35: Keeping Family Harmony while Sequestered from Society

Richard Slatcher is a psychologist at the University of Georgia who focuses on understanding the effects of close relationships on health and well-being. He researches self-disclosure and partner responsiveness when it comes to intimacy and explores the links between close relationships, biology and physical health. His lab also looks at smartphone and social media use and its impact on relationships. And he has just launched an international study examining the impact of the pandemic on close relationships.

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Here’s what you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • Some people are more vulnerable to the effects of isolation than others. If you have loved ones around you, you might feel crowded out and stir crazy, but they provide a buffer from isolation. Reach out virtually or by phone to family and friends who live on their own.
  • If you already had a lot of conflict in your relationship, stay-at-home orders will probably be a stressor on top of that. This prolonged isolation is likely to have a very different impact on relationships, depending on the state of them going into it.
  • Being busy or invested in a project mitigates the effects of being sequestered from society. Doing things that are fun, stimulating and engaging can make a big difference.
  • If your young adults have returned home to shelter in place, respect their autonomy. Listen, don’t lecture. Be accepting of them for who they are, which leads to deep and close relationships.
  • Keep conflict in check. Work on having the larger family unit get along. Be mindful of other people’s feelings. Don’t try to teach a lesson or win the argument. Handle disagreements so they don’t blow up into full-fledged fights. The goal should be to resolve disagreement.
  • You will get the most benefits for the self by being selfless, which will improve your family relationships.
  • Families with good communication patterns could improve their relationships during coronavirus captivity.
  • Set limits on how you are using electronic devices like smartphones. When you are in a setting meant to be face-to-face, such as at the dinner table, or taking a walk, put phones away to avoid technoference–looking at your phone or tablet and not listening when others speak to you. Talk about having “phone-free” meals or other times in the day without this diversion. When someone makes a bid for your attention, put down the phone! That’s a moment for connection.
  • If you are telling a story and see someone checking it their phone, you immediately think, “that phone is more interesting than I am.” We all want to be validated, for people to like and respect us and to pay attention to us, but when someone pulls out their phone in the midst of an interaction, it’s a negative signal. It’s insulting. Throughout evolutionary history, being responded to was critical—children would not survive without the responsiveness of the mother. When people keep going to their phone in the midst of a conversation, it’s an indication they are more interested in somebody else. That adds insult to injury.
  • For people who have over-scheduled their lives, this pandemic is a pause button. Some people feel better now that they have slowed down. Simplifying and slowing down leads to happiness. Being forced to slow down and cut back during this crisis could lead to greater happiness and wellbeing and improve social relationships now that we have more time to focus on them.

Richard has launched a confidential international research study on how we connect and cope in the time of COVID-19.  The study will explore the effects of the pandemic on people’s relationships and well-being. You can share your thoughts by joining the survey at https://loveinthetimeofcovid.me.