Communication is the key to all the relationships we have, which means it is also the key reason that some of our relationships go “wrong”. Going “wrong” can have many different looks too, ranging from explosive to brooding silence, all the way to drifting apart and losing contact. However “wrong” looks for you, this relationship breakdown causes stress and our assumptions that we make of people can be a core factor.
by Jaron Steffens
P.G.Dip Sci (Psychology), B.App.Sci (Psychology)
Dip Child & Adolescent Psychology, Dip Tch (PE & Health)
Right! We’ve beaten this thing (sorta), we’re getting back into everyday stuff (kinda), and the whole country is making a restart (great!). Honestly, right now, people are tired and still a little fearful after all that the world has been through recently (and still going through). Fear mixed with fatigue can make an emotionally explosive cocktail. As we return to our lives after the Covid-19 crisis, relationship dynamics may have changed, and conflict may slip in where it never used to exist.
What Just Happened?
Keep in mind, lockdown meant something different to each person in this country and we have all been affected in different ways. Some people worked right through lockdown, some worked from home, for some work ramped up and they got busier. At the other end of the scale, some people had no work at all, and many lost their job and face an uncertain financial future. Socially, some people have been comfortable in their small bubble, while others may have struggled with not being able to be in larger social environments. Relationship dynamics with friends and family will have changed, with either prolonged separation, or prolonged closeness. Personally, some people right now may be thriving and rolling back into life, others will continue to be fearful of social contact for a long time to come.
The only consistent thing we all shared was a sudden and dramatic lifestyle change. Just as we got used to being locked in our bubble, we’re told we can resume normal activities (ish). This was what we were waiting for, but it’s still a change. If there’s one thing most of us share, it’s an aversion to change. Even the “return to normal” is full of reminders of how much our daily routines have changed. Hand sanitizer anyone? As a community, we are tired, we want to return to the way things were, but we are still a little fearful about the possible implications of restarting social contact.
In the same way that the lockdown period held different meaning for everyone, returning back to life after the Covid-19 crisis will also be different for each individual. We will need to understand that we will all have a different rate of return, and many people may have changed the way they view themselves and their place in the world since this crisis began. People may also be fearful with the oversaturation of anxiety inducing Covid-19 information.
Give Yourself a Break
The return to life after the Covid-19 crisis will be stressful for most New Zealanders, but in different ways. Remember, you are not alone if you are struggling with this, and if you are experiencing anxiety that is stopping you from functioning up to your own expectations, please talk to someone about what you are experiencing. You have been doing what needed to be done as part of a nationwide team, so take the time you need and give yourself every opportunity to come to grips with the turmoil.
Give Others a Break
If you are struggling with things right now, others are likely to be struggling to. People you have known for years may have changed the way they respond to common situations. Usually calm people may snap at the smallest things, and usually upbeat people may be uncharacteristically low energy and unmotivated. We can all practice showing some understanding and compassion for other people, even if it seems like they don’t really deserve it. We have done an outstanding job as a country to combat this thing, so let’s make sure we continue to support each other as we stumble back out into public.
With all of this change going on in our world, and winter just kicking in, the grumps are creeping in for many people, and our relationships are being tested. This can include all of the relationships that we have including family, friends and colleagues. Sudden change has affected every aspect of our life, and, therefore all relationships have also been affected. In some ways, this can be positive as we have had a chance to spend quality time with the people in our bubble. Conflict, however, inevitably creeps in when we are feeling unsure and threatened by the dramatic changes. If we’re honest, we’re tired and want to return to the way things were but we know this is not possible just yet.
To deescalate a potential conflict, First recognise who owns each part of the problem. For example, if you are at work and your normally calm boss tells you they are annoyed about something you’ve done, you may want to fight back to defend yourself. In this situation, the problem with the way you did your job belongs to your boss. This is their problem to deal with. Your problem to own, if you want to keep your job and deescalate the situation, is how you control your response to being unfairly treated. Whatever part you are playing in any conflict, your role is to recognise your ownership in the problem.
To further deescalate a potential conflict, you need to understand the function that a behaviour serves. When you notice someone behaving in a way that you think is harmful or offensive, this is your problem, your first response needs to be a question rather than an accusation. Instead of making an assumption as to why the person is behaving this way, gain more clarity for yourself. “I’ve noticed you are doing (insert crazy thing here), what made you do it that way?” do your best to keep the accusatory tone out of your voice.
Listen to the response to understand what has led to the behaviour. Paraphrase and clarify anything that doesn’t make sense to you with more questions. If you still have concerns about the behaviour, ask if you can make a suggestion, so you know whether the individual is open to feedback. Most people are happy to take a pointer if they feel that they have been heard, understood, and respected. Be okay to walk away if they are not yet ready to hear your helpful hint.
People are Good
Always keep in mind that most people are inherently good and want the best for everyone. Unlike in the movies, people don’t intentionally hurt or offend others. Your common-everyday-garden-variety human would be upset if they felt they were responsible for the physical or emotional pain of another. Unfortunately, there are always examples of times when someone has intentionally hurt another person, but if you plug these examples into the total population, you’ll realise that they stand out because they are the exception to the rule. Move forward with this information and you will find yourself looking for other explanations for what you initially perceive as offensive behaviour. This will, in turn, reduce the amount of conflict situations you find yourself in.
A Rapidly Changing Situation
Governments, organisations, families, and individuals have had to react to a rapidly changing situation which may have turned a clear future into an uncertain one. This has caused a lot of stress and conflict for all involved over the past couple of months. Whatever side of the decision you are on, try to understand what the other side has had to deal with. It may not fix a frustrating situation, but it will mean that you personally have a better outcome by avoiding possible conflict.
Consider what others may be dealing with, financially, socially, or emotionally if you feel they are behaving in an unreasonable way. Question, listen, show understanding and compassion, and remember that people aim for the best result and are not trying to hurt or harm others.