Back in May, when we were just two months into the pandemic, I contributed to a book on pandemic relationships called Living Together, Separating, Divorcing: Surviving During A Pandemic. At the time, the creators and editors of the book, Michael Lang and Peter Nicholson, wanted to do something to help families in distress. Professionals around the world who work with families contributed to the publication.
Now, here we are deep into the pandemic in early fall. Back in May, we had no idea how long the pandemic would drag on. We just coped the best that we could and hoped that schools would open again come September. Many families have been enjoying their time at home and do not miss the daily commute to work. Other families are struggling and coping with simmering tensions, illness, and unemployment. They are seeking out mediation services in an effort to resolve conflict.
I shared my contribution to the book – Five Financial Tips When You Are Facing Divorce – back in May. Now I want to share tips and words of wisdom from other contributors to the book: lawyers, therapists, mediators, and writers.
1. Carpe diem during corona virus: Your undivided attention helps your kids feel safe and secure. When talking with a child of any age, look into his or her eyes and listen closely to what your child has to say. When kids do chores, they build self-reliance skills and an empowering sense of purpose, plus you’ll feel less overworked and resentful. Family meetings can also break up interpersonal logjams and allow civil discussion of household progress and policies. Finally, try to set aside your worries and savor the opportunities for love, fun, and learning in the Time of Coronavirus. They won’t last forever. Jenifer Joy Madden
2. Five uncomplicated ways couples can turn arguments into discussions: (1) Agree in advance on a pause word or phrase to end the discussion for now; (2) Mentally distance yourself in time by picturing yourself a year from now looking back at this argument; (3) Acknowledge even when you don’t agree to show that you understand; (4) Give back the last word unless it is to show that you get your conversation partner; and (5) Replace ruminating about an argument by considering the perspective of an impartial observer who wants the best for you both. Tammy Lenski
3. Boundaries: What came so easily and naturally at the beginning of the relationship needs to be supplanted by a willful and mindful commitment to show respect by honoring boundaries. We need to remember that no matter how much we think we know our spouses and partners, it is always better to demonstrate respect by taking the trouble to ask than it will ever be to assume. Chip Rose
4. Diagnose and treat interpersonal conflict: (1) Be aware of escalating behaviors that are initial symptoms such as raised voices or refusal to discuss concerns or blaming others; (2) When those around you show stress or depression, make every effort to feel empathy for their emotional pain; (3) If resources are scarce, work with those in your family or business to float options to solve the problem rather than to complain or push others to accept your way of doing things; (4) Research and use the resources in your community to help you gain information and tools to solve your problem. If you treat conflict with the same care you would with a cough or fever, your odds of a fuller recovery when this pandemic passes will increase significantly. Forrest (Woody) Mosten
5. Change the nature of the interaction: Consider that it only takes one person to change the nature of an interaction and you have a great deal of power if you are the recipient of your partner’s frustration and anger. You can either engage or keep some semblance of calm. Fighting back has many negative ramifications as you already know, particularly for your children. So as you and your spouse are confined in the same house, consider the power you have in respectfully managing your part in the conflicts as they arise, by taking the high road and not engaging in the other’s angry outbursts. Marilyn McKnight
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Ellice Halpern, J.D., is a Virginia Supreme Court certified general and family mediator.