Dear Dr. Andrea,
My partner and I have a very solid and loving relationship. We have been together for three years and lived together for two. We are as committed as two people can be. I feel like I am breaking his trust though. My partner is a more nervous person and more of an introvert than I am. When the lockdown first started, he took comfort in holing up in our townhouse, working from home, getting groceries delivered and doing the occasional FaceTime with his family, but that was pretty much it. He has been content with that life. We walk our dog while masked and we have gone on a handful of hikes at off times in remote places. But that is really the extent of him leaving the house in months. I can’t manage that way. I have a broader circle of friends and am much more of a “chat with the neighbors” type. I also need fresh air, activity and novelty. And I need to go on runs.
I convinced him to let me grocery shop starting a couple of months ago and to run certain other errands, but he was very nervous about it. On one of those trips I ran into our neighbor and we decided to have coffee outside. That turned into me occasionally making plans to see other friends for coffee or a backyard drink. At this point I am routinely “going for a long run” when in reality I am seeing people or browsing at a clothing store. I had lunch at a restaurant (outdoor seating) with a friend last weekend. I justify it each time because I am being as safe as possible and my mental health is important, but I know he would be really upset.
I want to start fresh and come clean but I also know that I can’t live the way he expects me to.
—I know this isn’t good
I understand how different your needs are than his, but you are digging yourself into a hole — a hole that harms your partner. It not only erodes trust but it misleads him into exposure that he did not knowingly consent to.
What is your endgame here? Maybe you hope that society will flip the “normal” switch and you’ll be back on the same page as him, never having to let on what you’ve been doing. But how would that work? Would your neighbors never let on about the lattes? Would you have to fake the awe of being at a boutique for the first time in a year, when in reality you know their inventory by heart? The deception mechanics alone give me a headache.
Even when restrictions further loosen, do you expect your partner to suddenly be okay with everything? The crawl back to “normal” will be gradual, with fits and starts (and new anxieties) along the way.
Most grave is that you are violating boundaries that he still believes are in place — boundaries that involve his values, his comfort levels, and his health and safety. This isn’t like leaving socks on the floor. You have decided that his health beliefs and needs aren’t as valid or as important as yours. You have denied him the chance to defend those beliefs and simply put your own beliefs into action without his consent. All while he doesn’t even get the right to be aware of his personal limits being broken, over and over again.
I’m not trying to make you feel worse, but rather to have you understand that no matter how much of an impasse you imagined would have occurred if you confessed after that first coffee, it’s likely not nearly as bad as having to answer for serious deception. And that gets worse with each passing day.
I’m guessing a part of you will still resist coming clean, thinking you can make it work and that it’s not that big of deal if you’re following recommended health guidelines. That may be the least uncomfortable route in the short-term. But ask yourself: Why should your short-term comfort be so much more powerful than the long-term strength of your relationship and his right to protect his own health in the ways that he sees fit?
Have the hard conversation. Come into it with full empathy, vulnerability and remorse. Explain your needs and the slippery slope of one tiny decision giving way to a whole host of bad ones. There’s no way to make it comfortable and there’s no way he won’t be upset (which is his right). It won’t be magically easy to come up with acceptable boundaries for you both to live together going forward.
But ultimately, it really is a question of the person you want to be — and the relationship you want to have.