The past five months have presented plenty of relationship challenges: during lockdown, there was a reported 40% rise in divorce enquiries at one UK law firm, while homeschooling, confinement, and limited social interaction placed serious strain on families around the world.
But now that measures are easing, we can all go back to getting along, right? Well, not quite. As we rapidly try to adopt new behaviours, and with social guidelines changing all the time, there’s still plenty to disagree about – from hugs to holidays, via masks and the 2-metre rule.
But whether you’re in the ‘play it safe’ party or the ‘business as usual’ brigade, you can keep your relationships in tact by exercising a little bit of empathy and understanding. Here are our five tips for avoiding an argument right now:
1.) Suspend judgment
Having brunch in a busy town centre doesn’t make someone a reckless idiot; nor does overzealous use of hand sanitiser mean they’re neurotic and paranoid. There can be a superficial pleasure in deeming ourselves more virtuous than others, but we’re all having to make decisions based on limited (and ever-changing) information, so try to cut others some slack.
2.) Communicate well
However awkward you might feel, it’s important to share personal concerns in a neutral and unemotional manner, rather than letting issues fester and build. If you’re worried about your elderly father refusing to wear a mask in shops, gently and straightforwardly explain why, instead of trying to patronise or nanny him – or worse, complaining to your mum. And remember, good communication means listening to the other person as well as talking.
3.) Support; don’t lecture
You’re keen to set up a dinner date, but a friend declines – she doesn’t feel comfortable taking public transport yet. Trying to convince her that it’s perfectly safe, and that trains are virtually empty right now, will only add to her anxiety. A simple ‘Completely understand – let’s try again soon’ will be more productive. When it comes to our health, we all have the right to determine our own limits, and should support others in identifying those limits too.
4.) Take it offline
Disagreements can easily escalate in online environments, when we lose the subtleties and shades of in-person conversation. Empathy can also quickly vanish when you’re separated by a screen, so if you find yourself drawn into a back-and-forth over Facebook or WhatsApp, take a moment to pick up the phone to the other person – or suggest a socially-distanced coffee instead. You’re less likely to risk hurting each other’s feelings if you speak face-to-face, rather than exchanging furious statements online.
5.) Remember we’re all a bit more tense than usual
Whether it’s fractious children, vulnerable relatives or financial insecurity, there’s a lot to feel tense about right now. Ask yourself whether you’re annoyed with your spouse because he or she is actually in the wrong, or because of your own feelings of frustration and fear. If it’s the latter, take an hour or two to reflect and calm down. Similarly, give others extra leeway if they seem more prickly or sensitive than usual – it’s not you; it’s COVID.