I have come to realize that I don’t think I want to spend the rest of my life with my live-in partner of two years. Our disagreements on social distancing have caused a rift and have also caused me to lose some respect for my partner (they are much more lax about things). But thinking of breaking up seems almost impossible emotionally and financially, especially during a pandemic. I have been relying on my partner (probably too much) for emotional support during this time and feel I have lost my independence. I have social anxiety and not seeing friends has made it harder for me to reach out. I feel very alone outside of my partner and am scared of what might happen if we break up. To compound things, my partner recently bought a condo and I would feel guilty leaving them with a mortgage they can’t afford on their own. I’m not sure what they would do. I am also concerned about my ability to pay for my own rent if I moved out, and living with strangers seems very undesirable during a pandemic. It’s all so overwhelming. I just don’t know what to do.
You’re not alone. Disagreements about COVID-19 practices are causing rifts between a whole lot of couples right now, and rightfully so. The stakes are high, and when a partner or roommate doesn’t take adequate precautions, they’re putting your health and your life at risk, plus the health and lives of everyone around them. That’s not a good look. Transmitting a deadly virus doesn’t exactly say “I love you,” so it makes sense that this particular conflict is bringing up big questions about your relationship.
That said, I’m not clear on what you mean when you say your partner is “much more lax” about social distancing, and I don’t know what your own practices are. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, but based on what I’ve learned from my PhD in Anxiety (and the CDC), here’s what we should be doing during a surge: wearing masks in public spaces, remaining at least six feet away from others whenever possible, only having close, unmasked contact with people in our own households, avoiding non-essential errands, washing our hands often and monitoring our health for COVID-19 symptoms. Immunocompromised people might take further precautions whenever possible. These practices aren’t foolproof, but they greatly reduce the spread of COVID-19, protecting our households and our communities.
Of course, essential workers still have to go to work, and if your partner falls into that category, some potential exposure might be unavoidable. However, if your partner is entering shared spaces without a mask, inviting friends into your home, spending time in other people’s homes or regularly going on non-essential errands, that’s cause for concern. But rather than hash out “good” practices vs. “bad” practices, let’s focus on the fact that partners should decide on their pandemic practices together. It sounds like that hasn’t happened in your relationship, and if your partner has refused to read the research and hear your concerns, that’s a problem.
It also sounds like there might be some other issues in your relationship that are unrelated to the pandemic, or perhaps your partner’s response to the pandemic revealed who they really are. If enmeshment and shared rent are the main things keeping you and your partner together right now, that’s not a healthy, but here’s the good news: you have enough self-awareness to know that this relationship isn’t working for you. Considering that you’ve thought through the financial and logistical details of ending this relationship, it sounds like you know it’s time to get out. Getting clear on what you need is the first step, and you’ve done that! Congrats!
Breaking up with a live-in partner is hard, especially under these circumstances, but it’s possible. And it’s probably mentally and physically safer for you (and kinder to your partner) to end things sooner rather than later. But before you end the relationship, start seeking support from your friends. Social anxiety is the worst, but once you force yourself to break the pattern of isolation, reaching out can start to feel a little easier. Plus, asking your friends for support shows that you’d be willing to return the favor. We could all use a little extra kindness right now.
Once you feel confident asking others for help, it’s time to consider your housing options and start making a plan to move out. Changing your living situation can be overwhelming, so once you have your plan in place, make a list of all the logistical things that need to happen. This list should also include tasks that support your mental health during this shift, like getting a therapist if you don’t already have one or scheduling a weekly phone call with a specific friend. When you break a big task into smaller chunks, it starts to feel much more manageable.
Now let’s talk options. The fact that you’re sharing your partner’s condo rather than an apartment makes this uncoupling more financially taxing for your partner, but remember: if your partner is refusing to respect your overall well-being by actively putting your life at risk, you are not responsible for their financial well-being. That said, there are certainly ways to undo a co-housing situation that would be easier on your partner. Do you have a friend or relative who is taking adequate pandemic precautions? If a trusted loved one will let you temporarily stay with them rent-free, you can continue to contribute to your partner’s mortgage while they work towards finding a roommate or renting out their condo (if that’s possible given the condo association’s bylaws). This is a courtesy, not a necessity. If you choose this route, be clear about how much you’re willing to contribute and how long you’re willing to offer your financial support.
If you don’t have a safe place where you can stay for free, it’s time to look into other arrangements. Moving during a pandemic is not ideal, but it’s definitely possible. Even if you don’t have the funds to rent your own place, there are people just like you who are taking adequate COVID-19 precautions and need an equally responsible roommate. When you search online for apartments, use search terms “COVID-19” or “social distancing” to find the folks who are taking the pandemic seriously. Once you start renting a new place, you probably won’t be able to contribute to your partner’s mortgage while they figure something out, even if you want to, but once again: if your partner is refusing to respect your overall well-being by actively putting your life at risk, you are not responsible for their financial well-being.
After you’ve considered all of the possibilities, you have to do the actual breaking up part. It sounds like you’re already being really thoughtful about how a breakup could affect your partner, so I don’t need to remind you to be kind. I will, however, remind you to be clear about your reasons for ending the relationship, your plans for your living situation and your boundaries around post-breakup contact. Once the emotional dust has settled (and if your partner is willing to work with you on this), start making a plan to untangle your living situation.
It’s easy to let go of the ways you usually care for yourself when you’re neck deep in post-breakup logistics, so try to keep up with at least a couple of practices that are easy to maintain. Those practices might look like daily journaling or walking outside or refilling your prescriptions or maintaining your elaborate skincare routine. If you’re feeling stuck, Autostraddle has published a ton of articles about how to get through a breakup and enjoy your single life on the other side. If you find yourself falling into a pit of guilt and shame, give yourself a pat on the back for making the choice to put yourself first. You deserve to be safe and healthy during this pandemic, you deserve to be surrounded by people who have your best interests in mind and you deserve to date someone who shares your values and enhances your life. You can do it! Good luck!
You can chime in with your advice in the comments and submit your own questions any time.