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How to Love the Ones You’re with During Coronavirus

Social distancing means extra family togetherness and maybe extra stress.

CB, used with permission
Enjoying some extra family togetherness.
Source: CB, used with permission

I checked in with a friend recently about how she and her family were coping with coronavirus fears and social distancing. She told me that the people in her family are all feeling tense, but her dog is taking everything in stride. If only we could all share a dog’s simple delight in “Yay! All my people are nearby, and we keep going for walks!”

Strategies for connecting with people outside your home

Social distancing, self-quarantining, sheltering at home… These steps are necessary for the health of everyone in our communities, but they’re difficult. I’ve read a lot of clever ideas lately about how to stay in touch with people beyond the four walls of our homes. These include:

  • Video get-togethers on Google Hangout, Zoom, or other platforms to watch a movie together, have a book club discussion, or just to chat and see each other’s faces.
  • Online games, from video games to bridge, so we can play together.
  • Community solidarity expressed through putting up holiday lights, chalk walks where people draw or write in chalk on their sidewalks and driveways, or scheduled applause sessions where everyone comes out and claps to say, “We’re here! We’ll get through this together!”

Getting along with family members at home during isolation

But another challenge, especially as the isolation drags on day after day, week after week, is the extra enforced togetherness within families. Sure, we love those people, but constant confinement puts a strain on everyone’s nerves. Minor annoyances can fester and explode into arguments when there’s no escape. We’re all going to have to dig deep to find an extra measure of patience and kindness to get through this.

Here are more thoughts about how to love the ones you’re with during coronavirus:

Relax your standards, where possible.

If it doesn’t really matter, let it go for now. If it’s less of a hassle for you to do a job yourself, rather than to get a family member to do it, go ahead and do it. Think of it as doing something to take care of yourself rather than letting them off the hook. You can work on habits and chores later, when life is more normal. Also, expect less of yourself. Aim for “good enough for now” rather than “perfect.”

Refrain from criticizing.

Yes, the confined space makes you acutely aware of every annoying quirk and mannerism your family members have. That strange noise they make when they’re chewing, the phrase they repeat constantly, the way they squirm or scratch or create messes… It all stands out with excruciating vividness. I’m sure you’re absolutely right that they shouldn’t do those things. But now is not the time to point out other people’s flaws. Tell yourself, silently, “I love them anyway.”

Communicate clearly about your needs.

Don’t stew in silent resentment. Resentment is poison in any relationship. Your loved ones can’t know what you feel, need, or want unless you tell them. Avoid “You always…” and “You never…” accusations because those will just trigger maddening excuses and counteraccusations. Instead, say, “I need you to _____ because _____.”

Talk about something other than the coronavirus.

There’s no need for up-to-the-minute briefings within your family on the number of cases in your area. Family members who are old enough to read about it are already reading as much or as little as they can tolerate.

Consider, instead, sharing things that make you smile or laugh. This is the perfect time to research and share photos and videos of stupid pet tricks or cute baby animals. Humor is a great stress reliever.

If you’re running low on dinnertime conversation topics because no one is going out, consider sparking discussions with questions from The Book of Questions, Table Topics, Icebreaker, or Little Talk for children.

CB, used with permission
Ready to play.
Source: CB, used with permission

Have fun together.

Yes, you’re all rubbing elbows all day long, but pick a specific time to do something together that you can all enjoy. Puzzles, movies, board games, card games, or in-home scavenger hunts could work. Kids versus the grown-ups games often work well.

Maybe try a silly competition: Have everyone hold water in their mouth. Then try to make each other laugh. The winner holds onto the water the longest without spitting it out.

Find an instructional YouTube video that you can all do. Maybe a workout video. Maybe drawing instruction. Maybe something you would never normally try—like belly dancing.

Step away when you need to do so.

When my kids were younger, I sometimes told them, “Mommy needs 15 minutes of silence.” Then I’d go to my room and read for a bit. I’d come out calmer and ready to deal with the circus that is a family with four children. If your kids are too young to be left out of sight, you may be able to do some tag-team parenting with your partner or just set them up with a video so you can give yourself a little breathing room.

With older kids or an adult partner, if things start to get heated, it’s more than okay to say, “I need a break to calm down.” This could prevent you from saying something you’ll regret. Being able to monitor our own moods and recognize when we need to step away is an essential life skill. Peace is more important than getting the last word. Note that if you're the one who steps away, you also need to be the one who takes the step to reconnect later. This could involve an apology, a calmer discussion, or just saying you're willing to agree to disagree.

Take care of yourself.

Live in your time zone. Zombie hours are bad for everyone’s mental and physical health. Get some exercise. If you can, get out for a walk or a run every single day. Eat healthy foods to refuel and try to have at least a rough routine for your days. Include at least one activity per day that you enjoy. This is a marathon, not a sprint, so we need to do what we can so we’re better equipped mentally and physically to deal with the stress of confinement.

Do a daily act of kindness.

You can do this family-wide or just quietly by yourself. Try to do something extra and kind for someone in your family every day. This could be a small gesture or a bigger favor, making them a treat or spending time doing something they enjoy. It will help lift their mood and yours.

CB, used with permission
Embracing the couch potato lifestyle.
Source: CB, used with permission

Keep things in perspective.

My brother-in-law made an observation that I keep coming back to when I’m feeling stressed. He noted that in generations past, during difficult times, people were called to go to war. We are now being called to sit on our couches for the greater good. We can do this!

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©2020 Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D.