Coupled in Quarantine: How Couples are Giving Space Under Close Quarters

By artist Felicia chiao

Disclaimer: names have been changed for the purpose of this article.

Needing space is considered to be expected at some point in any romantic relationship. It’s likely that even Shah Jahan, who built one of the wonders of the world as a declaration of love for princess Mumtaz Mahal, needed the occasional moment away from his sweetheart.

If distance makes the heart grow fonder, one can only wonder if Mumtaz would have remained his favorite wife had he not had the freedom to acquire two others? Would their ardour have dwindled if they were confined to a singular space instead of being free to issue royal orders together from, say, the lavish gardens of the Taj Mahal? 

Although, having bore 14 children by her husband (and tragically passing with the birth of the final one,) it can be assumed that they spent a considerable amount of time with each other. But is there such a thing as too much time together in a romantic relationship?

Some might say in the 21st century, love stories often come in the gilded variety. Romance is thought of as a thing of the past, and young people are believed to be “unable to love.” Divorce rates are staggering and, as the age of COVID-19 has brought to light, are expected to rise. 

For the past month and a half, millions of people have found themselves stuck indoors in an effort to fight off the deadly virus. For couples who live together, the prospect of having to spend an indefinite amount of time with their significant other may be daunting and may swing in a new chapter in their relationship. Coincidentally, for Ghada* and Fares,* the beginning of the lockdown in Beirut coincided with their move into a new apartment together. “[The lockdown] completely shifted our relationship to a new level,” 30-year-old Senior Grants Officer Ghada said with enthusiasm. 

According to her, prior to their cohabitation, the couple would regularly argue but have since had the time to adopt strategies for maintaining a healthy and nurturing partnership. “We have adapted to each other’s personalities…we give each other space when we need it, and we are not together all the time,” she went on. 

By working in different areas of the house and developing their own respective routines, the pair have been able to appreciate the time they allot for each other at the end of the day much more. 

She also revealed that because life in quarantine has deprived her of interacting with anyone else, Ghada, who normally doesn’t require much attention from her partner, began to desire more attentiveness from Fares. 

Illustration by author.

Not all couples have mastered finding a balance between giving space and spending quality time together. This was initially the case for Ahmad* and Sara.*

“In the beginning, we fought almost every day,” 24-year-old Ahmad admitted. “I had to spend a couple of nights at my friend’s house because it got so bad — it was all too much.”

“For both of us,” Sara chimed in. “I felt like I was suffocating.” 

Sara went on to share how she believes all of their fights would have taken place eventually and that it was the quarantine that exacerbated their issues and made them “feel everything all at once.”

The couple have been together for 5 years, have shared an apartment for 3 years, and were planning on getting engaged in the coming months. “It seems like we will have to wait to continue with our plans to get married,” Ahmad said. “Maybe that’s a good thing,” Sara added. 

They ended the interview saying, “communication is key.” 

And that’s what Beatrice* and her boyfriend, Rami*, had to realize. In the 28-year-old UNICEF worker’s words, “The quarantine has been horrible.” She said the lockdown has forced her and Rami, who had moved in with her at the beginning of this year, to reassess what they contribute to each other’s lives.

Beatrice described feeling exhausted in her year-and-a-half-long relationship as she found herself taking on traditional gender roles and completing almost all of the housework.  “[I’ve realized] how much it sucks to be a woman, how much we have on our shoulders and how unappreciated and undervalued we are,” she continued. 

The next day, Beatrice reached out to me to clarify that at the time of our interview, she was feeling a bit overwhelmed. For her, love under lockdown has made every sensation be felt at an extreme. “The highs are higher, and the lows are lower,” she said. She attributed this to the parallel between the close quarters of a quarantined home and the increasingly claustrophobic mental space both she and her boyfriend are experiencing.

But overall, Beatrice said this period has really forced the two to become better communicators. “We’re not gonna get along every day [and on every subject]…but, [as with any relationship,] when you go through obstacles, you come out stronger.”

6 Comments

  • I think the new situation had only caused couples think more about the issues they had not been thinking prior to this pandemic. So, it is a stereotype, or false assumption, to think that it creates more divorce or harsh dispute between couples, formally married or unmarried. It has just exposed the issues that had already existed but never surfaced. In this era of the internet and social media, people, who never had enough free time to spent as much as they would like on it, have many things to do even during such a long quarantine, thanks to the technology, that the people of even 25 years ago could not imagine.
    So, yes, Shah Jahan and his queen Momtaz marriage might had not survived during a long quarantine without those privileges they used to have because they had not what even most ordinary people enjoy in this current time and age.
    Then, please don’t blame the quarantine for increasing divorces or the likes. It just helped to resurface it. Look at the full half of the glass; so many books are read and so many writings are done, so many good results emerging from reflections people have had during this time. And the listing can go up and up.
    And yes, if it was not for the sever economic toll of this situation on the life of ordinary people, especially in this unjust and deeply unequal world, it is not a bad thing.

  • Nazlee jaan, Interesting take on an issue that is quickly becoming our new norm. Confined in close space, we try to create a new identity that is somewhat our self-expression. To keep our sanity, we pretend that everything is OK. Behind our pretenses lies our fear and concerns about the future, ourselves and our friends and family. Kind of morning for what is not anymore and a hope that it does not get any worst. Where is the love, affection and connection in this world that we can not connect anymore, we can not hug or even shake hands. We have to create new commitments are aligned with the crises that we are in. Commitment to stay loving and faithful to the core of existence. We are all stuck together, and we have to revisit what is binding us together. I like your style of writing and am looking forward to read more from you. Many thanks for being among the first journalists who focuses on the elephant in the room!

  • Dear Nazlee
    Thank you for your very nice and good article. It’s a honest description and real picture of life and relation sheep between people and couples which we in normal doesn’t have any focus on any sides of it. We are so busy with all other aspects of life and being in a family, relationship or a person that we almost forgot what is a real healthy life as a individual person in different relationship. Some time we need a accident to wake up fro our rubbish dreams.
    God jub.
    Alex Radboy. Denmark

  • Nazlee Radboy,

    I think it would be reasonable for a healthy relationship to have space once in a while. It doesn’t mean they don’t love each other. It means they need to take care of themselves and recharge.

    Thank you

  • I love space. It is always nice to create or have some space. We also need that space within us, in our minds.
    Take a break, make a distance, from yourself!

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