Couples disagree about many things — where to go to dinner, how to squeeze toothpaste out of a tube.
But now, with adults in Illinois eligible to receive COVID-19 vaccines, different opinions on whether to get a vaccine — one partner will, the other won’t — can affect much more than a meal. It can be the difference between life, a life altered, or even death.
Many people are feeling hesitant about the COVID-19 vaccines for many reasons, which can create a difficult space for couples to navigate.
A Chicago wedding photographer who jumped at the chance to get vaccinated said she and her boyfriend have fought often about his refusal to be vaccinated.
“In our relationship, that’s been the most stressful thing,” said the photographer, 29, who did not want to be named. “We agree on everything else. Our relationship is really strong and sturdy. It’s really just this.”
Differing thoughts on whether to get the vaccine can also come as a surprise.
Jessica, 46, who wanted to be identified by her first name only while discussing vaccine hesitancy, found out her boyfriend, Brett Lamie, 46, felt differently only when she mentioned to him that she did not understand people getting vaccines.
“I was absolutely flabbergasted,” she said, when her boyfriend responded he planned to get vaccinated.
This led into several conversations, though not really arguments, both said. Each remains a bit perplexed to be on opposite sides, but are working to understand the other person.
Jessica is not skeptical of the vaccine entirely. But she cannot be comforted about her concerns that people will have had access to this inoculation for only about a year. “I feel like the long-term effects can’t be known until people have had it for long-term,” she said.
For her, it is a risk assessment. She already had COVID-19, and certainly doesn’t want it again, but would rather accept the risk of the virus than get a vaccine.
For her father, however, who has a pulmonary disorder, “I totally encouraged him to get it.”
And Jessica is happy her boyfriend is getting vaccinated, because what will make her feel more confident is data — and more people need to be vaccinated for more data to be available.
“I can say ‘Nope not me,’ because there are 100 people lining up,” she said.
For Lamie, who could not wait to get his second dose of Moderna this week, the issue is about resuming normal life. He misses concerts; and can’t wait to go back to listening to music without worrying about all that expelled breath.
Even if Jessica would feel comfortable entering new-normal life alongside him — as someone who works in the health care industry, she feels strongly about retaining precautions like masks — he would still worry.
Lamie said he doesn’t like to push his beliefs on anybody else.
“But this is a different situation,” he said. “The way I see it, other people’s actions, they’re now affecting me.”
For this couple, and for many others, it is both an issue of personal disagreement, as well as how one person’s decision will have consequences for two people.
Like others interviewed, the wedding photographer said her partner knows COVID-19 is real and dangerous.
“We’re both adamant about wearing masks, socially distancing,” she said.
But she said his parents were anti-vaccine, so he believes them unnecessary. Still, she said, “He knows it’s more than just him, and that it affects everybody.”
She has tried to gently prod; she has shared horror stories of the virus. They’ve had fights that included screaming in frustration. And she has also tiptoed around the topic. “I’ve reworked my strategy,” she said. “Shaming him won’t make him want to do it more.”
Eventually, she said, he agreed to get a vaccine, although she is skeptical. “He can say it all he wants, but until he goes, it means nothing.”
In the meantime, she’s declining double-date invites from vaccinated friends. “I’m like, sorry he’s not vaccinated; he can’t come,” the photographer said. “I’m embarrassed to tell my friends about it.”
She is worried about what happens when weddings pick up, and so does her exposure. “I love him, and I don’t want him to get sick,” she said. “I’m terrified I’m going to bring it home to him.”
All of this sounds familiar to Shannon, 33, who did not want her last name used while discussing her marriage. Also a Chicagoan, she is a “very very very pro-vaccine person,” she said. “I have literally been counting down the date” until her eligibility, and she has since been vaccinated.
Her husband, however, is not watching the clock. He declined an interview request through his wife. He is not vaccine resistant, she said. “But he is the kind of person who thinks that because he’s young and healthy, he’s invincible.”
His mom, a nurse, was initially hesitant about new technology used within the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines but encouraged him to get a vaccine.
So he was finally scheduled for a vaccine this week — but for one of the Johnson & Johnson doses, which were paused for concerns about blood clots.
“Now it’s like, ‘Well what now?’” she said.
For couples working through these conversations, know that you both might be coming from a place of strong emotions, including anger and fear.
“Move into any conversation with curiosity,” said Ilene Kastel, founder of Next Step Counseling in Chicago.
“You can have empathy for your partner,” she added. “You might not agree with their ultimate decision, but you might empathize.”
Think of phrases like “I’m hoping to learn more about how you came to your conclusion.” Make a list of things to proactively plan, like travel, family events or seeing friends who are not in agreement.
“Having this conversation about the vaccine is bigger than just an injection,” she said. “This is about safety, security, being able to resume life as normal, so it’s definitely going to be an emotional one.”
Lamie and Jessica know their disagreement may change plans to travel internationally or hear live music. These discussions have helped them understand each other’s points of view. “It’s forced me to sort of open my mind,” Jessica said.
As for Lamie, he has concluded, “I love her,” he said, “and I can’t change her mind.”