Social distancing rules in Britain, like around the world, mean all non-essential travel and public gatherings have to stop. People can only leave home for exercise, to shop for essential items, for attending medical care, or when their work cannot be done at home. Being top of each other in the house is a real challenge. We’re stuck inside our homes, forced to spend more time together than ever before. We don’t have to be confined to a small family dwelling, with no garden to escape to, to feel the strain of lockdown.
We may have to deal with children off school with a surplus of energy. We’re relying on a partner for almost all of our social support because we can’t be with our friends or relatives.
The strain of lockdown can exacerbate already difficult relationships. Signs of family disharmony include negative low mood, emotional outbursts, resentment, and feelings of frustration.
Here are some thoughts about how to survive the strain of lockdown.
Handling kids thoughtfully.
Children and grandchildren can provide our family life with wonderful moments. Their spontaneity and sense of fun can brighten the day. But almost out of the blue, squabbling, shouting or crying can break out and they can be a bit of a pain. They seem to be noisier, more untidy and more demanding than ever we expected. What they want can be different from what we want, testing our limits and boundaries.
Toleration and patience is called for. Counting to ten and taking a step back before over-reacting. Also the ability to say ‘no’ firmly and consistently without undue fuss and guilt. Where to draw the line may need negotiating before hand with the children’s other parent so they don’t learn to play one parent off against the other. To accept authority, children need to be told the reasons why they can’t have what they want. But when upset and angry the child is not ready to be reasoned with. That needs to come later.
We all need some rest to restore our inner resources if we are to survive being imprisoned within our own home. Then we will more easily find the concentration and forbearance required to focus our attention on our children’s needs. They are having to adjust to no longer being with their friends. Complaining of feeling bored, they will need support and encouragement to explore new hobbies.
Tragically, the lockdown will probably reduce available support to us if we happen to be a single parent. For example from friends and grandparents. Without help it will be harder for the adult to gain respite and energy to resume the care role the next day.
I suppose it is natural for us to feel irritated if a family member snaps at us. Not so much what they say but how they say it. They may raise their voice when this is uncalled for. Worse would be shouting and slamming the door. And if there has been several angry outbursts lately, we probably would get cross ourselves, which of course makes things worse. Now both of us think how unfair the other is being. Resentment can fester for a while and add to disquiet. We can end up imagining getting our own back on each other.
The film ‘Tit for Tat’ featuring Laurel and Hardy comes to mind. The two heroes open an electrical goods shop next door to Charlie’ grocery store. The comedy develops in the way the characters involved respond to each other. Charlie mistakenly thinks that Ollie is making advances towards his wife and harms a few items in Stan and Ollie’s shop. Resentfully, Stan and Ollie respond by causing damage to more of Charlie’s things and so he does something worse to their property. The retaliations escalate; eventually wreaking havoc in both stores. This is taking things to extremes.
Being mindful & strain of lockdown
Escaping from a heated situation may be less easy during the strain of lockdown. Police guidance is that people can move to a friend’s address for a cooling-off period “following arguments at home” as long as this is measured in days, not hours. But this may not be feasible if you have a duty of care to a child, or a family member who is sick or infirm in your home.
One needs to lower the tension somehow. Not raising it by trying to even the score. Not making things worse by getting our own back on someone. The challenge is to keep our head. To notice resentful thoughts but not engage with them. Part of us wants to blame someone when things are not right. But rather than act on this, we can learn to observe this inner rush to be judgmental. We can be more mindful of not only our own natural reactions, but those of others around us. And to do this with an awareness of the bigger picture.
Strain of lockdown & assertion
The result might be to remain silent when someone is having a go at us. Perhaps wait for a more opportune moment when they are ready to listen. It is possible to resolve a disagreement later. Then to calmly assert our own viewpoint.
Those with assertion skills can put forward their point of view showing respect, neither interrupting nor speaking unnecessarily loudly. Without insisting one is right and the other person is wrong, however certain one might feel. This approach may involve being willing to negotiate some sort of compromise.
Collaboration with the person who has offended us might be a possibility. Each need to be willing to explore what had happened between them. To reflect on where things went wrong. How the tension could have been avoided. There might be an underlying issue that can be addressed. A solution to the problem might please both of us and them and go beyond what each of us had wanted in the first place.
Strain of lockdown & partner’s needs
Couples in lockdown will be thrown together for much of the time. A real test of love. To survive this rough time of lockdown strain, the partners need to even better learn than they had previously, how to get on.
This includes being willing to consider and even prioritise each other’s needs. Our partner may need to talk and be heard. May need practical help now in what they are doing. Will need an equal share in decision making. And will need our forgiveness for any mistakes or wrong-doing.
“Patience gives your spouse permission to be human. It understands that everyone fails. When a mistake is made, it chooses to give them more time that they deserve to correct it.” (Stephen Kendrick)
Be ready to forgive
Usually it is easier to let bygones be bygones when the person who has done us wrong is genuinely sorry. But more difficult to ‘forgive and forget’ if they show less than complete remorse for what they have done. Likewise if only partly appreciating the hurt they have caused us.
To remove our resentment we could try recalling a time when we had done something bad ourselves to them. No one is perfect and if they were lenient with us then it makes it easier for us now.
Another tip is to consider what worldly or selfish desire in you that have been thwarted by the other person and reconsider its importance. Pride been wounded? Well what’s so bad about a little humility? Time wasted by someone? Never mind there is plenty of time left in life to make up what was lost.
The current pandemic is a big challenge for many people. But if we can better learn to live well under the constraint of the strain of lockdown then perhaps we will have a better quality of family life afterwards.
As a clinical psychologist, Stephen Russell-Lacy has specialised in cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy, working for many years with adults suffering distress and disturbance.
He edits Spiritual Questions a free eZine that explores links between spiritual philosophy and the comments and questions of spiritual seekers. You can share your views and find out more about feeling good, personal well-being & spiritual healing
His eBook Heart, Head and Hands draws links between the psycho-spiritual teachings of the eighteenth century spiritual philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg and current ideas in therapy and psychology.