The past year and a half has come with many unique challenges and demands. With heated debates about social distancing, masks and vaccines, COVID has created significant opportunities for disagreement.
The tension is partly a result of the prolonged sense of threat and uncertainty. It's difficult for humans to cope for extended periods of time with such conditions, and it's not surprising that we are noticing a decline in mental health. When our mental health is impacted, so is our level of tolerance, awareness and communication (just to name a few).
In the last several months, I've heard about numerous families and friends experiencing strained relationships due to disagreements over COVID. The vaccines have become a highly controversial and political discussion. Although many people are now vaccinated and COVID cases in many areas have declined, the tensions have not immediately dissipated. Many families or communities continue to live with a sense of division.
Although every situation and relationship is unique, here are some reasons why conflict around COVID remains. Hint: In many cases, these tensions are about a lot more than just COVID.
Pent up issues
Frustration and disagreement around the best way to navigate the pandemic are common, but for some people these arguments have created an opportunity to release pent-up emotions. COVID has acted as a pretense to release their pain or anger that may be completely unrelated to the pandemic.
This has become common in many families because COVID has given us a socially acceptable context in which we can “cut off” family members or vent our frustrations. If COVID-related discussions follow an unresolved conflict, they have the potential to intensify the issue.
Recommendation: It’s important to pause and reflect on what the fight is really about. It’s helpful to be honest and observe if any other issues or wounds are fueling the present discussions. If so, separating and resolving past issues can promote healing and healthy relationships.
The pandemic has introduced many new topics into daily conversations: ethics, human rights, duty, responsibility, freedom and values.
For some people, these conversations have shed light on the differences in views and beliefs between them and their family members. The conversations may start around COVID, but the divisions can remain because the involved parties may not know how to reconcile differences in belief within a single family structure.
Recommendation: Acknowledge the discrepancies in world views within relationships, evaluate if the relationships have to change/adjust as a consequence and, if possible, have honest conversations about the difficulty of not seeing eye-to-eye on important issues. The more we avoid these problems, the more detrimental they can become.
Lack of space
Being confined with one another and not having sufficient personal space can make anyone feel stifled. If individuals struggle to ask for space, they may unknowingly (or knowingly) start a fight in order to get distance.
Recommendation: As the world starts to “reopen,” boundaries need to be adjusted and co-dependent tendencies that may have been developed during the pandemic should be discussed. This can be a great way to bypass any additional hurt.
Why the arguments persist as cases decline, vaccines become more prevalent
Just because the world appears to be moving forward and reopening, that doesn’t mean this new reality will undo the hurt that have been inflicted during the last year and a half. Though now many people can see one another in public spaces or participate in new activities, it does not mean that people have “moved on.” Pretending that there haven’t been tensions within the family will not make everything better. Many families will have to undergo true reconciliation.
Try to acknowledge that although some of the tensions that emerged were contextual, they need to be addressed for families and friends to move forward – or COVID conflicts may persist.
Sara Kuburic is a therapist who specializes in identity, relationships and moral trauma. Every week she shares her advice with our readers. Find her on Instagram @millennial.therapist. She can be reached at SKuburic@gannett.com.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID fights with family, friends don't end with vaccines. Here's why.