psychology | 160

How to Keep Peace in Your Family During Quarantine?

How to Keep Peace in Your Family During Quarantine?

Corona is responsible not only for dramatically and ruthlessly oil market collapse, drop in profit of global airlines and ruining wet dreams of several politicians about coming to power but also literally stacks its nose into everyone’s business snooping around our homes, breaking in, leaving its footsteps on the floor and tearing up daily routines of ordinary people. Many of us weren’t ready for that. Waves of divorces and domestic violence engulf the whole world. Today we are going to talk how to not enrich the lists of sad statistics and keep peace and warmth in your family. Ivan Maslennikov — a clinical psychologist with 10 years experience will help us in this.

J (journalist): What are the main issues in families that have to stay home during the quarantine?

P (psychologist): There are several main problems that could cause conflicts between family members at this time:

1. Personal space. It’s shrinking significantly. For example, where can people accidentally step on each other feet more frequently: in a crowded or an empty bus? Of course in a crowded one. The same is true for a family. Forced close contact (closer than that the family members are used to) causes the situations where people constantly “step on each other feet”. That means the family members are unwittingly crossing each other areas of interests that results in arguments and lack of understanding, which became in its turn a perfect ground for domestic disputes and quarrels.

2. Identical experience. Variety of experiences is necessary for the interesting and meaningful communication between people. Let’s imagine that the husband goes for a work while the wife is staying home. Even though it was nothing super exciting happening at work or at home, there is already a reason to discuss the “news”. It’s the opposite when both of you are sitting at home, watching same TV shows, same movies and spending your evenings drinking coffee and observing the same view from your balcony and a bit crumpled face of your partner. That’s exactly how the experience becomes identical. There is no source of new information. People stop “making news” for each other and the quality of communication is decreasing unavoidably. Someone barely feels it, but for someone it could be more fatal. Anyway the tendency is out in force now.

3. Stress. Currently all the news are objectively increasing the stress level of most people. These kinds of events happen in everybody’s life for the first time. Of course they cause lack of understanding about how the ordinary life will look like and uncertainty about the future. Often people couldn’t even notice the stress they are in. However it doesn’t mean that everyone around you became nervous or angry. Some people compensate stress with food (by eating more than usual), another immersing themselves in their work etc. If you don’t feel any symptoms it doesn’t mean you are not stressed and it’s not affecting you.

A simple change of your ordinary life and daily routines is a powerful factor in that case.

4. Sedentary lifestyle. After all knowingly say, the movement is life. Reducing of physical activity has a negative impact on the mood. The more a person is sinking into depression and apathy, the less he/she does any physical activity and the faster reaches “the bottom”. It’s a vicious circle.

All four problems are objective, there’s no escaping them. The point is many people can not understand that these factors are the real issue and think that “the love is over”, “he/she finally exposed his/her true face” or “I made a mistake with you” etc. So they don’t realize it was an externally motivated change in their life conditions and start to blame themselves or their partners.

If you saw yourself in these examples or suddenly opened your eyes to the fact how bad your partner actually is, here is my advice: don’t rush into this. Wait until lockdown is over and your normal life rhythm is back. It is likely that everything will change. Well, if not, no one would stop you if you decide to break up. But it’s better to take this decision in an atmosphere of calm and peace in order to be more objective and not to mess things up.

J: What should we do to get through this tough period with maximum comfort?

P: First of all — find something to keep you busy, even if everything is okay in relationships with your partner now. Because if something goes south, you will not want to do that and fall into depression.

Think about some educational activity or, ideally, about any kind of sport. Learning foreign languages, improve your skills in any sphere you like, broaden your mind by new knowledge could be also a good pastime.

The second important thing is to pay attention to the ongoing situation in your family. You can intentionally blow off steam and break the tension rather than wait for it reaching the boiling point. To illustrate my advice with an example, I will offer you the following game-exercise. It is called “I’m not comfortable/okay with…”

First step

You and your partner say one phrase at a time that begins with “I’m not comfortable/okay with…” but try to keep these sentences to be meaningful and true. You should not sort things out and discuss every complaint at this point. It’s entirely inadvisable to make comments either. Just keep saying everything you want to say in turns.

It’s often difficult for us to say unpleasant things to other people because we are afraid of offending or hurting someone’s feelings. That’s why you and your partner can set up the level of frankness before the start. For example you will begin with simple things and go to more serious and important questions by mutual consent. The main rule: you talk about things that already exist as it is, so when something was hidden from the sight, you will make it visible now. This exercise aimed to reduce the tension instead of raising it. Unless this is done, sooner or later, the situation will turn into a quarrel. Therefore, do not be afraid of speaking openly.

Second step

Now tell each other phrases that will sound like “…that is what I like about you” and describe everything you love about your partner. This time you should also avoid any discussions and comments. Just take turns to tell what you want.

Third step

Now, after both of you are vented, it’s time to discuss. Highlight significant points, share your opinions and conclusions, try to find compromises if it’s necessary.

This exercise might look scary to you. But firstly it’s easier to accept negative response when it’s a dialog (when there’s a “conditional” negative reaction to the both sides of conflict) and not a monologue and secondly you share positive things right after telling negative, so your loved one will see that you appreciate and care about them, they are important to you and you pay attention to every detail they could be loved and respected for. A person will be able to accept the critic more constructively in this case and not like you want to depreciate, humiliate and offend them.

The key is that this game can help you to discover all possible sensitive subjects before it’s a long overdue when it’s turned into a reason for a violent conflict or a break up yet. What is more, the game contributes to getting to know each other. Also it’s just an interesting activity. Still do not know what else to do during the quarantine? Take care of each other.

Another important point: talk. What I mean is not that casual way of talking a-la “change our son’s diapers, please” and “looks like we run out of milk” but in a more meaningful way.

Misunderstanding of each other is the primary cause of almost every conflict. When there is a lack of understanding, the interpretation begins. It could be something like “he doesn’t hug me because he doesn’t love me”. Using this kind of interpretation equals adding fuel to the crisis. When people live together and constantly contact with each other but rarely talk about their feelings, they start to “fill in the blanks” by interpreting and that will certainly cause conflicts.

Devote an hour a day to the direct communication. Without any gadgets and additional distracting activities (like the wife talks while the husband is drinking coffee). Just have a moment alone with your partner. Just two of you, no matter will you talk to each other at that time or spend this hour in silence enjoying the presence of your partner.

This is an extremely powerful method, which can cease conflicts and help to establish a health atmosphere in the family.

J: Okay, but how to handle the conflict if it’s already happened?

P: The most important question here is: what is the purpose of it? It’s often the case that the purpose of the conflict is about having it. The conflict gives an opportunity to let off steam, experience emotions you needed or “stay awake”. There’s nothing bad about it, with only one condition: everybody is fine with that.

Moreover, family disputes are normal, not an aberration. The absence of conflicts in the family is a sign of a very serious problem because a family is a place where interests crisscross. That means it could not be completely healthy to have conflict-free environment there. In this kind of situation it is usually discovered afterwards that the partners have no more feelings for each other for a long time or one of the partners is suppressing another.

Conflict is the principal instrument of relationships development in the family. Overlapped interests teach better understanding of each other and help to see personal boundaries. That grows awareness of dos and don’ts, which subjects are painful and how to treat them. Arguments also motivate people to search for compromises. As a consequence of all the processes mentioned above, the partners get closer while going through quarrels; the distance between them is narrowing and they gain more confidence in each other.

That is the reason why you don’t need to avoid conflicts like fire. That’s fine and might be helpful to have them. However not without exceptions. As Paracelsus once said: “All things are poisons, for there is nothing without poisonous qualities. It is only the dose which makes a thing poison”. When the conflict becomes the main form of interaction in the family, that’s not normal and has no positive qualities or benefits.

Why quarrels become a new routine? There are three main reasons. First one: as I already said, is the wish to blow off steam. Some people are just unable to entertain themselves in some other way. That’s why they keep repeating one scenario they are familiar with over and over. In Russian it is so called “Italian family” model where two emotionally charged people break out like a match regularly.

The second reason is taking control. Many seize the opportunity the conflict situation provides to suppress the partner and to control them.

Finally the third motive: inability to end the fight in a right way. I have already mentioned that conflict might also result in positive consequences. But it happens only when the argument is flagged and followed by reconciliation. Obviously, this may not always be the case.

The conflict can not be exhausted in the situation when two people arguing, trying to prove each other wrong and stop only when they run out of all mental and physical powers. It is not over in this case. Complaints, resentments and anger don’t go anywhere and stay inside, accumulating and growing over time. The longer people live together in this case, the easier to cross the line of “peaceful life”. Because every new argument grows on already prepared with old quarrels and conflicts ground. The situation escalates gradually while the quantity of confrontations is increasing. At a certain point it leads to radical re-examination of relationships or to break up.

Therefore when the main goal is to make your case no matter what instead of looking into the situation and knocking down that “wall of separation”, that’s what we call a Pyrrhic victory.

Perhaps you can win the battle but it’s quite unlikely you will enjoy it and feel happy. What is more, you will win the round, but lose your future together.

But even if you wish to understand each other, resolve the dispute and reach an agreement, it may not be enough. Here are few techniques for effective communication you can use when you want to be heard and understood.

As far as you might know, all ultimatums, complaints and I-bloody-well-know-that-like sentences never lead anyone to any constructive results. When a person is told things like “you are bad”, “you should…” it is often so that he/she doesn’t even hear what was the point of your claim because the brain registers an attack and turns on the defense mode immediately. The only thought a person can think about at that moment is how to fight off, it doesn’t matter if there’s something meaningful in your complaints or not.

It is better to refrain from directives and claims once and for all. How you can do that and not fall into anger during the argument at the same time? Easy. Just ban the “you” word. Do not use it at all while you are arguing. Sounds impossible to you? What and how to say something in this case then?

Actually it’s not impossible, just a bit unusual. It’s quite likely you will have some issues while you are trying to apply this new form of communication. If you practice it more often, you will get that skill and gain a title of conflict solution master by those around you.

You can safely discuss any problem without using “you” word. How? Let me tell you. Every situation and every problem could be described from your point of view. So just talk about yourself and say “I” when you are describing your worries, your feelings and everything that happens to you. If your partner listens to the story about your life instead of some morals and complaints it would not cause resistance or wish to fight you. It will be much easier for him/her to understand you in such a format of conversation.

Another important trick: if you don’t get something, just ask. There is a special expression in psychology that is called “mind reading”. It is when we try to guess what is going on in someone's mind without asking them to clarify. Like “I think that you think…”. Which means we can be sure that the person actually thinks like we might imagine it in our heads. But what happens is that we are offended by our own thoughts in the end. For example: “All I asked for him to get a chocolate bar for me but he refused to do it. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t appreciate me. But how dare he, I always do so much for him!”

Every conflict is based on misunderstanding in one way or another. “Mind reading” in this case is a key moment that causes the lack of understanding. That’s why it is always better to ask than try to guess it by yourself, even if the thoughts and motivation of your partner seem pretty clear to you.

Moreover you can turn the most part of every argument into discussion by asking questions. When you replace your “you should tell me about that kind of things” complaint with a “what do you think, should you tell me about that kind of things?” question. Option two is definitely a better choice. Almost every offense and complaint can be turned into a question.

Question form has its own benefits. While the direct message like “you should” does not imply an answer — you only expect the person to obey; the question, on the opposite, encourages to have dialogue.

Besides, question does not raise confrontation or wish to fight back because it’s milder than any complaint.

Another good thing about question form: you can make a person aware of some important answers. For example you have a thought and you want to convey this message. It would be much better and easier if your partner says it aloud instead of you. As a rule, own conclusions and inferences carry more weight for a person. So asking the right questions is exactly that what could lead a person to say aloud the words you are expecting them to say. If you do things old-school and just tell your loved one “you can’t do that” and “you should do that”, they would rather ignore you in the best case scenario.

One last small but useful tip on how to get the communication to work. Abstract examples can help you to avoid the confrontation, so you most likely will not hear something like “look who’s talking” in return. They could be based on stories from a real life or completely made-up, it doesn’t matter. The example could be started with “there’s one friend of mine…” etc. Then you describe a situation similar to that you have in your life but make it sound not directly related to it. This approach is gentler than frontal attack, so a person could listen to what you are saying and make their own conclusions.

J: Would you like to wish our readers anything?

P: If there is actually a will to listen to each other and be heard in your relationship, these tips I gave you will be enough for that. Quarantine is a harsh period of time, even a peak one, that reveals everything that was usually hidden behind the normal life routines. Nowadays support and mutual understanding in the family are more important than ever. If you take care of your loved one and treasure your partner, you will find yourself stronger and closer to each other when all the misery is over.

Author: Dmitry Gridin
Translation: Inna Guseva