Relationship Tips for Surviving in Captivity: Covid-19 Urban Edition

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Today’s Ask Wendy column has been supplanted in lieu of the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

Don’t worry, I’ll get back to answering your “why did he ghost me” and “what’s up with anal” questions next week. Right now, we need to focus on the pressing question of “how do we not kill each other when we’re sheltering in a place the size of a walnut?”

The San Francisco Bay Area, New York, Toronto, Los Angeles, Boston, I feel you—and this article is for you!


Bringing peace, grace, and calmness instead of fear, panic, and chaos into under 800 square feet will take an action plan. In light of this new reality (however temporary we hope it will be), I’ve come up with some helpful things to decide as you navigate quarantine-land together.

Decide—together—how you will:

Get Alone Time (Together) & Handle Interruptions

I’ll lead with this, as it’s likely to be the first thing that will drive both of you a little bit nuts. Top suggestions are…

  • Designate hours: For example, maybe from 8 a.m. through 11 a.m., you and your partner host “silent time” while you work on individual tasks around the house, apartment etc.


  • Use prompts: i.e. “When I’m wearing headphones, please don’t interrupt me” or “If I’m taking a bath, please respect that bathtime is my quiet time for myself for the evening.”


  • Don’t Blurt Things Out

Duh! Obvious, right? Dude, it’s so much harder than it sounds. You’re here. They’re right there on the couch. Seven hummingbirds are at the four-hole feeder right outside your window just two feet from both of you. You want to exclaim about the bird rager, right? Even simply sighing, “God damn, this article is long!” seems like a normal thing to say, but when they’re deep in thought or trying to get work done, it’s rude. (There are seven hummingbirds at my four-hole feeder right now as I write this long article, and…I’m telling you instead of my partner. He’s working. See? You can be victorious in this, too.)

  • Use safewords or short-cut phrases:
    • A finger up means not just now. Index finger, that is—a middle finger means something else.
    • “Now?” is an easy one for “Can I interrupt now?”
    • “Are you deep?” means “can I interrupt what you’re doing right now or are you deep into a project?” I find this one really useful.


  • Text: During work hours, do what you do when they’re at their office. Send them a text. They’ll hear that ding and look at it on their own timeline, even if you’re both in the same room.


  • Spread out to different zones of your house, and be willing to accommodate as needed with three different work stations you can use. For example, when you’re working in the bedroom and they need a nap, hop to your next zone. This can work in small spaces, too! For example, maybe Person #1 takes the apartment balcony nook and Person #2 hunkers down on the sofa bed, and then at noon, you switch.
    • Caveat: For some, it works best to just pick your spot and park there, e.g. one of you in the bedroom, the other in the living room. And speaking of…

Claim Your Space

Decide upon or create some “go-to” spots within your house to call your own. Maybe you build yourself a fort over there in the corner of the living room. Or that dining table just became your office. Know what’s your space, what’s their space, and where needs to be navigated as shared or trade-off space.

If you both have video conferences or work calls to field, check your schedules in advance and make arrangements for where these calls take place. Are you going to show your ten-million-dollar client in Australia what your bedroom looks like, dirty undies and all? Or will your partner treat his team to a tour of the kitchen during morning stand-up? These are the choices you’ll make coordinating calendars, so work it out in advance. And if you both can, use headphones so your household only has to listen to your side of the meeting.

And speaking of video conferencing—Whether you’re rocking that mumu from last year’s tropical vacation or you’re finding your happy place in llama PJ’s, point all video cams away from the walking paths in your home and designate the “no-pants zone” away from the video conferencing space. Let’s not make office holiday parties any more awkward than they already are.

Look at your shared Google calendars together. Maybe you get the main desk on Monday and Wednesday and they get it on Tuesday and Thursday. Friday is open and up for grabs. Be a good teammate.

Get Things Done

Without a plan, quarantine/isolation tends to make us want to numb out through social media, television, alcohol, weed—whatever your thing may be (No judgment! This shit is hard to deal with.) So how do you stay productive and beat the antsy-pantsies?

Divide your time into segments each day: rest time, work time, creative time, meeting time, social time, check-in-on-people-you-love time, exercise time.

That said, stay flexible and get creative when things just don’t go to plan. Can’t sleep and it’s 3 a.m.? Use that time to work in the silence of the night, and make up that sleep time with a 3 p.m. nap.

  • Special note to the Accommodators:

At least one of you in your home is likely an accommodator. With the added pressure of the pandemic, this person might go into accommodation overdrive. This could look like trying to take up less space, or twisting and turning themselves into a human pretzel to anticipate everyone else’s needs, or over-providing things like cooking and cleaning, all the while not asking for what they need. If this is you, be extra vigilant with yourself and when you catch yourself in this behavior, just pivot to meet your needs. If this is your partner, check in with them about what they need to feel safe, loved, and seen.

  • Special note to the Leaders:

At least one of you in your home is likely a leader. Where the accommodator over-provides and contorts themselves to serve others, the leader in your clan might dive too deep into taking charge. They may try to plan out every second of every day with no wiggle room for improvisation or change, or they might try to “fix” problems that don’t really need fixing. Be extra vigilant with yourself if this is you, and when you catch this behavior, use your take-charge instincts to speak up and ask for help from your partner.

Prevent Yourself from Numbing Out, Checking Out, or Freaking Out

Set limits on your social media, news, and other data-feed access. Decide for yourself how much binge-watching is “too much” for you and yours, too. Netflix is great, but there is (gasp!) such a thing as too much Great British Bake Off, friends.

Instead of checking out, ask yourself:

  • “Where can I be a hero today?”
  • “What can I be grateful for?”
  • “What’s my exercise and movement plan?”
  • “Where can I go today that’s beyond these four walls, nature-oriented and still safe?”

Stay Peaceful

Meditate. Take a moment to breathe it out as many times as you wash your hands in a day if that’s what you need. You can’t control what’s happening outside, but you do have some control over what’s happening inside, so do what you can to create peace and spaciousness within yourself and within your space. Download a meditation app, like Calm or Headspace, and commit to ten minutes each day before bed or right when you wake up. It may feel annoying at first, but with persistence and an open mind, meditation can revolutionize your mental and emotional environment.

Know – in Your Heart of Hearts – You Have Enough

Even under “shelter in place” the stores are open. And the store clerks are restocking shelves every single day. Deliveries are being made. Gasoline is being trucked into your town. Services work. The same water that was flowing through your tap last week is flowing today. You are okay. Your family is okay. Your government isn’t going to demand you not leave your home when you don’t have enough supplies in your house to survive – if they do, they’ll have a plan for that. (In some areas, the National Guard is doing food delivery right this second now.) You are safe. You have enough. Take a breath. Please stop hoarding.

Be Gentle with Yourself 

While catching Covid-19 can damage our bodies, the sheer worry about the pandemic can’t be helping those of us who remain healthy, either. (See Stay Peaceful above.) On top of an already stressed-out global situation, some of us—especially the doers—tend to think we should be producing as normal. Listen up: This is not normal. Do not expect to be a highly effective human producing at optimal levels when it feels like the sky is falling around our ears. Trying to run at top capacity is unrealistic at best and damaging to your spirit and health at worst.

If you’re overdoing something like sleeping, comfort eating, binge-watching, etc., stop and take notice without judgment. Make a change if you can make one right now, or a promise to change if you can’t halt the behavior yet, and honor your own limitations for coping at this moment.

Get Fresh Air

You’re likely not going to catch the virus while sitting on your balcony, in your backyard, on a remote hiking trail, or in your car with the windows rolled down. Take yourself out of that walnut-sized existence for a bit of social distancing in fresh air and nature, and while you’re at it, suck it all in! Deep, exhilarating breaths, wiggle your arms and legs, maybe even let out a shout or yawp or two. You might look like a nut to the other person on the trail or in the next car over, but you also might spread some joy.

Deal with Differing Views on Risk 

Partners don’t always align on their point of view, and the nitty-gritty of the quarantine lifestyle might be an area where you don’t see eye to eye. You don’t have to agree, but you do need to show each other respect. And you can show that respect by:

  • Saying (and meaning), “I hear you” as they express themselves.
  • Asking, “Can I tell you what I’ve learned and cite my sources on this?”
  • When you’re not in agreement, simply say, “I respectfully disagree. I love you, though.” (And mean it.)
  • Kindly hold boundaries that are important to you. Here are some samples of how to use your “no”:
    • “No, I won’t be doing that.”
    • “I hear and understand what you’re asking, and I decline.”
    • “Please trust my ‘no’ on this one.”

Separate What’s Happening Globally with What’s Happening at Home

Your anxiety and fear are likely not 100% your own, and just as likely to not actually be about the state of your relationship right now. You are not yourself right now, they are not themselves, and the added stress of the world’s collective reactions isn’t helping. Don’t take any drastic actions or make major changes based on what you’re feeling right now. If a decision will impact your life permanently, give it at least a week before you act.

Know What to Do if You or Your Person Gets Sick 

This information shouldn’t come from me, or from anyone else who’s not a trained medical professional. Check with the CDC for the latest updates and news. At the time of writing this article, the CDC says the following:

  • Isolate from the people and pets who live with you as best you can
  • Don’t leave the house unless you’re going to get medical treatment
  • Avoid public transportation
  • Call ahead when visiting your doctor
  • Wear a facemask if either one of you is sick
  • Do every courteous thing you can to avoid the spread such as covering your coughs and sneezes, washing your hands like Lady Macbeth, and indulging in selfishness for once and not sharing anything—not a taco, not a cup, not a towel. Clean high-touch surfaces every day and wash things thoroughly after using them.

Check with the CDC directly for the latest news on how to keep you and your family safe:

Don’t let these to-do’s sit on your brain’s back burner—integrate them into your daily life right now. Sheltering in place with a united front will give you and your family a sense that you have each other’s backs and you’re in this together. Because you do, and you are. We all are.

Good luck, everybody!

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