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What To Do When Loved Ones Aren't Socially Distancing

by Katie White, MA


In the age of COVID-19, social distancing has become both a new social norm and an institutionally enforced practice. But like all rules, some people will take these measures seriously, while others will rebel. If you’ve been following the guidelines while other people in your household ignore them, it can create all sorts of conflict.

How do you cope when you’re following social distancing guidelines, and your loved one isn’t? Here are a few perspectives to consider. Some honest self-reflection can help you maintain harmony in your relationships during social distancing.

Why are you social distancing? You may wish to think about your motivations for following stay-at-home orders, and whether they relate to your personal values. Values are the principles and ideals that give our lives meaning. They give the blueprint for our actions and positions on various issues, such as social distancing.

For instance, I value compassion, so I follow the rules in order to honor the love and concern I have for those exposed to the virus. Someone else might value rationality, and they may follow the rules because doing so is in alignment with scientific evidence.

Values differ from person to person. A loved one’s decision to disregard the social distancing measures may align with their own values (for example, perhaps they value autonomy and feel like the rules impose on their ability to make personal decisions), even if they directly conflict with yours. Identifying the values that drive you may help you to understand why their stance on social distancing upsets you.

We don’t have the whole story. We humans are complicated beings, and our decisions are driven by multiple motivations. Although we may be privy to some aspects of someone’s decision-making, we see only a small snippet of the big picture.

As such, it would be hasty to assume that every person we see out and about is breaking the stay-at-home order for selfish or unnecessary reasons – we simply do not have enough information to make this conclusion.

As frustrating as it might be, try to assume positive intent and remember that you never know someone’s full story on first glance. For instance, those living in abusive environments may be escaping a dangerous home, and economically disadvantaged parents may take their kids grocery shopping because they need food and have no other option.

Identify a realistic goal. Because we cannot control what other people think, feel, or do, we may be disappointed if we initiate a conversation hoping to change our loved ones’ minds or persuade them to start acting differently. We cannot guarantee, no matter how convincing we believe our argument to be, that they will do what we want.

If, however, we enter a conversation for goals dependent upon our own behavior, we are more likely to leave the conversation feeling successful. Some realistic goals might be to:

· Educate them about the importance of social distancing

· Express concern for their health and safety

· Communicate how their actions affect you

· Let them know you will be limiting contact with them or setting a boundary

· Ask for a shift in behavior/attitude, knowing that this request can be refused

Communicate your point of view respectfully and directly, knowing that you cannot control how what other people think or feel.

Create boundaries. The beauty of being your own person is that you can choose to do what is best for you, in accordance with your values. Just as you have autonomy over how you behave, so does everyone else. You don’t get to control how Joe Schmo behaves, decide what he believes in, or determine whether his trip to the liquor store is essential.

When we choose to social distance and someone we love does not, there is a lack of alignment between us and our loved one. Misalignment can be particularly upsetting if the other person’s actions impact us directly, or go against our efforts.

For instance, we may choose to limit our susceptibility to COVID-19 by staying home, but if our roommate or partner isn’t doing the same, they may increase our risk of contracting the virus. In these cases, creating some physical distance is a healthy and appropriate boundary to set. This doesn’t mean that you no longer want them in your life – you are simply respecting your own needs, wants, and values.

Relationships are complicated, and they can be especially complicated amidst COVID-19. It may not be pleasant, but in the long term it will serve you and your loved ones to have those tough conversations when conflicts arise, so that you can move through this time of chaos and uncertainty without alienating each other. Remember that you can disagree with someone, and still love them.

If you need help navigating conflict with loved ones during this time, we’re here for you. We offer teletherapy services and are happy to schedule an appointment with you.

Sending all the love and lots of light to all my fellow humans out there,

Katie

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