Timing Is Everything

We’re all sheltering in place, maintaining a safe social distance from everyone except our immediate families. Now, we could benefit from increased time with our families, without outside distraction. It’s an opportunity for closeness that was previously unattainable, due to busy schedules. But after a while, being together 24/7 can feel like a prison sentence. Even the people we love most can get on our nerves. “I wouldn’t trade my spouse for anything, but I can’t stand another minute of this.” “I love my kids, but they are driving me crazy.” “If my mother criticizes me one more time, I will explode.”

Rather than explode, shouldn’t we just talk it out? After all, we have all this time together, and if they could understand that their behavior upsets met, they’d change, right? Not necessarily.

Some change is possible, but a lot of it isn’t. We can change our habits and behaviors with effort, but our personality tends to be rather fixed. Habits are best changed with time and practice. Once formed, personality doesn’t change dramatically.

If you have already expressed your displeasure previously, and your family members haven’t changed, or were unable to sustain change, you are asking for something difficult. Change is difficult in the best of times. Covid-19 has created the worst of times for most people. Asking for change during stressful times is likely to lead to argument rather than agreement.

Good communication at the right time is key. Unless you are a highly skilled communicator, now is not the time to make complaints. This is not the time to bring up past hurts. Your partner will not simply snap out of their depression or anxiety. They will not stop drinking just because they love you. Your mother will always have her own opinions. This is not the time to expect that your child’s stubborn nature will change.

In truth, we have little control over others. If you start focusing on your response instead of the family member’s behavior, you gain some measure of control over the situation. You can’t change them, but you can control your response. You can choose to withdraw, distract yourself, change the subject to something pleasant, or take a walk.

This is the time to accept them for who they are. Psychologist John Gottman says, “People can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted the way they are. When people feel criticized, disliked, and unappreciated, they are unable to change. Instead, they feel under siege and dig in to protect themselves.”

Rather than focus on your family member’s annoying traits, examine your own. Instead of trying to change your family member, be the change you wish to see.

It is of note, however, that one should never tolerate abuse. In spite of a shelter in place mandate, if you experience abuse, call 911 for immediate help. Agencies continue to operate for the safety of victims.

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