If you’re feeling neglected or mistreated
Trying to navigate personal overwhelm makes it difficult to remain present for others.
Some people can manage distress while also offering support. Others might cope by helping loved ones cope.
But if your partner needs to address their emotions first, you might end up feeling somewhat neglected.
Maybe they don’t feel up to your usual game night, cooking, or home workout. Perhaps they seem a little short-tempered, even snappish, or have low interest in sex or cuddling.
Unmet needs can ramp up feelings of loneliness and neglect.
But good self-care and self-soothing practices can help you tend to yourself until they feel more capable of connection.
- Keep your mood up by getting enough sleep, eating regular meals, and keeping active.
- Spend some time doing things you love each day, from simple activities like enjoying a cup of tea in your garden to more complex ones, like beginning an ambitious project.
- Remind yourself of five things you love about them. Use your creativity to turn it into an artwork, letter, or poem to brighten their day.
- Do something nice for them, just because you care. Acts of kindness can have a positive impact on your mood.
- Find a good time to mention how you feel and work on a solution together.
The bottom line
Tensions at home might be running a little higher than usual, but that’s a pretty common outcome of crisis.
You might be a little more inclined to pick at each other for little things, but try not to let the added stress strain your relationship.
Honest communication, with a little patience thrown in, can help you come out of the pandemic with a stronger partnership rather than one that feels frayed at the seams.
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