COVID Conflict: You don’t always have to like people to work with them

At my last count, it has been over 100 days for my family in quarantine, if I subtract for the relatively brief periods we have either changed physical locations (to save our sanity) or just taken a day long break from one another.

In that period, we are navigating all the confusion and uncertainty of a global pandemic. We’re discussing inequality in the United States and what we can personally do even more than is typical for our biracial household. We are often doing so without having the typical reprieve an office or school day would give us. And then, there’s murder hornets.

I would welcome the chance to explain where babies come from instead of the typical questions I get over breakfast at this point.

The reality is that this hard. So much harder than any other period of life I can remember. But maybe the really difficult time can bring about real change. Lasting change. There is so much discomfort in the change process. I know you are experiencing that too.

What happens when I return to campus? Will there be cases in my cohort? Will I get sick? Will I be safe? Will I feel safe? What if I come back to campus and get stuck with a roommate or roommates that annoy me? What if I come back to campus and get stuck with roommates that don’t understand my experience?

All of these are valid concerns. The simple answer is that there is a very strong likelihood that we will both see cases and have periods where we have to navigate uncomfortable conversations with those we live with either by choice or by necessity. The good news is that you don’t have to always like others in order to fundamentally give and receive respect during a conflict.

Step 1: Acknowledge the difference (of opinion, tactics for keeping a shared living space clean, etc.)

Step 2: Figure out your level of disturbance around the issue (I use a technique from my clinical training training called a subjective unit of disturbance (SUDS) scale from 0 to 10 where 0 is neutral or no disturbance and 10 is the worst possible thing you can imagine feeling).

Step 3: If your SUD level is a 7 or above, WALK AWAY!!! This is not the time to negotiate or have a conversation until you get yourself (and your nervous system) emotionally regulated. Take about 20 minutes to go for a walk outside, use a breathing technique, use music. (PRO TIP: This is not the time for an alcoholic beverage, online shopping, or any other form of escapist behavior.)

Step 4: If your SUD level is a 4-6, you’ve got a chance to navigate this while remaining in the conflict. Take a deep breath, see if you can regulate enough to say that you are getting amped up and want to find a way to keep working through the conflict together.

Step 5: If your SUD level is a 0 to 3, ask yourself if this is really an issue that needs addressed in the midst of a global pandemic. If the answer is no, make like a Disney character and let it go. You don’t have the time or energy for holding on to the small stuff right now.

Be Well.

- Dr. Jen