Most of us have been sequestered 24/7 for almost eight weeks with our spouses and our children. Some of us are experiencing the essence of the “sandwich generation,” living with our elderly parents as well.
No private space…no alone time. It’s no wonder that most of us are thinking, Don’t get me wrong—I love my children, my spouse, my siblings and my parents, but enough is enough! And they are saying the same about us!
So what to do? For me—with 48 years of marriage coming up in August—my husband’s quirky but formerly tolerable traits are now driving me crazy.
Here are a few things about him that get on my nerves…
- Differing political opinions—oy vey.
- Different “feeding” times. He eats at night…I fast.
- Incompatible work schedules. He likes a finite workday…I work and play throughout the day.
- Netflix preferences: He likes thrillers…I love British tea cozy mysteries.
- Sleeping habits. We both snore, but he is worse.
- Attention span. We are both multitaskers, but with a difference. I read or attend Zoom meetings (sometimes two at a time with separate screens and headsets for each). He plays online poker during Zoom meetings—the reprobate!
It is all so nerve-wracking; I do not know how the marriage lasted so long.
When the student is ready, the teacher will come.
As I was pondering how to cope during sequestration, something unusual happened. The Thursday before Mother’s Day weekend, our local rabbi held a Zoom session. The topic was “Surviving the Coronavirus.” The rabbi had already been doing inspirational Zoom sessions. This time, the guest speaker was his father—also a rabbi.
It was Rabbi K (the younger) in New Jersey, hosting Rabbi K (the elder) from Mercer Island in Seattle, Washington. Fifty people from our small community “attended.” What was the topic chosen by this elder sage? You guessed it…
Is Your Family Driving You Crazy During Sequestration?
Two hours later, I had a new outlook and a blueprint that has reduced my stress in the last several days. Here is what the rabbi taught…
#1. Accept the fact that love, while wonderful, can be annoying. It depends on how you look at it—as illustrated by this parable:
Two teenage girls are enjoying a “play date” together. The mother of the girl whose room they are in enters and says, “When are you going to clean this room?” The mother then leaves.
The daughter says to her friend: “I cannot believe what a nag my mother is.”
The friend looks at her with astonishment and replies…
“Nag? Your mother must really love you. I wish my mother would care enough about me to even look into my room, let alone ask me to clean it.”
What is going on here? Is the mother a nag…or is she loving? How can she be both? The daughter called what her mother said “nagging”…the friend called it “loving.” Which one is it? The answer provides the solution to the annoyance/loving relationship problem.
What makes Mom a nag to the daughter is the daughter’s reaction. What made her a loving mother to the friend comes from a different response to the same stimulus.
And these reactions often stick to all conduct. So when a mother is a nag because the daughter sees her as a nag, everything the mother says will occur as nagging. When a mother is perceived as loving, most of her conduct will occur as fondness. It is not a question of what she does…it is a question of what label is put on what she does.
The lesson learned is when love is wearing thin, reevaluate the “lens” through which you view the other person.
Psychologists, social workers and personal coaches use this process of framing and reframing to help us change attitudes and reduce stress. Reframing is a successful tool for understanding interpersonal behavior. When the meaning placed on behavior changes, reactions alter and reinforce a new way of looking at a situation, person or relationship.
The effect of reframing is not only a social or a psychological phenomenon. Neuroscientists also use reframing in their analyses, using the label “contextualization.” According to an article in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers at University of Chicago and Yale University concluded that, “[T]he study of social behavior must take into account not only the actor, but also the person with whom she or he is interacting, and the nature of the existing, desired or past relationship between them.” And in support of this hypothesis, they provide this apropos example…
[W]hat happens when a beautiful bouquet of flowers is delivered to a woman’s home? How will she react?
It depends on relational context.
If the flowers come from a suitor to whom she is attracted, and if she has been hoping the attraction is mutual, acceptance of the flowers and joy will result. If they come from her spouse of 30 years who has sent flowers every week for all those years, she will accept the flowers but may have no emotional reaction. If they come from a suitor who is nice enough but in whom this woman personally has no interest, reluctance to accept them, distress and perhaps feelings of guilt may arise. If they come from a person who has been stalking the woman and against whom she has a protective order, she will refuse the flowers and feel fear and distress.
The point is straightforward—behavior, cognition and emotion depend on relational context.
#2. It is not the absence of love that irritates us. It is the disappointment that arises from failed expectations!
If you have young children, home from school for an extended period, they are always at you. “I need this…I want that…Get me this…Do that for me.” And their expectation is that you will comply. And you are the same with them. “Later, I am working now…Can’t you get your own lunch?…Do you have to play the TV so loud?” You expect them to do what you ask. And when they do not, you become frustrated and angry.
When we have dashed expectations, we blame others. If we change our expectations, everything shifts. When we realize that our family is not responsible for our expectations, our intolerance level subsides. Our anger dies down, and love returns.
Shakespeare said it best…
Oft expectation fails and most oft there
Where most it promises, and oft it hits
Where hope is coldest and despair most fits.
All's Well That Ends Well, Act II.i
George Pitagorsky is a mindfulness expert. Many of us already practice mindfulness through yoga and meditation. Mindfulness is a breathing and relaxation-based exercise to connect you to your present circumstances, without attachment to either the past or the future.
Mr. Pitagorsky discusses the importance of expectation management and offers mindfulness exercises to help…
People want what they want when they want it. This wanting often clouds and closes the mind to rational thought. So, we are inclined to lack mindfulness when setting expectations…
[We] move ahead with unrealistic expectations that are destined to leave us disappointed and create conflict.
Mindfulness here can help prevent issues from bubbling up later when it is much more difficult to address them.
—George Pitagorsky, Mindful.org
Your expectations are there, like it or not. Try to manage them by recognizing that they are not generated by another person. He or she is not responsible for them and is not responsible for fulfilling them.
#3. Living life without a mask.
Yesterday, when I again thought that enough was, indeed enough, I put on my protective mask and went for a long walk. After a few miles, I sensed a stranger, with a protective face cover of her own, walking behind me.
It reminded me of the lyric in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera during the masque ball: “Masquerade! Look around; there’s another mask behind you.”
But sequestered with family members, the masks are off. The illusions you might harbor…the respite you usually get from one another…the tiny traits that you never see when life is lived on the fly…are highlighted in the cold light of constant contact.
And so, as the rabbi suggests, it is OK to wear a bit of mask at home. Be polite, stay clean of habit, use your indoor voice, show the manners you would to a stranger, do not engage in conflict-driven conversation. You know the pressure points…take your fingers off them. And if you get triggered, reframe your reaction and wear a mask of tolerance.