Love in the time of coronavirus
March 19, 2020 7:26 AM   Subscribe

My partner has begun saying that he doesn't want to discuss politics or current affairs with me, because I'm all "gloom and doom" and "overly pessimistic". Is this something that can be worked on together?

We are cooped up together for the foreseeable future in an urban area of the US.

I fall very left of center, and he is a bit more center. In many of our arguments, including those that happened well before the coronavirus crisis, the central disagreement seems to be my core belief that "things are very bad for many many people right now" vs. his core believe that "things are pretty good for most people, especially in comparison to other times in history." This fundamental difference keeps coming up, over and over again.

Given the current state of world affairs, it's almost impossible for me to not talk about what is happening and my thoughts/anxieties about them ...which provokes discussions that become more and more tense (due to the core disagreement above), followed by him starting to tune me out/become irritated, followed by me getting upset about feeling unheard, followed by long periods of silence. It gets to the point where I don't feel comfortable bringing up anything, because literally everything about my day is related to or tinged by current events, and right now, none of those things are positive.

My partner thinks I have a tendency to "bear down" and argue my viewpoint-at- him. I wouldn't disagree with this statement; I really want to be able to vent my worries, and feel heard and validated by him, When I don't, I probably press on hoping for a different outcome, and then get upset when I don't get it.

Has anyone had luck in working on this communication dynamic with a partner?
posted by Anonymouse1618 to Human Relations (20 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I think the key here is not to make it about the social/political issues at hand, but to make it about your need to vent and feel validated. Like if he doesn't feel like he needs to agree with you, but that he DOES needs to be there for you and support you through this tough time, you may get along better.

Do you really care if he agrees with you? If not, then don't make it about convincing him. If you need emotional support, ask for it.
posted by panama joe at 7:33 AM on March 19, 2020 [13 favorites]

I wonder if, in his own clumsy way, he may be trying to cheer you up by taking a "look on the bright side!" approach. I know that that's something I used to try doing a lot, and I would often do it because I was so torn up seeing someone I cared about hurting that I wanted to do SOMETHING to make them feel better, and just got desperate and tried to be all Pollyanna. It took me a while to learn that that's not what people necessarily need. But it was coming from a good place, and it may be that this is true of his statements as well.

You may need to give him a script of sorts, about what it is you're hoping for him to say or do when you are speaking your mind about this. And that first calls for you to think a bit about that. Meaning - you say you want to vent your worries and feel "heard and validated", but what does being heard and validated look like? Are you expressly looking for him to say "you're absolutely right, I agree with you", or are you looking for something more like "I understand why you're so scared right now, and I'm here with you despite that"?

I'd think a bit about that, about what you think might help to hear him say instead. And I'd also think a bit about your own motivation - about whether there's any way you could give him the heads up that "brace yourself, I'm just venting a bit" before you let fly. Or if you could speak more about why you're responding to things being bad (like, instead of "people are ignoring the orders to self-quarantine", maybe try "I am scared because people are ignoring the orders to self-quarantine and I'm afraid some of those people may make my Nana sick, and that scares me because if she's sick I wouldn't be able to go say goodbye to her and that would be terrible").

It is possible to navigate this, but it may take some more thought about both your and his motivations behind what you each think and what you actually need. Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 AM on March 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

Real talk: It sounds like you want to talk to your partner about your anxieties, and he's asking you not to, because what you're doing is making him feel worse -- whether it's because of the conflict between you, or because he doesn't want to believe that many things are awful for many people. It doesn't sound like you're actually hearing him; you're saying "but I need to!" but actually, you need to find a different way to self-soothe.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 7:40 AM on March 19, 2020 [55 favorites]

We have almost the exact same dynamic (our disagreement is I think the system is fundamentally broken, he thinks it fundamentally works). I’m ‘too angry’ and ‘can’t be argued with’ because I get too intense. Yeah, it sucks.

You just can’t have the expectation that you’re entitled to vent at him, I think. We largely avoid ‘systemic’/fundamental discussions and keep politics superficial, day-to-day, making fun of Trump. That’s it, I don’t get to vent my marxist viewpoints. Mostly.

Under other circumstances I’d say, find and connect with friends who are more in line with your views, vent at/with them. I know that can be hard (my friend who I used to do this with just dropped off the face of the earth starting with the virus scare...).

I dig into theory. Listen to podcasts. I’m in facebook groups that mesh with my views. That’s it right now. Shoot me a message if you want to connect, maybe we can vent together.
posted by The Toad at 7:45 AM on March 19, 2020 [5 favorites]

Your partner does not want to be this channel for you and understandably finds it stressful when you double down and act out that they should. You need other channels, other people to talk to.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:01 AM on March 19, 2020 [23 favorites]

Attempting to work out a long term relationship problem while trapped together for weeks by a pandemic is a bad idea.

Not that he should be your one-stop emotional shopping destination in the best of times, but right now you should both be bending over backwards to not do that thing your partner hates. You should find some other way to vent.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:06 AM on March 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

What you're describing is one of the issues I used to have with my (now ex-) wife. I'm pretty liberal for most parts of the U.S., but I'm more centrist where I live (Portland, OR) and definitely far more centrist than my ex. Like you, she would see conditions as dire when -- to me and objectively speaking -- they were fine. She's still this way. I'll see her posting on Facebook about how awful the economy is when the economy is doing well, for instance. (Not at this precise moment, obviously. But generally speaking.) She's capable of finding the dark side of even the brightest day.

My ex used to want to rant about whatever latest thing that Bush and the Republicans had done. It drove me nuts. I didn't like them either, but I could not see the purpose in focusing attention on this stuff and constantly re-hashing it. We've already discussed it once before; why do we need to talk about it three or five or twenty more times? So frustrating!

What bugged me, especially, was that she let things that were beyond her control drive her mental state. "Can you do anything about the current political state?" I'd ask. "No? Then let it go." It's fine to be frustrated with the state of affairs, but it's counter-productive to let things you can't control actually control you. She, of course, thought I was burying my head in the sand, being insensitive, and not being rational. We were both frustrated.

What frustrated me most of all was the she was certain she was right. She was a bulldozer. She was convinced that her position was the only correct position and she refused to see things from any other point of view. She couldn't understand how half of the country disagreed with her, and she couldn't understand how I (especially), as a smart and caring guy, disagreed with her. If I tried to express my point of view, she immediately steamrolled me and told me I was wrong. So, I tended to just clam up. (It didn't help that she was a debate champion and I am not.)

My advice as somebody who has been in your partner's position is to decide what's more important: Being with your partner or having him discuss current events with you. If it's more important to be with your partner, then ease off. You're obviously making him uncomfortable. If it's more important to be able to talk about this stuff with your partner then, well, maybe you ought not be together. I'm serious. Regardless your choice, with this partner and in this case, it sounds to me like you're kind of being a jerk. (I know I'm projecting, though, because of my experience with my ex.) He doesn't want to talk about this stuff and you insist on bringing it up. That makes both of you feel awful. So don't do it.
posted by jdroth at 8:09 AM on March 19, 2020 [23 favorites]

IANYT, but I'd suggest finding something physical to do together. Is there some long-planned change to the apartment you could do together? Go running together. Let the political talk recede and share your efforts and real physical problems with the job of the moment.

Also you both need to find through technology, even the phone, friends you can talk to about your social and political concerns. Let the friends be what friends are always supposed to be for a couple: an emotional vent.
posted by tmdonahue at 8:17 AM on March 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

I should mention that I've found myself in conversations like ones indicated by the OP, and when I've taken the "things are not so bad" approach, and it often comes from a place of trying to keep my own chin up. Because I think if I let myself go to the bad place and became convinced that things are irredeemably shitty, I might spiral into the sort of depression I don't think I'd be able to escape from. Also, I genuinely don't think things are as bad as they have been at certain points in history (say, WWII and the Holocaust). So, in the past, I've wound up in a place where I was trying to find ways that the world could get better instead of getting worse, and I found that my line of thinking was extremely unwelcome to the other person. And I really don't want to have a conversation where we're both just talking about how shitty things are and how they'll never get any better because ... well, because that sounds like an incredibly depressing, angry, unrewarding conversation. I feel like we'd both come out of that conversation feeling worse than we did going into it. I think what bothers me the most is that I don't want to accept the idea of a bad situation where there's no way of making things better.

What I've found is that the "third way" here is to acknowledge the other person's feelings and try to empathize. Because that person is going through something terrible at the present moment. I'm going through the same thing, only to a lesser degree. And I think a lot of times that person just wants support and validation. I can't solve the world's problems, but I can make another person feel less alone.
posted by panama joe at 8:31 AM on March 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

My husband and I have the same dynamic, although fundamentally we agree on politics - he just doesn't like talking about things he can't directly affect, like global warming or coronavirus plans or bad things happening. He says it's bad for his mental health to focus on all the negatives rather than positive action, and I have to respect that and find other ways to deal with my own anxiety than sharing it with him all the time.

So he's open to discussions of direct action like "I don't want to buy these biscuits any more because they have palm oil" or "let's plan more enviromentally friendly holidays" or "i think this should be the new cleaning procedure" but he doesn't want to hear about how I think we're all doomed and what animals are going extinct or daily coronavirus updates. I find other people to share my anxiety spirals with unless it is *really* acute.
posted by stillnocturnal at 8:33 AM on March 19, 2020 [21 favorites]

Yeah, you can't really ask someone to absorb all your negativity and cope with it even though they can't do anything about it. That's like asking somebody to have your headache with you, not even a life partner is obliged to do it and if they were it still wouldn't do you any good. He's asking you not to do that to him and you should listen. You're not being fair.
posted by glasseyes at 8:43 AM on March 19, 2020 [8 favorites]

Whatever it is you are going through, you are both going through it, right? Why isn't he entitled to his opinion if you're entitled to yours?

And by the way, things absolutely are much better for most people especially in comparison to other times in history. People used to be dead in their early 50s of old age, like Shakespeare. Or in their 30s of want, like Mozart. Infant mortality - women used to bear 15 children and raise maybe 4. Maternal mortality: in most large families the mum had died and the eldest girl had taken on her role. And as for slavery, murder and kidnapping; as for dying because you broke you broke your arm, or because you got sepsis from a scratch in the garden - well.
posted by glasseyes at 8:53 AM on March 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I have two past experiences with this to share with you.

Experience #1
My partner and I had this issue following the 2016 election. I was horrified, and he seemed very "it is what it is" about it.

I was frustrated because I felt he wasn't taking the problem(s) seriously, and that he didn't understand the gravity of the situation due to his privilege. He was frustrated because I was so overwhelmed/exhausted by the situation that it was all I could think about. But after some fraught discussions I realized that he did understand the situation, but was choosing not to dwell on it for his own mental health. And after some discussions with my therapist, I realized that I was spinning out into catastrophizing. We tweaked my antidepressant dose and I was much better able to cope with day-to-day life instead of being overwhelmed by the news all the time.

Experience #2

In 2002-2003, everyone on the left was feeling hopeless and frustrated as GWB kicked off the forever warTM in Afghanistan and Iraq. I was frustrated. And so was my landlady. I ran into her in the kitchen one day and she listed off all the terrible things that were happening and how terrible they were. All I could say was, "I agree," because I was so exhausted with all those facts too, and repeating the depressing news just made me feel worse. It was a draining conversation for me, even though we were on the same side!

Sometimes we need to vent about horrible stuff, and that's normal. Your partner is telling you that they can't handle this much of it, so you may want to find other people, a therapist, or online forums where you can vent.
posted by homodachi at 9:02 AM on March 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

I'm not sure if this applies to you or, if it does, to what extent... but it can be a real bummer to have a partner who becomes so engrossed in politics that it seems like all they do is talk, tweet, post, etc. about how bad things are, how much they hate Trump, etc. This is all the more true when talking/tweeting/arguing about it online about it is effectively all they do -- which is most often the case, in my experience -- because they're not doing anything to improve the things they decry. I would find it extremely tiresome to spend lots of time with someone, never mind being cooped up with them during the pandemic, who was constantly venting about politics and how terrible everything is. My guess is that your partner may agree with your feelings and positions more than you suppose, but just doesn't want to talk about it 24/7.
posted by slkinsey at 9:08 AM on March 19, 2020 [6 favorites]

My partner got really pissy and angry and anxious right after the 2016 election, convinced by his social echo chamber that the sky was falling.

It manifested in being withdrawn and sullen with us, his family. Not able or willing to interact pleasantly; always silent and frowning.

I told him to knock it off. He couldn't control or change the result of the election, but he DID have enormous power over exactly one sphere: his home. We, his spouse and children, were and are hugely under the influence of his moods, and we were being hurt by his behavior. He had it in his power to make us feel worse, OR BETTER. He was welcome to howl along with his friends when he was with them and they wanted to talk about Trump, but when he was with us, he needed to use his power to do what he actually could, which was to be present with and focused on his family who loved him, not to shit on us to demonstrate his political posture.

Things improved immediately, and we're all happier.

If that's useful, then I offer it as a suggestion. If not, no doubt it will be removed.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:06 AM on March 19, 2020 [9 favorites]

I don't have much to add, I just wanted to thank you for posting this question. My boyfriend and I have this dynamic and he is the doom and gloom one and I was starting to think our relationship might be fundamentally flawed but it seems we aren't alone and it doesn't mean our relationship is doomed.

I can't listen to much of his rants because I already struggle on a day to day basis to remain positive to function and I just can't handle any additional negative input. It's really very hard on me. It sounds like we need to have a sit down conversation to set some boundaries as others above have seemed to be able to do.
posted by WinterSolstice at 10:58 AM on March 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

Your partner is saying they can't be a resource for you right now, and the current situation (cooped up in the same apartment) is wearing on you both; find another person in your life (phone or online contact) for venting/validation purposes, or consult a professional. Many insurance plans (including some state-run Medicaid plans) are covering tele-therapy now.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:49 PM on March 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

So, here's the deal...

"things are very bad for many many people right now" vs. his core believe that "things are pretty good for most people, especially in comparison to other times in history."

Both of these things can be true at the same time. Especially if we modified his to say things are good for many, rather than most, people. So is this really about this specific difference or a bigger inability for you all to find common ground? And it sounds like right now you are wanting (demanding?) some support from him that he doesn't feel he can give. Being in such close quarters isn't a great time to work through all this, but can you have a bigger conversation about your communication and needs? He might be trying to draw a boundary for his own mental health.

I want to encourage you to find other outlets for your anxiety and not presume it's his job to receive your venting and stress. Walking or any kind of physical activity is great, as is talking to friends and loved ones around the world.
posted by bluedaisy at 5:24 PM on March 19, 2020

"it's almost impossible for me to not talk about what is happening and my thoughts/anxieties"

Unfortunately this is kind of how anxiety works. The reality is that it's not "impossible" at all. It just feels that way because you're anxious.

There are ways to dig yourself out of this, but they don't involve external factors (your partner's agreement with your position) and certainly not additional stimulation (e.g., compulsive reading of the news).
posted by cranberrymonger at 3:17 PM on March 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've read the replies you've gotten, and I'd like to put forward a different interpretation of what might be happening here.

Statistically women are more left-wing than men, and personally I think that pretty much all of the women I know in heterosexual relationships are to the left of their partners. (Except where the partner is sort of professionally left.) I've always chalked this up to lived experience. Women are more financially precarious than men and we face gender discrimination men don't, and so it's not surprising to me that that we would tend to be more conscious of, and care more about, people who are vulnerable. We're also socialized to be soft not hard.

Studies also find that women are more pessimistic than men, and I'd chalk that up to lived experience too.

So I would say: this is not a communications problem or a style difference or anything like that. You're right when you say it is core and fundamental. Your partner has a different lived experience than you, and that's resulted in him having a different worldview and (probably) different values. You want to talk about depressing stuff because you think it's important; he thinks that's a downer.

And so, if I were you, I would stop seeking to discuss politics with him, because (if I were you) talking about politics with him would leave me feeling sad and lonely. I would instead switch my focus, and talk politics with people whose lived experience has brought them to a similar place as me.

I don't know if you're white. But just to say: obviously a lot of white women had a major wakeup call when Trump got elected. I know A LOT of white women in relationships with white men, who started to feel really alienated from their partners. Some of those women are still working really hard to bridge that gap .. but honestly the ones who seem to me happier, they have decided instead to make common cause elsewhere. They may still love their partners and be in those relationships, but they don't talk with them about the serious stuff.
posted by Susan PG at 9:13 PM on March 21, 2020 [3 favorites]

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