I’m sick of my spouse’s COVID rules

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Hi Meredith,

I'm in a relationship that has been historically happy. Four years of dating, eight-plus years of marriage, three kids ... it’s all been really good. But then COVID hit.

My wife is a healthcare worker and has gone above and beyond the call of duty. She can't leave COVID at work; it runs our lives. I willingly wear a mask, but it's not enough. She and her family update (and violate) the rules fairly regularly. Whenever I bring something up regarding how our crazy-strict COVID rules don't make sense, I've gotten SCREAMED at. Now her family feels comfortable yelling at me now too.

I've called her out many times, but it wasn't until recently that she acknowledged that I had a point. We have been to counseling before, but a lot of it got off topic as to her not getting materialistic projects done around the house. I have suggested therapy to discuss COVID stuff, she said it's not necessary because she's right. Our last anniversary I didn't even get a card. I'm starting to feel like a prisoner.

I've held tight to this because we had a very close relationship before, but I feel like I'm screaming in a woods with nobody to hear me. At what point do I look into turning the page? I love seeing my kids every day, but this is getting to be too much.

– Frustrated in Framingham

COVID runs my life. Or at least I think it does. I have a lot of high-risk people around, and whenever I see a statistic that involves serious illness and hospitalization among vaccinated people with pre-existing conditions, I think, "Well, my loved ones have a lot of pre-existing things, so maybe I should just stay in my living room forever so I can see them without worry."

Then I walk through Harvard Square, looking into restaurants and bars, and I see people living 2019-like lives, and I think, "Wait, maybe they know something I don’t?" But they don’t.

I just want my loved ones to stay safe and to do what I can to protect other people.

But I know I change the rules a lot. My dad is about to arrive at my house, and he's been eating indoors. Does that mean he shouldn't be here? I don't know! I’m more worried about him than I am about myself. I got tested before his arrival to make sure he's safe. It's so confusing.

I'm saying all of this because ... this is hard. Have empathy. Health care workers, in some cases, have seen the worst of this. There is great trauma attached to this whole experience, and your wife saw it differently than others.

That's why I can't fault her or her family for continuing to worry, acknowledging that COVID isn't over, and wanting to keep things as safe as possible, even if they're confusing about it sometimes.

That said, I can take objection to yelling, as opposed to discussion. I can also object to ruling out time with a therapist, especially if one is available to you. You wouldn’t be going to counseling to get COVID information; you'd be talking to that professional about how to agree on rules without anger. It's about feeling partnered again.

One practical answer might be to take breaks. Your wife might not feel comfortable dining indoors for the next year. If you'd like to see friends indoors that way, it's possible that you could do some activities on your own, staying out of the house, and then quarantine and test yourself before coming home. That's not an ideal solution, but I do think families in the same household might have to take some time away to do what they need to do.

It sounds like there isn't much happiness in the house right now, and that can't be all about COVID. I was confused about the "materialistic things around the house issue" from before. Maybe there are still feelings around that too. I would assume so because the two of you have so much history.

Clarify why you want professional help, and please tell her I said (or that you heard) you're not alone. Many couples are having a tough time communicating the rules as they change. Some people are willing to take risks that others aren’t. It's uncomfortable.

You need tools to have better discussions. Ask for help again.

– Meredith

Readers? How have you dealt with COVID rules and compromises? Has it caused conflict? What's happening with this specific relationship?