By Michael Aurit, JD, MDR, and Karen Aurit, LAMFT
Families are facing some very difficult conversations now that Arizona has re-opened. A range of strong opinions about social distancing and safety precautions may cause family conflict if communication breakdowns and negative emotional reactions go unchecked.
Even some spouses are split over best practices during the pandemic. Enter extended families into the equation and the range of opinions can quickly become a heated blame game. Some family members would rather not have any conversation at this point. Some are consumed with fear and anxiety. Some are focused on the science and support adhering to CDC guidelines and social distancing protocols. Others question the level of risk or prefer to return to normal, even acknowledging the potential for negative health outcomes within our community.
Family conflict is nothing new and can be overcome when family members are committed to healthy communication with the help of some mutually agreed upon guidelines for conversations. You could propose your own version of the following suggested communication guidelines to ensure less conflict and better family discussions:
• We will be respectful of one another and respect all opinions as valid.
• We will make proposals about how to connect as a family instead of making demands. Family members prefer to be “asked” if they are willing to do something compared to be “told” what they should do.
• We will be open to compromising whenever we can all “live with” a solution that isn’t perfect but works for everyone.
• We will avoid interrupting as best we can and ensure that each person’s voice is heard.
• We will listen carefully to understand how each person sees the situation so we can “see the world through his or her eyes.”
• We will stay positive and be gentle with each other, rather than placing blame or becoming judgmental.
• We will acknowledge that we all love one another and want to be close again. The pandemic is temporary, but our family is forever.
• We accept that we won’t all agree 100% of the time. If we disagree, we respect each person’s right to make his or her own decisions.
Once you all agree on guidelines, schedule a family talk. Start with a fun activity to celebrate being together, maybe a virtual dance challenge, silliest joke exchange, or perhaps a rousing chorus of “We are Family.”
When you begin, be prepared for a difficult conversation. There may be feelings of frustration. Remember, no one has all the right answers in this unique situation. The whole family can choose to use this as a wonderful opportunity to show love and compassion even when you disagree.
If your family is struggling to communicate effectively, be prepared to call a “cease-fire” to give everyone time to cool off before regrouping. If relationships are in danger over COVID-related issues, seek professional help from a professional family mediator or family therapist. These professional services are often available online and can help your family to discuss difficult issues peacefully.
Michael Aurit is a professional divorce mediator, Arizona attorney, and co-founder of The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation. Karen Aurit is an Arizona licensed associate marriage and family therapist, and co-founder of The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation. Learn more at auritmediation.com.