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How to Navigate Difficult Conversations about COVID-19 Safety Precautions with Friends and Family

How to Navigate Difficult Conversations about COVID-19 Safety Precautions with Friends and Family

By Pam Dewey • December 03, 2020

As we enter the winter and the holiday season, the U.S. is experiencing a second surge of COVID-19 cases. That means that many people find themselves navigating awkward conversations with family and friends about when, how and if they should get together.

To curb the spike in coronavirus cases in Minnesota, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has prohibited all social gatherings through Dec. 18., defining social gatherings as “groups of people who are not members of the same household, congregated together for a common or coordinated social, community or leisure purpose — even if social distancing can be maintained.”

Doing what feels safe for you is reasonable, as is following the MDH guidelines. However, your friends and family might have different ideas about what safety precautions work for them. Here are a few ideas to help you navigate these conversations with respect.

Don’t criticize other people’s safety measures

People generally don’t respond well to criticism about decisions they’re making. Try to use “I” statements when explaining your concerns about the risk of spreading coronavirus to a loved one. Instead of saying, “You really shouldn’t have people over to your house,” say, “I don’t want to put anyone at risk of getting sick by coming over. Can I join over Zoom or FaceTime?” This statement avoids judgment about their behavior, and it firmly establishes your boundaries.

You can also send a loved one cute masks to encourage mask use. Or if you know they’re having difficulty wearing masks, you could send them ideas for people that struggle with masks.

Do clearly set your boundaries

You may be uncomfortable having people inside your home right now. Being extra cautious now can help slow the spread of the coronavirus. If you have a friend or family member who wants to come over, let them know you’re only spending time with immediate family members inside your home. You could suggest meeting up on Zoom or FaceTime.

If you have family from out-of-state who want to visit, it’s okay to say no, particularly if you know they haven’t been wearing masks. Let them know that you love them and would love to see them, but that you are adhering to MDH guidelines, which are stricter than some other states’ guidelines. You can let them know that you aren’t spending time with anyone who isn’t wearing a mask on a regular basis or practicing social distancing guidelines.

Curb your social media judgment

Social media can take you down a rabbit hole of judgment regarding social distancing and COVID-19 safety precautions. While some people are being less cautious, it’s also possible that pictures posted online don’t tell the whole story. Maybe the people at your aunt’s party are part of her pandemic pod; maybe they all quarantined for 2 weeks and got tested before meeting. You can’t tell the whole story of what’s going from a picture on Facebook, and you should try not to assume the worst.

However, if you see your aunt post a picture of a mask-free party, and then she invites you over, it’s reasonable to assert your boundaries. Tell her you’re only spending time with people who are wearing masks consistently, and that you’re trying to follow the MDH guidelines. You can suggest connecting virtually, instead.

And if you really can’t stop your social media judgment, maybe it’s time to take a social media break.

Let people know if you’re struggling

The isolation many people are experiencing right now is very real. That’s particularly true for people who live alone. If you are struggling with feelings of loneliness, you may be the one reaching out to a loved one. When you do, let them know you’re having a difficult time, and then try to respect their safety precautions. Depending on current MDH guidelines, you might suggest a socially distanced outing like a walk outside or a bonfire.

You could also suggest setting up a regular Zoom or FaceTime call to provide a regular interaction. If the person you’re reaching out to is immunocompromised, this might be the best and most respectful way to connect with them.       

Forgive yourself, and ask for forgiveness

You may have already argued with a loved one about social distancing and precautions. Remember, this is an incredibly difficult time: we’re all navigating a deadly pandemic on a daily basis. It’s normal to feel tense, worried and not be at your best. Try to forgive yourself for not handling the situation better, and then reach out to your loved one.

Start by apologizing for how you handled the situation. Then explain your understanding of how your loved one is feeling and what he or she is going through. Let your loved one know he or she is important to you, and you miss him or her. Tell your loved one that you want to fix things. You might not get a response right away. Be patient, and give your loved one time to answer when he or she feels ready.

You can get through this, and the kindness you show to everyone now will be remembered long after the pandemic has ended.