Photo illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images
You know how some couples claim they “never fight”? Yes, they lie. Whether at a low volume, through a fake smile and clenched teeth, or in the occasional knockdown drag-out screaming contest, every pair does it. Can you do the laundry sometime? Do we always have to? your family home for Christmas? Did you seriously look? succession without me?!
Think of it as a way for partners to brush up on their communication skills from time to time.
Now there’s something new for couples — especially those with children — to disagree on: the pandemic. In particular, how careful are we really? should be now.
“People can be anxious differently,” says Orna Guralnik, a New York-based clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who has seen a lot of this particular type of disagreement lately. “From their temperaments to how they grew up to something they read to their political affiliations, many things help people decide how they feel and what to do about it, whether it’s ‘The virus isn’t that dangerous’ or ‘ We would do everything we can to be careful now.”
Some couples tolerate these differences well and can communicate in such a way that they can get to a place where no one is uncomfortable, she says. Others are… well, not so good.
And as with so many pandemic-related dilemmas, the stakes are heightened when children are involved.
“In children, especially if they are not vaccinated and are going to school, there is a legitimate reason to be more concerned about COVID-19,” says Guralnik. ‘There is much more risk. In some couples, children are a beacon of common sense forcing them to come out of their own fortress and negotiate for the sake of the children. Others arm the children to support their argument.”
The Cut spoke to parents across the country who disagree with their partners about mask wearing, vaccination, travel and more to find out how they are coping with these disagreements. Do they come together or are they driven apart?
I have a history of health-related anxiety – so obviously the pandemic hasn’t been good for me or my mental health. I have a background in public health and rationally I know that I don’t have to disinfect everything, for example. But still me want to disinfect everything.
My husband is generally more rational. I wish I had a few percentage points more of what he has. He knows I am anxious and he is eternally patient, but he can only handle so much. I am aware it can be stressful. It certainly led to a fight. We were supposed to fly to a family gathering during the pandemic, but I couldn’t get myself or my kids on the plane. So my husband represented us.
We’re just getting started with indoor playdates with kids in my daughter’s classes; we don’t eat inside with other people. Our friends are also quite cautious, so I try to use them as a benchmark. My husband recently went on a boyhood trip for the first time since the start of the pandemic. I wasn’t thrilled. My inclination was to have him masked when he got home and then get tested for COVID-19. But then I thought, What are the other spouses doing? Are they going to have their man mask a mask and test it? So he didn’t mask. And it’s good.
I’m sure our kids are noticing that my husband and I are coping differently with stress and the pandemic. I’m always the one telling them to wash their hands or put on their mask. I am in a very fair relationship but in general I think women are the ones who freak out about testing and managing work and school and quarantine if a child gets sick. That’s a nightmare and we want to do everything we can to avoid going through that hell.
*Name changed by subject request.
For most of the pandemic, my husband and I were pretty much on the same page. But now that things are opening up a bit more and events that didn’t happen are now taking place, he has taken a more cautious approach.
The main problem is that I would like to visit my family in Florida for a few weeks and attend a wedding there this winter. My husband is very hesitant about that because he says Florida doesn’t think COVID-19 exists, and he doesn’t want to put himself and his family in the position to be there. And he’s not sure what we can do with our son while we’re there because he’s going to want to limit where we go a lot more than I do. So it’s been a big debate.
For me, we’ll follow all the rules, and the people we’ll see will follow all the rules, so I’d like to start doing these things. But we’ve always been a little different in this regard. He’s more likely to wear his mask outside than I am, even walking between places that aren’t crowded at all, because he feels he should, when I’m thinking, There’s no one around.
I recently went to an indoor bachelorette party with 20 people in Manhattan – if he had been invited, he wouldn’t have gone. And if the shower had been in Florida, I don’t know if it would have wanted me to go.
Part of the difference is that he has an autoimmune disease and has just gone back to work in the office, and we have an unvaccinated child. Because he interacts with more people indoors, he is more careful in some circumstances. That doesn’t bother me.
However, the reluctance to go to Florida is very frustrating. We live in a great bubble here in Brooklyn, so I understand the hesitation given the way Florida is handling the pandemic. But I get the feeling that he doesn’t trust the judgment of my family and friends – or my judgment. We’ve since compromised to go down for a shorter amount of time, which has helped with the tension.
My ex and I – we divorced last year – didn’t originally have very different political opinions, but that changed about four years ago.
One of the hardest things about being divorced is that I can’t control what goes on in the other house and have to worry about what this person is saying. U.S children.
I knew he rolled his eyes a lot, but I thought we were aligned with what was expected to maintain consistency between our homes. But last night, in a video chat, I heard him tell our 8-year-old that masks do nothing to protect us — and in fact they can “increase” viral loads and make us sicker. I try not to disrupt the conversations between them, but I broke in and said that’s not true and that we can discuss it at another time.
It was really hard because my ultimate goal is not to come off as the other parent to bash. Later I told my child that this was something Mom and Dad disagreed on. I tried to take it away from U.S to “This is what the scientists know and tell us.”
What upset me the most is that everyone at my kids’ school is expected to wear a mask, and when a parent speaks out against that, it must be so uncomfortable for the kids. There is so much potential mistrust that it can put in a child’s mind about school and administrators.
My ex describes our kids as a blank computer that we have a responsibility to program, and now I have to wonder, What is the programming?
He’s definitely not vaccinated – he’s on the ivermectin train – and has no idea I’ve been vaccinated. Last summer he told me that when the vaccine for children comes out, U.S kids wouldn’t get it. But to be honest, I have mixed feelings about it myself. We have postponed our children’s other vaccinations. I think there are many more things we need to do in our society to protect people with weakened immune systems, such as not sending children to school when they are sick. If people are not feeling well, they are not allowed to go outside. Even a cold can be harmful to an immunocompromised child.
So I’m kind of struggling with this in my head, but I’m leaning towards getting the kids to get the vaccine. And if there are school mandates around them to get it, that will influence my decision as well.