How to shelter in place with your partner

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 for a short period of time. Other issues, such as COVID-19, are more long-term. Some of these relationships are as fresh as new matches, and some are as familiar as life-long partners. Moving in together may be the best option for partners, given their social, mental, physical, or financial needs. Plus, sharing household chores, possibly saving some money, and having your partner as a quarantine buddy are some great perks!

COVID-19 certainly accelerated some timelines, though. While some relationships may have been discussing moving in together for a while now, many partners had to act within a couple of days. This quick timeframe may not have given you and your partner much room to set boundaries, define expectations, or discuss any potential relationship obstacles that might occur during the move-in process. Moving in with a romantic partner is a significant step in any relationship. Even outside of 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, so it’s important to recognize some of the challenges that may come up if you need to 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. While you may be use to spending days or weekends together, those pockets of intentional time may not accurately represent how you act when you’re not around each other.

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, for some, this may display signs of a larger issue.

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 that be across physical or emotional boundaries. A healthy relationship creates a space in which 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.

A healthy relationship communicates their concerns about feelings of 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 the midst of a global pandemic.

An overarching relationship concern during COVID-19 can include the general anxiety surrounding health and uncertainty.

Here are some examples:

  • Not only do partners spend more time together, but if they shelter in place together, that means they are spending all their time together.

  • Financial concerns may now 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 lost their job, which could bring about a new set of 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.

  • 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 as a way 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.

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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