As family members and partners spend more time together during quarantine, the odds of interpersonal conflict may increase.
While this may not be the case for all, being aware of the possibility and knowing ways to prevent and healthily manage interpersonal conflict during quarantine can be beneficial.
“Structured time away from one another for school or work allows for thinking instead of just emotional [reaction],” said Kim Vehige, 21st Space Wing Family Advocacy Program intervention specialist. “These built-in spaces are no longer in place, and folks are together dealing with both positive and negative emotions all the time.”
With additional COVID-19 stressors, financial instability, homeschooling, teleworking and the unknown of when some sort of normalcy will return, it is important for families to take preventative steps to mitigate any conflict that could arise.
“The key to prevention is to acknowledge that times are stressful,” Vehige said. “Remind each other that even with the unknowns, the situation is temporary. Be patient and practice grace. Talk about what specifically is stressful and discuss a plan of action.”
If conflict should arise, it is important families practice healthy ways to resolve it.
“Look at the problem together, when all parties are calm,” said Jessica Ditson, 50th Space Wing violence prevention integrator. “Have a family/partner meeting and work through some basic problem-solving steps. Remember to use ‘I’ statements when expressing feelings or frustrations while working through these basic steps.”
To healthily resolve interpersonal conflict, try the following steps.
· Define/identify the problem
· Brainstorm solutions
· Choose a solution
· Try it, see if it works
· Evaluate the results and start the process over if necessary
Additionally, the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress advises families to use active listening. They recommend focusing on and trying to understand what a family
member is saying rather than rebutting their comments. Then, address any negative feedback or misperceptions about a family member which make it harder to communicate effectively.
The CSTS also recommends practicing self-regulation. Notice anger and other emotions like fear and jealousy and describe them without judgment. Rather than avoid intense emotions, observe and accept them at face value without acting on them. Identify topics likely to cause intense emotions—they may require more time (and professional help) to learn how to self-regulate.
Once emotional intensity decreases, reaffirm commitment to the process prior to re-engaging with a family member, for example, ‘I want to improve communication with my family. Therefore, I commit to active listening by paraphrasing my partner’s comments without adding a rebuttal or becoming defensive.’
Though quarantine may make family problems more common, it also provides an opportunity to strengthen bonds with one another.
“Doing simple things that help solidify connections are a great place to start,” Ditson said. “Remember that attention is oxygen for relationships; be present when people are talking to you. Put down the phone, close the computer, turn off the TV and really listen to the people you are quarantined with. Start a new tradition, such as eating together more. Ask questions, be creative and really listen to the answers. Incorporate new education requirements into family experiences, teaching kids to make a favorite meal. Whatever you do, be present and intentional and you can reinforce stronger bonds.”
Creating stronger bonds can help families recognize when one another is struggling with being quarantined and opens an opportunity to provide support to one another.
“Right now many people are experiencing grief, grief for things they are missing such as graduations, gatherings, loved ones, freedom to move and control,” Ditson said. “This can be hard to understand for the person who can’t identify the source of the emotions and those who might be qualifying the experience. Know that hard is hard, and right now people are experiencing their own hardships. Showing grace and caring can go a long way in helping them process the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.”