The long-term impacts of the coronavirus – on our bodies, our brains, on society – will not be fully understood for years to come. One of the most troubling questions is how the pandemic has changed our relationships with the people we love but disagree with about the threat of COVID-19 and the steps needed to stay safe.
COVID has changed the family dynamic. The fights over wearing masks and social distancing have created new divisions, and for those who were divided on politics before the pandemic, the crisis has deepened already formed fractures.
There is the sister who did not move away at all socially and the one who only socialized six feet apart. The husband who refused to wear a mask and the wife who would not leave the house without a mask. The aunt who said she was in no rush to get the vaccine and the cousin who signed up for a vaccine the minute he was eligible.
The more cautious members of the family have run into the most risk-tolerant heads. Even for families who were broadly in agreement on COVID restrictions this year, the lingering uncertainty of an increasingly vaccinated world has created challenges to get back to “normal.” When it comes to resuming life, not everyone is on the same timeline.
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USA TODAY spoke with two psychologists about how families can work to mend relationships damaged by disagreements over COVID. Here are their tips for moving forward:
Determine if both people are willing to work on the relationship
Melissa Boudin, clinical director of Choosing Therapy, an online therapy platform, said nothing can be accomplished unless both family members are interested in healing.
“You have to sit the other person down and say, ‘OK, we don’t agree on that point. Are you ready to talk about it and meet in the middle somewhere? “This is where this conversation starts,” she said.
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People need to be able to get along, to compromise where they can, and to set strong boundaries where they can’t.
Start from a place of empathy
Loren Soeiro, a psychologist in private practice in New York City, said in those conversations that it is important to start from a place of empathy.
“I mean this in the specific way of actively trying to figure out where the person you’re talking to is coming from,” he said. “Forget about trying to convince them, forgetting the distance that separates them from you, and really making that active effort to understand why their views are meaningful to them.”
Soeiro said that sometimes these conversations can be easier between family members because there is a basis for intimacy. Other times it can be twice as difficult, especially if the communication issues are ingrained.
Understanding the emotions that drive behavior
“It’s important to be totally open-minded and just listen to the other person,” Boudin said. “That doesn’t mean you have to agree.”
Conversations around COVID can heat up. It’s easy to get angry or defensive. It’s important to stay calm and ask questions about what is driving the other person’s behavior.
The goal is to help meet one person’s needs in a way that both people are comfortable with and to allow room for compromise.
If someone needs to let off steam and wants to go on vacation and party, maybe you can suggest that they choose a destination that is secluded or that doesn’t require a flight. If someone is vaccinated but is still afraid to socialize, you may be able to suggest one-on-one interactions until they are comfortable with larger gatherings.
Communicate clearly and set boundaries
It is important that people explain clearly and without being judgmental to the other person what is important to them, why it is important, and how that person’s current behavior makes them feel.
“If you’re a parent who might say, ‘When people are around our child and they’re not masked, it makes us really anxious and worried and we’re not comfortable with that.’ Part of this is communicating feelings accurately and fairly, ”Soeiro said. “Don’t say, ‘You make us feel this way,’ don’t blame it, just say, ‘When that happens, this is how we feel.'”
In any relationship, Boudin has said that you can only control your own behavior. This is why it is essential to establish clear boundaries, whether it is socializing only outdoors, with masks or after a period of isolation. It’s also fair to recognize that your boundaries can be difficult for others.
“It’s okay to say, ‘We’re sorry, we don’t want this to hurt,’” Soeiro said.
Why it’s not always better to tackle the past
Soeiro said that the phrase “Don’t brush anything under the rug” is not true for everyone.
“There are families who get along better if certain topics just aren’t discussed, and after a while in some relationships you learn where the hot spots are and you learn to work around them,” he said. he declares.
Ideally, if someone is hurting you, they encourage a direct conversation that starts from a place of empathy.
For family members who have been tested with COVID, Soeiro said time will help heal these wounds.
“Stay with patience and empathy,” he said. “The other person wants something that you can probably figure out. And that doesn’t help at all to understand why that person is sticking to their guns in a way that hurts you, but it’s a start. “