My husband is vaccinated. I'm not. And that's causing a rift

In this week's Pandemic Problems advice column, a reader says differing vaccination statuses are causing arguments

By Nicole Karlis

Senior Writer

Published March 31, 2021 9:00AM (EDT)

Young couple in medical masks quarreling (Getty Images)
Young couple in medical masks quarreling (Getty Images)

Dear Pandemic Problems,

My husband, who is vaccinated, wants his friends and family over to our home — inside — even though I have not been vaccinated. I take care of my elderly parents, who have not been vaccinated and have medical issues. Even after I get vaccinated, I still will not feel completely safe because they are not 100% effective. I just cannot take a chance with my health. My husband does not feel the same way and I'm worried that this will cause problems that will just get worse. Please help with any advice!


Under Stress & Unvaccinated

Dear Under Stress & Unvaccinated,

The vaccine, and the varying ability of any one individual to access it, is certainly creating stressful social situations in households around the country. Answering the question as to who can mingle with whom can be confusing and anxiety-provoking. And as public health recommendations are continually evolving, it's hard to stay on top of all the latest information.

In other words, no wonder you're stressed.

Please know before I go any further in answering your question that you are not alone in this predicament. There are plenty of relationships that are navigating new territory as we continue down this transitional phase — such as, in your case, when half of a couple if vaccinated, and the other half is not. I'm hopeful it will get better once a majority of us are vaccinated.

But if I'm being honest, Under Stress & Unvaccinated, I'm concerned about you and your situation. You say that your husband, that person that is supposed to be your partner in life until death do you part, wants to have his friends and family over — inside and unmasked. He's vaccinated, but you're not. And, you take care of your unvaccinated elderly parents.

Now, you didn't note if these people coming inside — unmasked — are vaccinated or not. That is an important missing detail, but I'd like to lay out the risk for you for both situations. If they're all vaccinated, there is a lower risk of you getting COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vaccinated people can visit a single unvaccinated household, indoors, without anyone wearing masks and there is a low risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

However, if any these guests are unvaccinated, this would be a very high-risk situation and put you and your parents' lives in danger.

I'm not a marriage expert, but your husband's behavior would be concerning even if he were merely your roommate. I suspect that your husband isn't listening to you, and it sounds like he's being a bit callous. My first piece of advice would be to have an honest conversation about how you feel and your fears about infection — fears which are fully justified.

Take a page from psychotherapist Esther Perel, and stay focused on the task of communication. Sit down and have a conversation where both of you are able to express your concerns and be heard. Talk only about how you're going to start socializing again, and how that works with each of you vaccination statuses. My hope is that you can reach a compromise. Could your husband have people over outside? In the garage? Or go to their homes, instead? Perhaps everyone would remain masked throughout the visit?

If he is unable to compromise, I would suggest seeing a therapist. People are often hesitant to go to couples' counseling, but I know that it can work wonders.

I may be wrong, but I sense there is a deep fear in you about re-entering the world, and you've been deeply afraid of losing your loved ones to this virus. That is 100 percent understandable. I know it's a scary time, and yes, none of the vaccines are 100 percent effective against catching COVID-19. But they are all — as of now — nearly 100 percent effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalization. That means that even if people who are vaccinated contract COVID-19, the virus will be more like a cold, and less like a life-threatening disease.

I hope you can have a productive conversation with your husband. I hope that he hears your fears, and he's willing to compromise. But mostly, I hope you know you're not alone.


Pandemic Problems

"Pandemic Problems" is a weekly advice column devoted to answering readers' COVID-related questions — often with help from epidemiologists, philosophy professors or therapists — who weigh in on how to "do the right thing."  Do you have a pandemic problem? Email Nicole Karlis at Peace of mind and collective commiseration awaits.

By Nicole Karlis

Nicole Karlis is a senior writer at Salon, specializing in health and science. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.

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Advice Pandemic Problems Public Health Vaccination