As NYC enters Phase 4 of reopening and other cities across the country reinstate some restrictions, it’s hard to make sense of the risks in regards to COVID-19. With no one having a sound view on what’s objectively right, people are often entrenched in their own camps about what’s safe and what isn’t, with equal derision for “I can’t believe you’d take that risk” as “Why are you so paranoid about getting sick?” Unsurprisingly, this division can take a toll on couples who are trying to make these stressful decisions together. Drawing on our experiences as couples therapists during COVID-19, The New York Times featured Tribeca Therapy in an article providing strategies for navigating safe choices in a relationship (one that may already be strained after months of quarantine).
Speaking to writer Amelia Nierenberg, our Founder and Clinical Director Matt Lundquist explains how couples frequently assume they already know their partner’s position on these issues, saying: “I already know what she is going to say” or “I already know what he thinks.” “I will plead with them to suspend their disbelief,” Matt says, “and really work to deeply and sincerely engage in curiosity.”
While not in the article, Matt urges couples to approach these choices with radical curiosity, making the distinction between sincere, honest curiosity and–what so often takes place–curiosity at the service of one’s own point. Too many emotional conversations begin with the drawing of a line, making the task winning someone over rather than discovering something new. When making choices about safety during COVID-19, partners should work hard to understand the other’s point of view rather than just simply acknowledge it.
One thing to remember that can open up new possibilities for couples who are stuck over decisions related to the virus is to recognize that there are degrees of risk rather than a binary of safe and not safe. We all live with risk and take steps to mitigate that risk. For example, most of us ride in cars. We use seatbelts and car seats for children in order to mitigate that risk, but there is still risk. So too with COVID-19. This can help couples for a few reasons: not only does it get away from an absolute right answer, but it also helps couples see that having conversations about risk tolerance and making decisions together in the face of new challenges or new evidence is something they’ve been engaged in for their entire relationship. Though the stakes are higher right now, this isn’t new.
That being said, Matt notes in the Times that while “everyone’s concerns need to be respected,” this doesn’t mean “each of the adult concerns are equivalent.” In particular, Matt asserts, “I do generally feel that the person who is more concerned about an issue of health and safety needs to be given a lot of deference.”