Dealing with conflict among loved ones

Disagreements between loved ones about a variety of COVID-related issues were common during the height of the pandemic and may well linger today. Learn what you can do to manage the situation if you find yourself in conflict with someone you care about.

Aside from the direct and obvious impacts of COVID-19 itself, the pandemic has thrown up a range of unexpected and often unpredictable challenges. For many, that’s included having COVID-related disagreements with friends or family.

The constantly changing nature of the pandemic and our response to it, says Relationships Australia National Executive Officer, Nick Tebbey, has “given rise to uncertainty and different interpretations and views, and that’s opened up a new area of disagreement between people.”

“Across our services, we’ve seen people who might otherwise have a lot in common having very different views about what’s happening in the world around them and how best to respond to that,” he says. ”It’s something that a lot of families and friendship groups are having to navigate – and will probably have to continue navigating – for the foreseeable future.”

How to manage relationship tensions

While the dynamics of every relationship are unique and the source of tensions will differ, Tebbey has five pieces of advice for you to consider.

1. Open the door for respectful communication

“A good starting point is trying to take the emotion out of it. Say to your friend or family member, ‘Look, we clearly have different opinions and I’m interested to know why you feel the way you feel so I can understand more about where you’re coming from.’

“The aim isn’t to change their mind,” says Tebbey, “…but it may help if you can understand what’s driving the other person’s opinions, what their main concerns are and what they’re really focused on.

“Through this, you may find some common ground that means you can go forward with respect for each other and maintain the relationship, even though you disagree on some of the finer points.”

2. Agree to disagree

When you consider your existing relationships, it’s a safe bet you don’t agree on absolutely everything, be it politics, parenting or religion.

“There are certainly many facets of life where we have a different approach or view to that of our friends or family members, yet we carry on a relationship with them irrespective of that,” says Tebbey.

He notes that with COVID, there may have been, or still are, underlying health consequences to the position a person has taken, which can heighten the tension and emotion involved.

In this instance, Tebbey says you shouldn’t feel obliged to abandon your own views, but to “look for other ways to maintain a relationship within the parameter that you agree to disagree about this issue.” 

3. Set some rules

Part of agreeing to disagree may be establishing some boundaries so that the subject of conflict is a topic you both decide to avoid.

“If you agree that you have different opinions and that you’re not going to change each other’s minds, it’s more than okay to set some boundaries. Have a discussion around the fact that you don’t want this issue to take up all of the oxygen in your relationship, highlighting that there are plenty of other things you have in common and that you can talk about instead.”

4. Consider taking a break

Pushing pause on a relationship may be an option in some circumstances. “I think this is entirely reasonable,” Tebbey says. “The number-one person you owe a duty of care to is yourself, so if you continue to see a pattern where your interactions just keep going back to this same battleground, then draw a line.

“Explain that you’re finding it difficult to be continually taken back down this route and, because you value the relationship, you think it would be better if you pulled back a bit to wait and see what happens over the next few months or until things settle a bit more.

“These can be difficult conversations to have, but it’s better for both of you to be honest rather than simply avoiding or shutting the person out without an explanation.”

5. Get some help if you need it

As well as being challenging to navigate, a relationship change like this may even trigger feelings of grief.   

“While COVID has played out differently for different people, disagreement is very common, so you should never feel like you’re the only one going through these uncertain times.

“Be open to reaching out for help if you’re struggling rather than trying to weather the storm by yourself, which can exacerbate the issues.”

Relationships Australia provides a range of family and relationship counselling, as well as a range of specialist counselling services. Call 1300 364 277 to be connected to your nearest Relationships Australia.

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