Dear Dr. Andrea,
I am home all day with my partner and she insists on having the news on all day. That is just how she functions through this. I need a break from it, mentally. And physically, I need silence. But when we turn it off, she just reads it through her phone and doesn’t seem to be getting her work done, so I almost feel like it’s better for her to have the news on. She also can’t just put things aside for dinner each night, which is the main time that I just want to get some peace. I want to have a time in our day when we are not thinking about the stressful world outside of our home. But it is getting increasingly hard to do that, and it’s really taking a toll on my psyche. At the same time, I feel like this is her way of coping, too, so it’s not fair for me to prioritize my own way of coping just because it’s different than hers.
— Just want it OFF
Well, the idea is not for one of you to win out over the other. It’s for you both to be able to coexist in the most comfortable of ways possible — something that millions of couples and families are navigating under newly stressful circumstances at this very moment, so you are not alone. But the only way to ensure that one person’s needs don’t steamroll the other’s is for you to have an honest and detailed conversation about what each of your needs actually are, and to put in a good-faith effort in trying to find a middle ground. Here’s a general rule: “Insisting” on anything when it comes to the entire day is usually too much to ask.
Let’s also establish this: It’s not your job to police her work productivity. It’s great that you empathize and have concern for what will help her perform best during the workday, for sure. But she’s your partner, not your kid — and it’s up to her to figure out what works and what doesn’t in terms of her job performance, and to come to you if she needs you to alter something in your behavior for her sake. After all, it’s clear that having the news constantly blaring in the background is not good for your own mental health — let alone your own productivity.
So, have the conversation with an aim toward concrete solutions here. Can you carve out separate spaces to work? Can she use headphones, or have the TV on mute? Can you use earplugs or listen to music at times? Can there be scheduled chunks of the day where the TV goes off and you stop yourself from worrying about whether she’s working or not? Can she agree to turn things off for dinner? It seems like part of what you’re missing here is not just silence, but also being able to connect with her in a way that’s not intruded upon by anxiety-triggering information overload. Can you help her see that, in a manner that doesn’t feel loaded with accusation?