I’ve noticed a theme in many of the (online–a brave new world!) sessions I’ve done this week: different loved ones coping differently. A number of my patients have shared that they have different emotional needs than their partners/parents/close friends, and as a result, they’ve had a difficult time discussing the virus with them. One particular dynamic that seems pretty common: one person desperately wants reassurance that everything is going to be OK, while the other person desperately wants to research every possible worst case scenario and talk it through.
What’s so unusual about the Coronavirus is that we are all experiencing this crisis together. When we undergo a personal crisis, we are able to turn to family and friends who are not intimately involved in the crisis, to provide a much-needed outside perspective and help us process. But there is no one who can provide an outside perspective on the Coronavirus, as we’re all very much inside this crisis, every single day. So we’re all very stressed, we’re all trying to cope together, and our coping strategies are bumping up against each other.
What I’ve been recommending to patients: talking with their loved ones about their disparate coping styles, and asking their loved ones for what they need (and don’t need). So, for example, if you need reassurance and your loved one keeps discussing doomsday scenarios, you can say something like the following: “I know you need to go through the worst-case scenarios to feel in control, but hearing those scenarios makes me very upset and worried. Is there a way we can provide support to each other that doesn’t involve gloom and doom?” Spend some time talking about how you can structure your discussions so that both of your needs are met.
Some ideas to make this easier:
- As much as possible, try to shift discussions to the here-and-now, and what you need to help you get through the present moment. We don’t know what’s going to happen from one day to the next, so much of the talk about the future at this point is purely speculative (and always scary).
- During all of your coping discussions, try to consciously bring up one thing that’s positive. Maybe it’s something adorable your kid said that day or a work-related success you had.
- If a loved one is stressing you out in the moment, let them know. Don’t let them go on for an hour before stopping them. Remind them that you’re struggling and figure out a way to change the direction of the conversation.
It will take time for you and your loved ones to figure out how best to cope together. In the meantime, keep lines of communication open and let your loved one know what they can do to better meet your emotional needs (and what you can do to better meet theirs!)