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Trying Times

Even if you are still leaving home to go to work, your activities are probably quite restricted. There is a long list of things you can’t do and places you can’t go. That means that you are spending more time in close proximity to your family. And being closer to each other does not necessarily lead to more closeness. It’s perhaps even more likely that you are working from home or – worse yet – without a job. The result is that you spend most all of your time with your family.

Can you relate to this? My parents have been gone for several years; but when they were still alive, I loved them dearly but definitely would not have wanted to live with them. Had it been necessary, we would have worked it out; but living together is not something either they or I would have chosen. The same holds for my adult children and for their children, for that matter. My family is special to me; but living with them on a 24-hour basis sound like a prescription for trouble.

But this is a time of little to no choice. That’s why we are sharing some tips for getting along when there is not much opportunity to get apart.

Our tips start with some wisdom that has been around forever. It says that it’s not what we love about each other that helps us get along, but is what we are willing to put up with from each other. What we love about each other is why we want to get along to start with. What we are willing to put up with from each other is what keeps us from blowing up or walking out. But when we can’t get some distance from each other or time away, putting up with what we have been just putting up with can get very hard to handle. Putting up with it – whatever it is – on a 24-hour, 7 days a week basis can stress the limits of tolerance and sensitivity for the best of us. What we just put up with before is now way over the top, even for us. …

The key here is understanding that our relationships with our family are as strong as ever, and our love for each other is as strong as ever too. None of us needs to love more or love better. But we do need to put up with more of whatever was hard to put up with before we got so cooped up with each other. How to do that? Sorry, there is not a quick or easy solution to the reality that we may be driving each other up the wall. Each of us just needs to suck it up and make a doubled or tripled effort to be calmer and nicer, twenty-four seven.

By themselves, being calmer and nicer will help a lot but aren’t enough. I suspect we all know what annoys, frustrates and irritates others in our family about us, how we behave or about what we do or do not do. What about us are others just putting up with? I know and so do you. We also know what we need to change or do at least until things get more back to normal. We simply need to be calmer, nicer, more cooperative, less annoying and make it easier for others in our family to spend so much time around us and unable to get some distance from us. They are fine with putting up with us and our quirks part of the time but not twenty-four seven.

You definitely have a good point. Maybe a good way to think about it is that we should try at least as hard to cooperate and fit in at home with our family as we would at work or when visiting in someone else’s home. Using our good manners and being cooperative may be as important at home as they are when out in public. In these trying times, they may be even more important. It may help to remember that others in our family are as frustrated, anxious and unhappy about what’s happening right now as we are. It’s not all about me nor is it all about you. From the perspective of our family, it’s all about us. The goal is for all of us to get through this and to deal with whatever happens. We are here for each other.

This is all well and good, but what happens when our patience and tolerance bucket runs dry? I’m asking myself that question and am pretty sure that at least some of our listeners are asking it too. Some days it happens for me; and I know that it also happens for others in my family. There is just more togetherness than we can handle.

I have asked myself the same thing. Here’s what I have come up with. For my family, it’s at least a temporary answer. We can each call a timeout, including the kids. It works like this.

Any of us can call a timeout. The person calling the timeout has to separate himself or herself from the rest of us. Timeouts last ten minutes; and whoever calls the timeout is expected to step outside, go to his or her room or otherwise separate from the rest of us. In ten minutes, he or she is expected to rejoin the family. We have been doing this for a while; and so far, none of us has abused the timeout privilege. It actually happens less than it did when we first started. I think just knowing that it’s an option helps everyone.

I would like to add two more tips to our list. First, in my family, each of us has a couple of recess periods each day. We each schedule our own recess periods for half an hour. We can do pretty much whatever we want to do so long as it doesn’t bother anyone else. For the adults, responsibility as needed for the kids is traded off during each others recess. Having a schedule doesn’t always work but it usually does.

The other side of this is scheduling activities we do together. Everyone sits down together for lunch and again for dinner. We also play a game or do something else together for an hour most every evening. I think having a schedule we try to keep helps a lot. It would be easy to lose the structure we are used to having for our days. It just feels more normal knowing how the day is going to go.

If we have time, let me toss in one more thought about living together when we can’t get apart. Putting up with what annoys or frustrates us about others in our family is something we typically don’t think much about and when we do, it’s mostly a passing thing. We move on, letting go of the annoyance or frustration. When we are forced to shelter in together though, there is a big risk that we won’t just let go and move on. It’s way too easy to get stuck on the negative and to let our frustration and resentment fester. When that happens, the tension can quickly turn into anger and erupt into open hostility and bad decisions. My point is that along with an obvious health risk, the virus is also a less obvious risk factor, threatening our families. I just hope that we all recognize that risk and take care not to let it happen within our families. Social and emotional distancing doesn’t cure anything but can help prevent bad outcomes for us and our families. Be nice, stay calm, and do what you can to assure that each person in the family has some time and space to walk away and return after having a chance to re-center.

Be well, stay safe, and please make an extra effort to put up with each other.