Staying together when you’re stuck together 1

Morgan Decker, Anthony O’Reilly and Mowgli the cat on a road trip upstate.

The honeymoon phase of most relationships is usually filled with movie and restaurant dates, meeting each other’s friends and maybe a quick trip away together. Mine was spent quarantining in a 300-square-foot apartment with my girlfriend and her cat.

I met Morgan Decker, a native Floridian, in January 2020 and quickly realized I liked her, and it wasn’t long before I used another L word to describe my affection. Luckily for me the feeling was mutual, so when New York went into lockdown we both agreed to spend it together in her Upper East Side apartment (I was still living in Queens). We thought it’d last a couple of weeks, two months at the most.

We’ve now spent more than a year together, and somehow found a way to grow our relationship despite not having the most normal start to it.

I’ve heard from couples who have been together for years that quarantine was a struggle for them, and they’ve marveled at the fact we were able to do it in such a small space. That’s understandable — this time, which is only now showing real signs of coming to a close, has put stress on everything, including people’s relationships.

But there are ways to survive extended periods of time inside together. Here’s a few expert-backed tips that I’ve learned through my experience.

Communication is essential in any relationship, but in a taxing situation like the pandemic it’s even more important. StayTalk, an online therapy company, stresses that in its guide to maintaining relationships during quarantine. “Part of this is learning to fight well — meaning being empathetic, and not engaging in minimizing, name calling, or shaming,” the online service says on its website.

Take time to sit down and be honest with each other, and while one person is talking the other should be silent and listening attentively. And if you’re the person who needs to get something off their chest it’s better to do it sooner rather than later. Don’t let things fester and become worse than they already are.

This falls under “easier said than done,” and there are times when you’ll raise your voice or make a snide comment you want to take back as soon as it escapes your mouth. These can be hurtful situations, but it’s important to realize you’re both under a lot of stress.

“There’s no question that being cooped up together can act like an amplification of all the things that are already difficult in a relationship,” Dr. Richard Schwartz, associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told Massachusetts General Hospital’s website.

Fights can be hurtful, but step back and realize couples might not be feeling this way if they weren’t cooped up indoors all day long. During regular life we have the distractions of commuting, work and a social life to keep us from blowing up — it’s harder to do that when you have no escape.

That’s also why it’s important to give space. Morgan and I developed a system early in quarantine where we alternate workouts — when one person’s running, the other gets to enjoy the apartment to themselves. Sometimes those runs can last 60 minutes, or two hours. Either way, we get some alone time.

Lastly, celebrate what you have in common. Morgan and I love to cook, so we have one or two nights where we assist each other in the kitchen. Some nights we’ll slip into more formal wear, even though we’re just sitting on the couch in the apartment we’ve spent all day in.

I’m by no means a relationship expert, but I do know my bond with Morgan is stronger than any other I’ve had. And I believe it’s because we’ve stuck to these tips, and have committed to doing so well into the future.

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