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Managing Relationship Challenges in the Age of COVID-19

The crash course.

Source: NickyPe/Pixabay

Linda: In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are being presented with a big opportunity to take a crash course in conflict management. Here are some examples of strong differences that people are dealing with that I have spoken with just in the last week. Their original conversations may have been flooded with emotion, but they stayed with their process to find common ground.

Examples of differences

Supermarket: Claudia wants to continue to go into the supermarket to buy food. Her husband Marty wants to have food delivered. She continues to go to the market, wears a mask, gloves, and washes everything down with disinfectant when she brings the packages into the house. They continue to dialogue with respect.

Roommates: Two weeks ago, Douglas flew back from Vietnam to his apartment to be reunited with his two roommates. The roommates feared he had gotten infected during his trip or on the plane and asked him to stay in his room for two weeks. He sequestered himself as requested, but after a week he was stir crazy, lonely, and the roommates agreed he could come out. They’re all fine now. They are constantly reassessing with new information.

Going for a walk: Lydia is more apt to follow the rules and says, “We’ve been instructed to stay home, so that’s what I’m going to do. And I’d like you to stay in too.” Chad says, "I have to go out walking to keep my exercise program going.” They compromise when he agrees to go walking early in the morning when there are fewer people out and agrees to wear rubber gloves and a mask.

Going to work: Patsy works in a supermarket where she is not allowed to wear rubber gloves or a face mask. Jason says, “Don’t go to work, it’s too risky.” She says, “People need their groceries and we need the money.” He is so distressed that Patsy finally quits the job.

Riding the bus: Jeremy is a tax accountant, still going to his job, taking the bus to work. Lydia says, “The tax filing date has been extended to July. You don’t have to go to work." He says, “I’m going to continue to go, but I’ll stop taking the bus and drive to work.”

In all these cases, at first, there was a high level of tension in their dialogue, but they keep the conversation going as things changed. Because of their spirit of goodwill, they were able to negotiate an agreement that both could tolerate.

These days, the normal differing points of view are more emotionally laden because of the added component of getting ill or even dying. Feelings are running higher because of the stress.

The key is to stay as calm and resist the temptation to blame as much as possible. When you take on the challenge to up-level your negotiation skills, you:

  • Learn to speak from our experience rather than opinions.
  • Expose your vulnerability and fears to another.
  • Listen with deep respect.
  • Take time-outs to calm down.
  • Search for common ground.

The conservative vote wins

You may not be a politically conservative voter, but this is a different challenge with a lot at stake. In these challenging times, the conservative one in the pair (about not going out, not having anyone come in, not shopping at the grocery store by having groceries delivered, not riding the bus, quitting that job that won’t let you wear a mask and gloves, walking early in the morning) could make the difference between getting sick or not. The conservative is the safe side to lean towards, so should be allowed more influence.

Opportunity for meaningful conversations

Have vulnerable, heartfelt conversations like, “I don’t want to get sick. I don’t want you to get sick. I don’t want to die. I don’t want you to die. These are the things I still want to experience in my life. I want us to work together cooperatively to stay safe for as many weeks or months as it takes. We can come through this stronger than before. If we take the crash course, we can come through the pandemic crisis stronger at the broken places.”

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