COVID Conflict and Compassion – A Family Perspective

There have been many conversations about the impact of COVID-19 on our community. The conversations touch on changes in our capacity to congregate, learn together, and share celebrations. There have, likewise, been conversations about COVID’s impact on individuals, in terms of worship, work, and play. What, though, might the impact be on families, particularly those obliged to shelter under one roof?

To be sure, there are unique opportunities. With fewer reasons to leave home, families have more time to spend together. Family members are more likely to talk and listen to each other. Families are spending extended Shabbos afternoons, in each other’s presence, learning, playing, bonding.

At the same time, there is a greater likelihood that family members will be in conflict with one another. They may experience frustration and even disillusionment.

The financial, educational and existential (purpose-related) crises, foisted upon us by COVID-19, all have an impact on family functioning. For one, they tend to distract family members and siphon off attention. In addition, the crises accentuate the gaps between the divergent ways that family members approach problem solving. They also aggravate unresolved conflict between family members.

The novel challenges, related to livelihood, learning and meaning have left us scrambling for solutions, even to the point of preoccupation. We may become so absorbed in adjusting to the changes in our personal lives that we may forget the emotional needs of those around us.

We might also discover that we have alarmingly different ways of responding to crisis. Some of us might feel the need to keep moving, whereas others might prefer to pause, ponder and reflect. Some of us might focus inward, drawing upon innate skills and intuitions; others might reach outward, seeking connection with family and friends. In a crisis, our disparate ways of responding tend to grate against each other, causing relational friction.

In families that face smoldering, unresolved conflicts, members may typically rely on brief outings, to reduce relational tension. With COVID restrictions in place, these mini-respites have become inaccessible. Some family members feel as though they’re trapped in a pressure cooker, waiting to explode.

As we traverse the COVID crises, we need to remind ourselves that those around us also have emotional needs. We need to recognize that there isn’t just one way to face a crisis; each family member’s approach is unique. Those of us mired in unresolved conflict need to identify a “release valve” even if it’s something as simple as securing a quiet reading spot.

Finally, we need to find compassion for ourselves and our family members, particularly as we face an unprecedented situation. The distraction, the pronounced gaps in problem solving styles, and even the depth of our unresolved conflicts will ultimately pass.

Compassion, for self and other, reminds us that the uptick in relational tension is just a snapshot in time — not something that defines us. It allows us to hold on to the joy of bonding, even in our moments of distress.

Rabbi Yehuda Krohn, Psy.D., works with individuals, families and couples, in his Lincolnwood, Illinois, practice. He writes, presents and edits, on Torah, psychology, and the intersection of the two. He is a board member of Nefesh International. He can be reached at yemekrohn@gmail.com.