How to shelter in place with your partner

Why shelter in place together?

There are many reasons that couples might have to quickly shelter in place together. Natural disasters may strike and require partners to live together temporarily. Other issues, such as COVID-19, are more long-term. You may even have issues at home and need another place to stay for a few days. Some relationships that temporarily shelter in place are as fresh as new matches, while some are more long-term.

Regardless of why you need to shelter together, this is sometimes the best option for partners, given their social, mental, physical, or financial needs. Plus, sharing household chores, possibly saving money, and having your partner as a roommate are some great perks!

Before living together, you and your partner would ideally set boundaries, define expectations, or discuss any potential issues that might come up. Unfortunately, natural disasters or global pandemics require quickly moving in together before having those conversations.  Moving in together (even temporarily) is a significant step in any relationship. Even without a global pandemic or natural disaster, this brings about questions, concerns, opportunities to grow, and new knowledge of your partner.

We know that any large-scale traumatic event, like natural disasters or COVID-19, can place survivors at a higher risk of relationship abuse. It’s important to recognize some of the challenges that could happen if you shelter in place with your partner. These issues could cause unhealthy behaviors to escalate to abusive ones.

What makes moving in together challenging?

Most challenges arise from the increased amount of time you spend with your partner when you live together. Many couples are used to spending days or weekends together. However, those pockets of intentional time may not completely represent how you act when you’re not together.

Here are a few examples of more usual challenges:

When cohabiting, couples now spend every day together!

The increased time spent together may reveal conflicts in partners’ habits, schedules, and priorities. You get a full, 360-degree view of your partner, which can be an exciting new adventure. But, depending on what behaviors you see, it can also show signs of potentially larger issues.

Moving in together may mean different things to different people.

Traditionally, living together is a sign of further commitment to the relationship. This assumption may lead to uneven or unrealistic expectations surrounding gender-roles, or consent.

One partner may believe that moving in together and sharing more physical space equates to sharing more physical intimacy.

It is never ok to assume consent of another person, whether it be physical, emotional, or financial. A healthy relationship creates a space where partners feel comfortable communicating boundaries and trusts that the other person will respect them.

It's hard to create a shared ownership of the space.

Unfair allocation of space without much discussion can foster perceived inequality in the relationship and create uneven power dynamics in unhealthy relationships. If you feel like a guest in your shared home, it may be hard to have a sense of responsibility, individual space, or ownership in household chores or decisions. The unequal balance of power could also magnify one partner contributing more to the rent payments, which may create financial conflict or abuse. It’s important to recognize that cohabitation means co-ownership of the space and shared responsibility.

People in a healthy relationship communicate their concerns about ownership, individual space, chores, and finances honestly and respectfully. This communication is key both before and after moving in together.

If the usual cohabitation challenges weren’t enough, now we have to learn how to navigate them in emergency situations.

Issues that might come up when you shelter in place together

An overarching concern from COVID-19 or a natural disaster can include the general anxiety surrounding health and uncertainty about when things will be normal again.

Here are some examples:

  • Financial concerns may include sudden changes in workloads or employment status. For example, the switch to remote work may increase a couple’s time together — even more than typical cohabiting partners.
  • Alternatively, one (or more) partner(s) may be part of the essential workforce or lose their job. This could bring about new anxieties surrounding health, incompatible work schedules, hygiene, and more.
  • Support systems may have moved almost entirely online through social media platforms, video chat, and phone calls. Sheltering in place together can make it hard to speak privately with your support system if needed.
  • Usual social interactions have decreased or stopped entirely. This lack of casual person-to-person interaction may increase co-dependency in the relationship.
  • Isolation is one of the strongest tools in an abusive relationship. The unhealthy or abusive partner may use living together during quarantine or after a natural disaster to monitor and prevent their partner’s social interactions.

Unprecedented life changes due to COVID-19 may have introduced some sticking points like heightened anxiety, online social support systems, and varying financial challenges. Therefore, it’s important to discuss any concerns and create plans for resolution with your partner. It’s also important to know the warning signs of abuse to ensure your safety when you shelter in place with your partner.

Help is available

If you feel uncomfortable discussing these topics with your partner, see any warning signs of abuse in your relationship, or have any further questions, our advocates are always available to help.

Call 1-866-331-9474 or TTY 1-866-331-8453, text “LOVEIS” to 1-866-331-9474, or click the “Chat live now” button at the bottom of the screen to discuss any questions or concerns.

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