Difficult Loved One


Suddenly, we are told to stay home with social distancing to limit the spread of the Coronavirus.  Many of us are working from home with other people with us.  It’s a good bet that someone will get on our nerves. We may have to deal with a difficult loved one.


This is normal.  No one knows how long the isolation will last, June or July? October? Christmas? Will there be a Super Bowl?




We get a sense of control by following a system. Everything brought into our space is wiped down with antiseptic.  We visit with others virtually, missing the hugs.  We are constantly washing our hands for a minimum of 20 seconds, making sure every part of our hands gets hot soapy water on it. Going outdoors, we wear cloth masks to protect others and remind us to stand 6 feet away from them.  Coming home, we take a shower and wash our clothes.


Even as these precautions become routine, we experience anxiety, stress, and challenges.  We have to find new ways to entertain ourselves and coexist.


It’s a small wonder that as much as we love our family members, in this confined atmosphere, we find ourselves irritable.  Behaviors that we normally wouldn’t notice grate on us.  We find ourselves feeling itchy and wanting to lash out.


Relax. Breathe.

Consider: when somebody else drives us crazy, they are probably not aware they are doing it.  They may realize that we are frustrated or angry, but often they don’t know what the irritating behavior is.  They also may not know that they are doing it or that it’s triggering something in us.  


The question is, “Can we look at it differently?”


We don’t want to yell at anybody, unless maybe it’s somebody who isn’t quarantined with us, in which case, yelling and stomping our feet sometimes feels good. In fact, dancing, moving to music, and physical activity are all excellent ways to change our body chemistry and charge up positive energy. 


Want Can We Control


The one thing we have control over is ourselves, our thoughts, our reactions, the way we choose to see things.  If we want someone else to change, we may need to change ourselves first. 


It is important to get some alone time. Make sure everybody has a scheduled time to be by oneself in some part of the house.  Start by taking a deep breath. If it helps to play some soothing music, do that.  Many apps on our phones can take us to meditation music that is restful. We can think or nap or read or write in a journal.

An Example with My 13-Year-old Son


Looking at things differently…hmm.  This experience is an opportunity to be creative.  We can find new activities to schedule into our days, new movies we haven’t seen new music to play together, new ways to make art. Having lunch with friends virtually is fun too.


Looking at things differently means describing the annoying behavior in a positive way – isn’t whining actually somebody being consistent in asking for something?   Can we look at a raised voice and tears as passion, rather than a tantrum? Can we view a sullen look and silence as the right thing to do when not having an appropriate response?

An Example with My 13-Year-old Son


When my son was 13 and started talking back, trying out his independence from Mom, being a teenager, I used to smile and ask,  “I know you’re 13, and this is part of exploring your teenage years, but for right now, just in this instance, could you pretend you’re 12, and maybe we can talk about this?”   He always laughed, and it softened the situation.


Can we describe the behavior in a positive way?


Can we say, “I know you aren’t trying to annoy me on purpose,” and describe the behavior without any criticism? Can we ask the difficult person if they want us to be annoyed?  Would they rather have peace in the house?  Could they limit the behavior?


A successful strategy with a loved one might be, “I wonder if you have forgotten that I need to be listened to and not have somebody solve the problem. Sometimes I like to talk it out and then find my own solution.   I realize you love me and want to help. Are you offering solutions on purpose? Can you just listen to me so I feel heard?”


Another example:

“Do you realize you keep dancing on the couch while I am trying to work?  Are you needing some attention or trying to make me mad? Have you forgotten that I told you I needed a half-hour to finish this, and then we’ll have our time?” The non-judgmental description of the behavior and the question gives the dancer the opportunity to be responsible for their own behavior.  It also gives the worker the opportunity to ask for what they need and diffuse the potential argument.


Can we look at our irritations differently?


Can we look at this distancing situation differently? 


Can we look at it as a time for learning new things and doing new things, and having fun with our loved ones?


I hope so.