Why I decided to stay in quarantine with my ex-husband during COVID-19 – Business Insider – Business Insider - Freelance Rack

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Sunday, July 5, 2020

Why I decided to stay in quarantine with my ex-husband during COVID-19 – Business Insider – Business Insider

  • Katie Nave is freelance writer, advocate, and nonprofit communications specialist based in Brooklyn, New York.
  • At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Nave and her ex-husband made the decision to cohabitate in their weekend house outside of the city, in order to more safely co-parent their 5-year-old daughter.
  • Nave says “the first month was brutal” as she and her ex fell back into toxic habits — he became overly critical and she grew resentful and insecure.
  • After more time however, tensions eased as they began to turn to each other for support.
  • Above all else, Nave says that she and her husband are dedicated to be loving co-parents and that the quarantine experience has also made them friends.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In early March, my ex-husband, Morgan, and I sat at a friend’s kitchen table scrolling headlines and speculating about just how bad things were about to get. It was more than a year after our breakup after a decade together and a few weeks before the pandemic would ravage New York City. We had been living separately in Brooklyn, New York and successfully co-parenting our 5-year-old daughter, but now found ourselves navigating potential catastrophic scenarios with a united sense of dread. 

As soon as our daughter’s school officially closed, we decided to pack up for an indefinite period of time and head out east to the weekend house we’d bought together as a married couple. The walls of my small apartment were starting to close in on me, so the idea of fleeing the epicenter for more space was quite appealing.  

I understand how unrelatable this may seem. We’re incredibly fortunate to have space outside of the city, to have our health, and to have jobs as creative freelancers that aren’t deemed essential services, allowing us to safely work from home. I was never in a physically or emotionally abusive situation, as many have experienced during quarantine. No matter how challenging this time has been, the amount of privilege at every turn is not lost on me. 

Still, alongside the immense gratitude was the nagging fear of being under the same roof again. Could I cohabitate with this person without completely losing myself and the freedom that I’d fought so hard to earn? Was this in fact the right thing for us? 

Our marriage became unhealthy, leading us to separate

Even after five years of couple’s therapy and all the self-help books one could tolerate, our relationship had become highly toxic, and by the end of 2018 we agreed that separating was the best path forward. He was critical of me at every turn, and I became deeply codependent. 

The process of dismantling the marriage and breaking apart our family was the most painful experience of my life. I pretended that I had it all under control because I was so sure of my decision to leave, but the shame of failing and the fear of hurting our daughter were relentless. 

On the other side was a freedom unlike anything I’d ever experienced. After a decade of hustling to earn someone’s love, I could finally focus on what I wanted and needed. I created a peaceful sanctuary for myself and my daughter with plush rugs and fresh eucalyptus hanging in the shower. The loneliness had a way of creeping in as the sun set over Brooklyn, but the calm that I felt inside assured me that I’d done the right thing. 

As things intensified in the city, we began discussing what it would take for us to actually leave. I was initially reluctant to say goodbye to our regular lives and my personal freedom, but eventually agreed that schlepping our daughter from one house to another during a public health crisis was far from ideal. Our parents were confused by our decision, frequently asking if this meant that we were “back together,” and my friends made jokes about us eventually murdering one another.

The first month of pandemic cohabitating was brutal

Katie Nave

The author with her daughter trying on a face mask in their home during quarantine.
Katie Nave

During the pandemic, Morgan and I moved into our separate bedrooms and seamlessly fell into familiar codependent patterns. I found myself taking on everything, assuring him that I didn’t need help, and then resenting the hell out of him when I was the one doing it all. 

He began picking me apart, criticizing everything from my affinity for scented candles to the way I sliced tomatoes. I began texting my friends things like, “How can someone chew cheese so loudly?” He shouted, “Seriously?!” every time I let out my third consecutive sneeze. 

I quickly got small and quiet. Feeling insecure in his presence, I reverted back to the woman that I had grown to loathe in our marriage. I sometimes found myself waking up, gripping my chest, while a wave of realization washed over me… the death toll is rapidly rising and I’m once again living with the man that I spent the last year getting away from. It felt like a cruel joke.

We started getting “cage rage”

Between attempting virtual preschool and watching my clients slowly drop me due to COVID-panic budget cuts, I started slipping into a foggy state of depression. I ordered “Comfyz” lounge sets that arrived in plastic bags from Amazon, rotating my teal, gray, and black sad suits each day. Morgan took back-to-back conference calls in the room above my head, pacing, pacing. 

Our five-year-old began pushing the boundaries, reacting to the fact that her mom and dad were living together again. I became the ultimate fun goalie, enforcing bedtime and limiting popsicles, while her father delighted in his role as party time dad. On the nights that it was my turn to put her to bed, she would scream and cry until he came into the room. “I don’t want you. I want Dad!”

Our couple’s therapist, who had worked with us throughout our entire marriage and ultimately helped us to amicably uncouple, gave us talking points. She supported our decision to cohabitate once again and encouraged us to let our daughter know that we were making decisions to keep our family safe, while also making plenty of space for her feelings. She assured me that the anger and tantrums were normal, but I felt deeply rejected and sure our living situation was doing irreversible damage. 

After a particularly challenging morning, I spontaneously took advantage of the local pet store’s curbside pickup service. We welcomed Sprinkles, a Syrian hamster with the largest testicles I’d ever seen, into our family. The next few days found us all listening to Sprinkles incessantly gnaw at the metal bars of her cage, leading Morgan to ask me passive-aggressive questions about the life expectancy of hamsters. It turns out she had a case of “cage rage,” a form of anxiety that develops when a creature’s environment is too small and restrictive.

I’d never identified with a living being more.

sprinkles katie nave

Sprinkles, the Syrian hamster.
Katie Nave

Cohabitating with your ex can be difficult, but not impossible 

One afternoon, shortly after, I had one of those quarantine days where the feelings on the inside and the facts on the outside match up, making life feel like one big hopeless mess. In a desperate search for any sort of connection, I turned to my former husband.  

I told him that I was scared of dying, of losing the people I love, of never being able to hug my family and friends, of never finding work again, of failing as a mom. He listened, took it all in, and calmly repeated back to me the fears that I’d rattled off. He heard me and he sat with me in it. He didn’t run, or deflect, or joke, or fix. He just witnessed. Something shifted in that moment as he made space for all of my vulnerability. 

Over the course of the next few weeks, I began to lean in. I asked for more frequent hugs since he was one of my only sources of human touch and I stepped back so that he could parent more freely. We each started taking solo sanity trips into Brooklyn. We had enjoyable family dinners where he over-salted things and I sliced the tomatoes too thick. 

The pandemic has ultimately healed our family 

Katie Nave and her family

Katie Nave and her family.
Katie Nave

In times of major upheaval, research suggests that a majority of married people turn to their spouse for support. I learned that during a time of extreme isolation, even if I was technically single, I couldn’t do it alone. 

My ex is my deadly pandemic teammate, for better or worse, which is definitely not something that I included in our wedding vows. Even as things begin to open up around us, we’ve decided to continue our quarantine life together through the summer months and will reevaluate as we approach the fall.

We’ve worked so hard to bring peace into our shared space and aren’t interested in making changes while the outside world remains so uncertain. Sure, we still drive each other nuts, but my rage has subsided, Sprinkles is now living in the Malibu Barbie Dreamhouse of hamster cages, our daughter is relishing in the bonus family time, and I’ve learned that I don’t have to sacrifice myself in order for us to be a family again. 

One night, recently, we were standing in the bathroom together watching our daughter proudly dip her face in the water and blow bubbles. “Thank you for her,” he said. We locked teary eyes and I thanked him back. We may no longer be married, but we will always be co-parents and thanks to quarantining together, we’ve become friends. 

Katie Nave is a freelance writer, advocate, and nonprofit communications specialist living in Brooklyn, New York. Learn more on her website.



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