We at Marriage Sense want you to know we are praying and thinking of all of those who are out in the world helping others. Thank you for providing the rest of us the items and services we need to stay at home and keep ourselves and our families healthy and safe. Also, for those directly affected by COVID-19, whether you have the virus and are battling it, have lost someone to it, or are one of the lucky ones to have recovered from it, our hearts are with you. While there is nothing funny about this pandemic, we both find solace in laughing and connecting with others, and we hope our writing brings you some temporary relief and even a chuckle.
In the last few weeks I have been doing strictly teletherapy and I have heard many interesting things. I have come to help people label the insanity that is going on inside our homes as “COVID complaints.” COVID complaints are a real thing, and left unmanaged, COVID complaints may turn into irrational arguments which in turn could become total knock-down, drag-out COVID fights. This pandemic is bad enough. Let’s figure out how to avoid making it worse to where leaving the house becomes the safer option!
What is a COVID complaint? Here are just a few examples, but feel free to get cozy in your “daytime” pajamas and reflect on the last several weeks to think what your COVID complaints have been.
- burnt toast or bagel
- someone not wiping down the glass shower after using it
- making the homemade hand sanitizer incorrectly
- your adult spouse not washing their hands for the full twenty seconds
- someone picking the movie two nights in a row
- finding an empty box of cereal in the pantry
- having two mustards open in the fridge
- not wiping the groceries down as well as someone from the CDC does
- your mate watching SportsCenter
- when the Instacart guy brings you lemon pepper smoked salmon vs. the regular you requested
- someone leaving half-empty cans of soda in the refrigerator
- deciding who gets primary custody of the remote
- cheating at Monopoly (no, snake eyes does not mean you get one of every bill from the bank)
- finding empty water bottles around the house
Questionable COVID complaints, bordering on COVID arguments:
- Someone using the last of the toilet paper. This is a COVID complaint IF you have tissue back-up somewhere else in the house; NOT a COVID complaint if it is truly the last stash in the house, and you should know right now that your family members are just downright cruel.
- Someone finishing the last cookie that you had hidden in the bottom of the Tupperware on the uppermost shelf in your pantry (actually this is not a COVID complaint, this is downright cause for divorce).
- Someone finishing the last glass in the last bottle of wine (depending on how you are choosing to cope with quarantine, this also may not be a COVID complaint but rather cause for divorce.)
Here are actual COVID arguments I have heard, although stories and names have been changed to protect the insane:
My client Mona: “My husband was taking a shower and did not squeegee the shower door when he was done. I noticed it, took a deep breath, but did not say anything. I got done working my virtual three-day work week; he is off work due to COVID-19, mind you. I went to the refrigerator to start dinner while he watched SportsCenter. (There are not even any sports being played so why the hell is he watching it? Ugh!) Anyway, in the refrigerator I found THREE open cans of soda, and TWO of the same kind of mustard in there.”
At this point in her story I needed clarification to assess how bad this really was getting.
Me: “So, to be clear not one honey mustard and one Dijon, but two of the SAME kind? Also what kind of soda because I know you like the finer things in life, I am guessing this isn’t generic soda or even Diet Coke, but some kind of artisanal soda?”
Mona: “See you get it!!! Yes, same kind of mustard!!! Different brands—one Safeway, one Sprouts but same exact kind!! And yes, Spindrift soda, those are like $1 a can! The nerve! Again, I swallowed my anger and proceeded to make dinner. Then he asked me if he could mix us up some mocktails. I lost it when he tried to put some flat soda in my glass and I demanded he drink the mixture of non-carbonated swill and make me a fresh one because I deserved it, damn it.”
Me: “Hmm. Do you think any of those are COVID complaints that turned into a COVID war?”
Mona: “Well maybe, a little.” (Laughs)
How to Handle COVID Complaints
Learning how to handle the COVID complaints can keep them from escalating to COVID arguments.
- Let the small things go. Ask yourself: If I was not trapped in my house with these people would I really be complaining about this? (Side note, I wouldn’t be reading this blog either because I would be at a store or the movies or ANYWHERE besides in this damn house with these people I “love.”) If the answer is no, then call it a COVID complaint. Let the COVID complaints go: they will serve no good to anyone. You could write it down on paper cursing the person out and get all the meanness out, then rip it up into tiny, tiny pieces so your mate can’t “Argo” it together and know how evil and completely insane you are. Or you could call your best friend and read them the following script: “This is a COVID compliant and I need to vent it out before it gets the best of me. I know I am completely irrational at this point, and I will not apologize for that, but you, as my best friend, are obligated to let me unleash until it is all out. Do you think you can stop your Netflix binge and spare me thirty minutes?” (One of us may or may not have done this once—or four times—in the last three weeks).
In Mona’s example from above, if she had vented to her friend about the water-splattered shower door and then let it go, she could have de-escalated her emotions and gone on about her day free and clear of anger and stress.
Maybe also dust off the book on your shelf Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff by Richard Carlson that your spouse gave you as a “gift.” I am sure a Don’t Sweat the COVID-19 Stuff will be written soon.
- Don’t let things build up. It is an intense time and we are all going to be a little on edge until Dr. Fauci tells us we can take off our daily leisure wear, shower, actually put on makeup and not just “Zoom makeup,” comb the backs of our heads and go out and sit next to a stranger in a booth at a restaurant. When we let silly things that are normally level one or two build up with no reset, they build up to nine or ten really fast. And even if you have read every silly, uplifting meme, you’ve listened to the clapping and cheering of the 7am/7pm healthcare change of shifts in NYC, and you’ve watched celebrities and common folk do hilarious COVID-19 parodies of famous songs, a level nine or ten blowup is hard to stop once the snowball starts rolling downhill. So, if it is something you really can’t let go of, then talk about it. Talk about it early so that it can come out more filtered.
Back to Mona, if she had told her spouse she was getting annoyed by the lack of help in the kitchen, or that she was irritated at finding the soda cans, it likely would have gone a little smoother. Can you imagine if he put too much ice in the mocktail? Ohhhhh, let’s not even go there.
- Be curious. If you’ve ever been in my office for longer than thirty minutes you’ve probably heard me use the terms “be curious.” It is simply a brilliant position to be in. Being curious as to why people are doing the things they’re doing rather than making judgments about why they’re doing them is a healthier place to be. It also stops one from assuming that one’smate is coming from a place of ill intent.
In Mona’s case, she didn’t stop to ask her husband why there were two opened mustards. If she had taken this proactive step, she would have found out that he knows she prefers the Sprouts brand and there was only a little bit left, so he saved it for her and opened the new one for himself. He was being considerate, not blind like she had accused him of being.
Different ways we can be curious? Questions we can ask ourselves or the other inmates:
- Why would someone put the toaster setting all the way up to level 9?
- Hmm, I am curious as to why, after I come back from getting some snacks, your Monopoly money pile has gained significant interest? Did you already receive your stimulus check and not tell us?
- Do water and vodka mixed really make a surface clean? Are there not better uses for these beverages?
- Help me understand why you like to watch SportsCenter when there are no live sports being played to recap.
- How does that remote feel? I have never had it in my hand, may I see if I am able to push those up and down arrows as well as you?
- I am curious if I can select a movie to watch as skillfully as you have for the last three weeks. Okay if I pick tonight?
- Have gratitude. It is simply my favorite thing to do right now. Research shows (and by research I mean what I have observed in my own house, my family and friends’ houses via Zoom, and my clients via Telehealth) that people who are able to get into a place of gratitude are healthier, more active, having more sex, happier, less irritable, more balanced and overall more joyous people to be around. In my house, we strive to share one nugget of gratitude a day with each other. Usually for my eleven-year-old, it is that he gets to do virtual school in his pajamas. My sixteen-year-old is delighted he gets to eat popcorn and gummy bears all day long, stuffed away in his personal “classroom” without being bothered for hours. And for my husband, he gets to leave the house to go work in his solo office, avoid homeschooling (our youngest is in a Mandarin immersion program), and come home to a homemade meal.
Mona could have taken a ride on the gratitude railroad for a happier outcome. She could have been thankful her man took a shower: one less smelly thing around the joint! She could have appreciated that he was so thoughtful to save her the last of said condiment. And I don’t know the last time my husband offered to mix me up a mocktail but that sounds refreshing right about now!
Here’s how to turn some other COVID complaints into an attitude of gratitude:
- You have a toaster that works. Don’t act like when you were little, your parents didn’t scrape off the burnt part to make a brand new piece of toast for you.
- Hey, your family members are hydrating with water, that is wonderful! Play a game later of who can make a basket in the recycling bin with their empty water bottles.
- Be grateful that you don’t need to time someone anymore when they wash their hands, let him be a grown up man.
- Really, you need smoked salmon on your bagels during a quarantine? Well, be grateful for that lemon pepper salmon and sit and enjoy.
I forgot to tell you all my gratitude. I am grateful that I am healthy and safe inside my home. And even though my family can drive me crazy, I am glad that I have them here with me. I’m also thankful that I have the knowledge and ability (for the most part) to identify a COVID complaint when I am having it, to let it go when I am able, to not let things build up, to be able to be curious, and to have gratitude while I am doing it . . . all of course while in my comfy, cozy clothes eating my smoked salmon with a hidden cookie in my sock for dessert!
We WILL get through this.
Lori and Shanna