Every family in America is probably blessed with some members who are taking the CDC guidelines for COVID-19 very seriously and some who are taking them with a grain of salt. Often, those on opposing sides of the fence are looking down their nose at those who disagree with them. And disagreements about COVID-19 can start to affect the relationship if each wonders when the others are going to wake up and realize their perspective is the correct one.

There is a ton of information out there. From the mainstream news, to opinion papers, talk shows, Dr. Fauci, the CDC and of course we can’t forget social media, it’s almost like information overload. And, who you choose to listen to often determines your behavior.

Whether you’re intensely practicing social distancing or think it’s a massive overreaction, one thing’s for sure – how you have disagreements about COVID-19 with the ones you love will impact your relationship long after COVID-19 is no longer a concern.

At some point, many have figured out that it’s going to be complicated doing life together if you can’t agree on this issue. There is some degree of truth in that, but when have all members of a family ever seen everything exactly the same way?

We can spend our time arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong, which is unlikely to have a productive outcome. Or, we can figure out how to move forward while having differing points of view.

At the core of what many are dealing with is fear. Fear of getting the virus because people around you are not social distancing or following CDC guidelines. Fear of infecting someone else. Being afraid of doing the wrong thing. Fear of the government taking your rights away. Fear of losing a business. Fearing economic collapse. And the list goes on.

So, what do you do?

Talk about it. You may have family members who you believe are not handling things the way they need to. If that’s the case, you can choose to have a conversation with them. How you approach them really matters. If you are judgmental and condescending, it’s likely that the conversation won’t go well.  It’s probably a given that you feel strongly about your beliefs and you want those you love to get with the program. But the reality is, they may never be on the same page with you.

Case in point – your aging parents don’t want you telling them what to do. Or, at the opposite end of the spectrum, your college student does not want you telling them what to do. All the disagreements about COVID-19 needs to be talked about!

If all of you are living under the same roof, have a family meeting. Talk about how the entire family will work as a team to keep every member of the household safe. You don’t all have to agree. In fact, you may have to agree to disagree, yet all find a way to do what is best for the greater good.

Acknowledge what you have control over. If your parents are living hours away from you, what they do is beyond your control. You can make recommendations, but at the end of the day, they are going to do what they want to do. Can you love them anyway?

One thing that is within your control is your attitude. You could walk around angry all day because people are responding in a way you believe is irresponsible. On the other hand, you could do what you need to do to keep yourself safe and not seek to be responsible for other people’s behavior.

For example, you are trying to keep your family healthy and safe and your neighbor decides to have a party for 50 people in their front yard. You could choose to confront them, but that would probably create more angst on your part. It’s pretty likely that everybody is feeling a fair amount of tension, so why create more? Going on a walk away from the party, heading to the backyard to play or staying inside might actually help decrease your anxiety.

Be careful about being quick to judge. Things may not always be as they appear.  Someone leaving the grocery store with a lot of toilet paper and other items could at first glance be seen as hoarding much-needed supplies. In reality, the person may be shopping for several older people in their neighborhood. 

Show respect. At the end of the day, respect really matters. Even though you may have differing perspectives on the Coronavirus, being able to share, listen and seek to understand each other’s views goes a long way toward maintaining a healthy relationship over the long term.

It is our differences that make this world a rich place – even disagreements about COVID-19. Instead of trying to convince others that your way is the only way, treat them with the same respect you’d like to receive. Although you may not see eye-to-eye, disagreement doesn’t have to damage or destroy your closest relationships.

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For most Americans life isn’t “business as usual” these days. Smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic, COVID-19 has flipped our normal life on its head and conjured up a mix of panic, anxiety, uncertainty and fear. Every family faces unique struggles and obstacles when it comes to creating a new norm with unfamiliar parameters such as social distancing, quarantine and vigorous personal hygiene. But for those of us who have a spouse at risk working on the front lines, whether they’re physicians, nurses, first responders, childcare workers, truck drivers or the countless other essential workers that keep our country running, the stakes (and consequently, the stress) immediately go up.

My husband Bobby, for example, works as a FedEx Express driver. For him and millions of couriers around the nation, not only is it actually still just business as usual during this pandemic–it’s a crazy whirlwind of employees calling out which creates a shortage of workers. And since we are all at home, ordering our essentials online, there is an increase in packages to deliver as well. For those who take on the extra load, like my husband, it means long hours and late nights. It’s job security at its finest (yay for overtime pay!)… but an awful lot of anxiety for the family he leaves at home every day. 

The Process of Figuring Things Out

I’d like to say we have it figured out, but let’s be honest, it’s week 2 of our social-distancing adventure and things seem to be changing every single day. Currently, I’m working from home and watching my two daughters (who are under 5 yrs old). Oh, and I’m 5 months pregnant. Bobby leaves before any of us get up in the morning and is usually home right as I’m getting the girls to bed. That means my day consists of all meals, diaper changes, snacks, naps, playtime, mediating quarrels, kissing boo-boos, calming meltdowns, baths, bedtime, laundry, dishes, washing hands, cleaning/sanitizing and trying to work the best I can at my kitchen table, on my laptop, in the few minutes my children are occupied by Frozen 2 or when they can actually get along and play nicely together. It makes my head spin just typing it out.  

Suddenly, I feel like a single parent and it’s HARD. (Seriously, single parents are superheroes.) Not only is the sheer exhaustion enough to break me, the effort it takes to not let resentment build up or let the anxiety over whether Bobby will become infected and unknowingly bring home the virus weighs like a ton of bricks on my shoulders every single day. So how can we navigate these murky waters? 

Arm Yourself With Knowledge and Safety

If we’ve heard it once, we’ve heard it a billion times, but the recommendations from the CDC are imperative to follow. In our unique situation, we’ve struggled to know how far to take it. Should Bobby self-quarantine and sleep alone in a separate room? Keep 6 feet away from me and the kids? Wear a mask, even at home? The resounding answer to all of these questions continues to be, “We don’t know.” In times like these, all we can really do is look at the data we do have and factor in our unique preference and comfort level. Ultimately, decisions like these come down to what works best for your family. 

For our family, the stress of trying to do it all on my own was so much greater than the stress of the possibility of contracting the virus and the uncertainty of how it would affect me during pregnancy. Since we do know that stress has a very negative impact on pregnancy and is not good for the baby, we decided to choose the option that created the least amount of stress for me. I have no other health issues, eat a vegan diet and (try to) exercise regularly. Plus, currently there is no data that suggests that pregnant women are more susceptible or even at a higher risk for severe symptoms. There is also no evidence that the virus affects the fetus in utero. (Sources: CDC, NPR, YaleMedicine)

So, after a very long, emotional conversation, Bobby and I decided that we would follow these precautions:

  • At work, he asks permission to sign for anyone he delivers to, in order to eliminate multiple hands touching his power pad screen and uses hand sanitizer frequently.
  • Upon coming home, he strips down in the basement, throws his clothes in the washing machine and comes upstairs to immediately shower.
  • Before he showers, we sanitize ever surface he touches.
  • We continue to diligently wash our hands and try really really hard to not touch our faces.
  • Physical touch is limited. (No kissing and minimal hugging/touching.)

Of course, if he knowingly is exposed to the virus, we will reevaluate and implement a complete self-quarantine for him at that time. But for now, this is our new routine! It means he still gets to help out with the kids and the household, sleep in the same bed as me and enjoy family time when he’s home. The stress of feeling like a single parent is minimized (at least on the weekends and days when he gets home early.)  

Protect Your Marriage (Especially From Resentment) 

It would be easy to slip into resentment during these times. Working from home and taking care of the kids is no joke. All the stress and anxiety of life is quadrupled, and who ends up getting the backlash? Our spouse. Bobby and I have already had our fair share of arguments since this quarantine began, all exasperated by the current circumstances. So we have to intentionally work at keeping our marriage strong and healthy. Some of the easiest ways to do that?

  • Acknowledge each other’s sacrifices. We are both putting forth an extra amount of effort and there isn’t one that is better than the other. We both feel seen and cared about when we’re speaking words of affirmation and appreciation for what we’re doing daily.
  • Communicate your feelings. For some people, talking through their feelings comes easier than it does for others. But it’s so important to have that self-awareness and let your spouse know what’s going on inside your mind. (Remember, none of us are mind-readers!)
  • Actively listen to one another. Part 2 of communicating your feelings means that the other person actively listens to you. Passive listening (when someone is listening without really reacting or interrupting) is really just one-way communication. It doesn’t make the person talking actually feel heard. Actively listening (when someone responds and shows that they genuinely understand the message being conveyed) creates a safe space that allows both people to connect on a deeper level. It builds trust and respect, especially in the midst of tension.
  • Remember, you’re on the same team. Fighting against each other instead of for each other can happen in the blink of an eye. Suddenly your argument turns into subtle (or not so subtle) jabs because you know exactly what buttons to push and where your spouse’s Achilles’ heel is. But remember, your spouse is NOT the enemy. COVID-19 is.  

Connect With Each Other Daily

As you read this, we are currently significantly limiting our physical touch. And yes, it’s tough. Bobby’s primary love language is Physical Touch, so it makes it much more difficult to show that I love and care for him when we are purposefully maintaining our distance. Although it’s not ideal, we both recognize that this isn’t for forever. It’s just a season. We are determined to get through it together. And we will be stronger for it. So, while we may not be able to touch each other… We can still connect through quality time, conversations, little gifts, notes and meeting each other’s needs the best we can right now. 

The Four Points of Connectedness

Our connection has grown tremendously over the past couple of years because of this amazing concept I learned. According to studies done by relationship researcher Dr. Linda Duncan, there are four powerful points of connectedness between couples during the day. When you are intentional about connecting at these times on a regular basis, they can increase the intimacy in your marriage. Yes, please!!

How you wake up.

Figure out a simple, loving way to say “good morning” to each other. It’ll set the tone for how you engage with each other until you part for the day! If coffee is your love language, it’s a no-brainer.

How you part for the day.

Parting is such sweet sorrow these days, but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Take some time to talk about what the day looks like and be sure to leave on a positive note… (“I love you” and “Thank you for working so hard!” are great parting words.)

How you greet each other.

After being apart all day, the way you greet each other when you get home really matters! Even if it can’t be a big hug and kiss, you can still express excitement with a warm smile and a genuine, “I’m so happy you’re home [sappy nickname here]!

How you say goodnight.

When the day is done and you’re ready to call it a night, take some time (just the two of you!) to debrief on the day. Even though you’re probably not going to bed at the same time, getting “tucked in” isn’t just for the kids! These sweet moments before bed can actually impact how well you sleep that night!  

The bottom line is that having a spouse who is still working adds a level of complication and stress into the mix of an already difficult situation. But just remember… this too shall pass. In the meantime, while you’re taking all the necessary precautions, don’t forget about keeping your marriage healthy as well. Eventually, when all the dirt settles and the waters are clear again, it’ll be so refreshing to know that your relationship is even stronger for it!

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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My husband and I were having a conversation about navigating work, caring for family, grocery shopping and the like. In the midst of trying to figure it all out and all the “what ifs,” I kind of lost it. Actually, not kind of—I lost my cool. My husband just stared at me. It took a minute (or 10) for me to get myself back together.

Actually, I took our dog on a walk and thought about what had just happened. We aren’t normally snippy with each other. But then again, we also aren’t normally in such close proximity for an extended period of time.

Let’s just put it out there: Life is super stressful and unbelievably complicated at the moment. We’re all probably feeling some level of fear about the future. In these very moments when things are trying and we are facing the unknown, we need to be on guard and very self-aware in an effort to avoid hurting ourselves and those we love. 

If you’re wondering how to know whether you’re on edge or not, keep an eye out for these things. The signs could be any or all of the following: 

  • You feel like you’re going to explode.
  • You’re not sleeping.
  • You are indulging more than normal in __________ (eating, sleeping, drinking, online shopping, as in retail therapy).
  • You’re quiet and withdrawn when you are normally not that way.
  • You feel like you’re going to blow up if your spouse leaves their dishes in the sink one. more. time.

All of these are telltale signs that you may be in the danger zone. So, what can you do so you won’t blow up on your spouse?

Your first line of defense is to communicate.

Talk with your spouse or someone who is part of your support system. The opportunity to have someone listen to your fears, frustrations and needs, even if they can do nothing to fix it, can help relieve some of the tension you feel.

Create a communication plan.

Sit down with your spouse and discuss how you will intentionally check in with each other to know how to best support one another. Don’t assume your spouse knows what you need.

Meditate or pray.

Practicing deep breathing, meditation/mindfulness, as well as praying can help relieve some of the pressure you are feeling.

Take a time out for yourself.

Sometimes we just need to time ourselves out for a few minutes. Sit in the bathroom, your bedroom, the balcony, your front porch or some other spot that will allow you to have a few moments of silence to recalibrate. It can be helpful to have regularly-scheduled times when everybody goes to a specific space. That way, everyone in the family has a chance to be apart.

Exercise!

Exercise is key to helping us release toxins, stress and tension in a healthy way versus taking it out on our spouse. Going for a quick run, a brisk walk (yes, even in the rain) a bike ride, doing jumping jacks inside or anything that will get your body moving and cause you to break a sweat is helpful. Walking the dog has been a huge sanity-saver for me.

Get connected with your support team.

Even in the midst of social distancing, relying on your spouse to meet all of your needs will likely lead to even more frustration and tension between the two of you. Create coffee time or social hour through Google Meet, FaceTime, Zoom or some other platform which will allow you to hang out with friends or family.

Take one day at a time.

None of us knows about tomorrow. To keep rehashing the “what ifs” will literally drive you crazy. It will be helpful to you, your spouse and the rest of your family if you can take things one moment at a time. The goal is to navigate today.

Avoiding some things like unrealistic expectations and negativity will also be helpful. 

It is unrealistic to think that you aren’t going to have some meltdown moments. It’s bound to happen with people in such close quarters who are cooped up for an extended period of time. The goal is to avoid reacting. Instead, take a deep breath, count backward from 10 and then respond to the situation at hand.

If you’ve been focusing on the negative, you might want to refocus on a few positives, too.

Stop telling yourself you’re a failure or thinking your spouse is failing big time. Your brain believes what you tell it. If you think negatively about yourself and/or your spouse, it makes it hard to communicate and life becomes more complicated. All of us are trying to figure out how to adapt and adjust—even your spouse. Things are likely to get better as people get into a groove, but it may take some time. We have a real opportunity to look for the good things our spouse is doing instead of focusing on what we see as a negative.

Love Each Other Well

One of the greatest things we can do to not blow up on our spouse and survive life as we know it right now is to love each other well. One way we can do that is by watching how we communicate in the middle of uncertain times. Remember the reasons you fell in love with your mate. Reflect on the good times you’ve had and what it took to make it through the hard times in the past. Be intentional about complimenting and encouraging them. Don’t lose sight of the fact that you are a team. Listen to their fears and frustrations. Be willing to compromise when necessary. When all is said and done, hopefully our family relationships will come out stronger because we’re choosing to think before we speak. At the same time, we’re trying to make things right when we lose our cool.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

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