Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Ask Natalie: My husband is out of work because of COVID-19, and it's causing a strain on our marriage; Broke up but still quarantined together?

DEAR NATALIE:  My husband and I have been self-quarantining due to coronavirus concerns, but it is really starting to grate on me. I feel like he is hovering over me all day long. He’s becoming a bit of a nag, too. If the dishes are in the sink, he complains that he’s the only one doing them. Meanwhile, he’s in the service industry and out of work and I am able to work from home, keeping us afloat, so it’s frustrating to me that he just doesn’t do more around the house. Can you help me, please, so I don’t commit murder while stuck in this house? — SEND HELP

DEAR SEND HELP: Try to look at this from all angles. He’s out of work, most likely depressed, frustrated and angry. You are still working and now the sole provider, which may make him feel emasculated or useless. I am not condoning him nagging you or lying around the house, but his emotional state is probably all over the place, so try to show a little bit of compassion. Living in close quarters under stress can be challenging for even the healthiest relationships. Cut him and yourself some slack while setting up boundaries. If there is a specific place you can work where he knows this is your “work” space, let him know what you need. Say something like this: “I love you. I know you are having a really difficult time. We both are struggling with this new dynamic. But I don’t want us to take it out on each other. From (pick a time frame/s) I need this to be considered my work space. If you can support me in that by working on other projects around our home or cleaning up, it would really make a difference to the energy here. I appreciate all that you are doing for our home, and I’m also contributing, so it’s a team effort.”

Let him respond. He may not have realized that his bad mood was rubbing off on you. Maybe he needs his eyes opened to the fact that you aren’t just hanging out all day, and that both of your contributions are important to creating a safe, functional household. Find some time at the end of the day when you put away the electronics and just be together. Play a board game, do a puzzle, light some candles, whatever is needed for a mood shift. The stress is getting to everyone right now, but don’t let COVID-19 wreck your relationship, too.

DEAR NATALIE: My girlfriend and I recently broke up. We had a month or so left on our lease, and then everything hit with COVID-19. We aren’t in a position right now to terminate the lease and move out because we are both currently out of work. She is stressed out and so am I. It was awkward already, but now realizing we may be stuck with each other a while longer is starting to take its toll. On the other hand, we did hook up the other night, mostly out of boredom, but now she’s talking about maybe getting back together. I don’t know what I should do. I still love her, but we did break up for a reason. (Actually, several). What should I do? —STUCK TOGETHER

DEAR STUCK TOGETHER: Relationships are hard to end when you don’t have to see each other, let alone when you are still living together. I feel for both of you!

Boredom can bring people together, and it sounds as though there is still love (or at least lust) between you. This is as good a time as any to really see if there is still something worth fighting for. If she’s interested in possibly continuing the relationship and there’s a part of you that is open to it, I say work through it. We’ve got plenty of time on our hands, after all. But if you really feel as though this is over, stop sleeping with her. Sleep on the couch, in a different room if you have to, whatever it takes. If you keep hooking up, regardless of the reason, you are going to send mixed messages, which will only make this more difficult. Set clear boundaries. Talk about your feelings. Discuss what you can both live with in this awkward time. And remember, even if you don’t stay together, to be kind to each other. These are strange times, and you will both need all the positive energy that you can muster.

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Networking #IRL is clearly out of the question, so use this time to network online. Instagram and LinkedIn are great resources for meeting people that you can share your work with and ideas with. Who knows who you may e-meet?

Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email, nataliebencivenga@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NatalieBenci and on Instagram @NatalieBenci

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)