When Couples Disagree About Decision-Making in the Pandemic

When Couples Disagree About Decision-Making in the Pandemic

Ned’s wife Sue joins him for a conversation about how couples can work through conflicts that might arise as a result of the pandemic. Like, how do you find a resolution when one person wants to socialize with friends, and their partner thinks it’s unsafe and shouldn’t go out? Our favorite couple offers their best advice to navigate the bumps in this long pandemic road!

Learn more about our sponsor, OmegaBrite CBD. Distraction listeners can SAVE 20% on their first order with the code: Podcast2020. Shop online at OmegaBriteWellness.com.

Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is Sarah Guertin and our recording engineer/editor is Scott Persson.

Check out this episode!

A transcript of this episode is below.


Dr. Ned Hallowell:
This episode of Distraction is sponsored by OmegaBrite CBD, formulated by OmegaBrite wellness, creators of the number one Omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. OmegaBrite CBD, safe, third party tested, and it works. Shop online at omegabritewellness.com.

Sue Hallowell:
I am more social and really feel the need to connect more with people, and I think that you are perfectly happy with if we just saw our family.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Hello. This is Dr. Ned Hallowell, and I want to welcome you to our podcast called Distraction.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
We are very lucky today to have an exceptionally special guest who told me not to introduce her elaborately because she’s been on the show in the past, however, not everyone listening right now, will have heard her in the past? So I said she’ll just have to put up with a somewhat more elaborate introduction than she would prefer. She would like me to spend three words on introducing her, but I have to spend more than that.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
You may have guessed already our very special guest is my very special wife called Sue. Sue George Hallowell. She is in addition to being the mother of our three kids and the wife to me, a consummate clinician, a licensed independent clinical social worker with many years of experience, and she specializes in couples where one or both members have ADD. Since we’ve been married for 31 years, she has at least 31 years of experience in managing a couple where one member, namely me, has ADD. She’s truly a gifted therapist in every sense of the word. I am so proud of how talented she is, and it’s always a treat when I persuade her to come on the podcast.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Let me welcome my wonderful wife, Sue George Hallowell.

Sue Hallowell:
Hi Ned. Thanks for having me again.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
We thought we’d talk a little bit about how families and couples are dealing with decision making in this pandemic, the pandemic that seems to just go on and on and on and on. I know Sue said to me that most of the couples she works with are talking about this. Let me just ask you what the issues that you’re seeing in your couples? What are the ones that are coming up most often?

Sue Hallowell:
Well right now it’s been very interesting. The whole process of how couples have related has really changed over the course of this pandemic. But what is coming up right now the most is this idea of how do we decide how much outside influence it’s okay for us to have? In the beginning of the pandemic, everybody was shut down. There was some disagreement, but generally people were on the same page that everybody needed to stay home, they needed to limit their contact with outside people, they needed to be very careful in the surfaces they touched, and there was some disagreement about whether we need to really wipe down every package or leave it out for three days or bring it in immediately. But generally people were frightened and we’re on the same page.

Sue Hallowell:
Now, four months in, and with some reduced restrictions, it is beginning to create some issues in couples, particularly where one is more risk adverse than the other, when one is more social than the other, when one maybe has more medical complications than the other, and it can create a lot of conflict between the couple about what is okay and what isn’t okay. That can even get more complicated by having children who have their own thoughts and opinions about what is okay, and what is not okay.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
You usually, when we do the podcast together, love to point out the conflicts that you and I have, but in this particular issue, I don’t think we disagree about much, and I don’t think our children do either. We have our two kids from New York living with us, our daughter, Lucy, and our son Tucker, who work in New York City. They’d been home now for what? A couple of months?

Sue Hallowell:
Since May.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Since May, okay. And then Jack, our third son lives around the corner in Newton, and so he’s often here. We are all in favor of playing it by the rules; wear a mask, wash your hands and keep distance. You and I are also aghast at how difficult that is for some people in other parts of the country to do.

Sue Hallowell:
Even in Massachusetts, I don’t think we’re so special at this point. Maybe not on the grand scale but-

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
I don’t mean to say we’re perfect, but we’re doing it better than Texas and Arizona and Florida. The wish would be if we want to bring this thing to an end as fast as possible, that everyone would get on the same page. Those three things; wear a mask, keeps social distance and wash your hands.

Sue Hallowell:
Ned even though I would absolutely say that we’re on the same page in general, I mean, there are some differences between us and part of it has to do with our personalities, which is what gets us-

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
See this is the part she’s loving. Now she’s warming to this.

Sue Hallowell:
What I was going to say is we know by nature I’m a much more social person than you, and my mental health leads me to want to certainly not go out and be in big events outside. Certainly not.

Sue Hallowell:
Excuse me one second guys. I’m on a podcast.

Speaker 3:
Sorry mom.

Sue Hallowell:
I borrowed my daughter’s earphones and she wasn’t around for me to ask so she was wondering what the hell I was doing. You can cut that out, right?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
No I think you should leave it in. It’s a lovely little bit of Hallowell life.

Sue Hallowell:
I am more social and really feel the need to connect more with people, and I think that you are perfectly happy with if we just saw our family. I’ve pushed a little bit more to have some other people be in our backyard, not in our house. We’re certainly not going to indoor restaurants or anything like that, but I’ve pushed a little bit more to have people outside of our bubble come over. I also am probably out and about a little bit more [inaudible 00:00:08:00]. And you’re also a little bit older than I am and are very concerned about getting the virus. Not that I’m not. We definitely have some differences, but I feel like that we’re not that different and that we’ve been able to negotiate the issues fairly seamlessly, but some couples are certainly having a lot more trouble than us.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
I would say absolutely seamlessly. You’re about to go on a week’s vacation with our three kids to a beach in North Carolina, and I’m not going because I really don’t want to chance it. I don’t want to take the risk, but I don’t object to your going.

Sue Hallowell:
Right. We’re trying to take all the cautions. We’re basically going to stay at the house only. We’re doing all our shopping in advance and we’re driving down. But yeah, that’s a difference. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yeah. Yeah. You were saying you were seeing families where they really can’t get together on these matters that they’re arguing about them.

Sue Hallowell:
Where there’s a lot of conflict, yeah. Yeah.

Sue Hallowell:
One example is a couple that I see where she is someone who is I wouldn’t say … actually they’re both pretty social. She grew up in the south and wanted to go see her family. Her family is a little bit more on the southern side of things where they certainly believe in the pandemic, but they were certainly looser quicker. She really wanted to go see her family, and her husband understands how important her family is to her. She, instead of being able to say, “Look these are the risks. Let’s look at them and decide what makes sense.” The only way she could deal with it is, “Oh, it’s not such a big deal,” or, “They’re not so worried about it.”

Sue Hallowell:
She was going with her emotion and that made him become more rigid and angry around the whole process, because he was like, “How can you say … the numbers are going up in this state and if they’re not wearing masks in public. Even if you wear masks, even if you follow the rules, if people around you aren’t, that’s going to risk you and our son, and that is really hard for me.” And so she sort of downplayed and said, “Oh no, everything’s okay.” The three of them went down there and sure enough, her family was … He immediately got shocked by the way people down there were acting and was not prepared for it and it created a lot of conflict between the two of them.

Sue Hallowell:
What we worked on was what was really hard for him was the fact that she wouldn’t acknowledge the risk. He said, “If you acknowledge it, then we might be able to make a decision based on the pros and cons. But when you won’t even acknowledge the risk, because you’re afraid the answer is going to be no, that just alienates the two of us.”

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
How do you help them resolve it?

Sue Hallowell:
By helping her see. When we really talked about it, she could acknowledge what the risks are. She could say, “Okay yes, I can see where people not wearing masks in public could be a problem for me. And so if I’m down there, we’re going to have to figure out a way to make that work for our family. For me, it’s so important to see my family at this point, I’m willing to take those risks. How can I help you feel more comfortable? What can we do to try within the situation make you feel more comfortable?”

Sue Hallowell:
For her, it was being able to acknowledge what the risks were. Unfortunately, this is in a couple where they’re so on the opposite page of what the risks are. For her it’s more of an emotional issue of wanting to see our family. So by her being able to acknowledge the risk and his feelings and him being able to acknowledge how important it was to her to see her family and how he didn’t want to stop her to do that, and then they were able to come up with some guidelines that worked for both of them.

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Dr. Ned Hallowell:
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Sue Hallowell:
In other circumstances, a lot of it has to do with if you have kids and kids are really pushing for time with their friends. Frankly, parents are about to go crazy because how many games of monopoly can you play or make believe with your kids? The kids are grumpy and parents are trying to do work or other things. Another way that some families have dealt with is they’ve developed pods, or other families that they have all sort of agreed to a set of rules to abide by. As long as everybody was in agreement this worked out well.

Sue Hallowell:
But now again, with the reduced restrictions, some families are opening up more than other families. In some cases that means that pods then end because people left in the pod don’t feel comfortable with what another family is doing, so suddenly they’re out of the pod. Or the couple can argue about again, is maintaining the pod more important than what this other family is doing? When you have someone who is the primary person at home, who’s taking care of the kids and all they can imagine is not having this outlet, you can see where there’s a lot of trouble that develops.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yeah, for sure. And then of course there’s the looming issue of what happens when school is supposed to start in late August or early September.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
I was talking to a man this morning whose daughter is supposed to go to college in New York City. The dad had at first been assuming that it was going to be safe, but now he had second thoughts and he tried very hard to persuade her not to go. She said, “Look, what am I going to do? I can’t just stay at home. I can’t have a normal gap year, because I can’t go to Europe, I can’t get an internship.” She said, “I’ve got to give it a try.” He said he was so torn between agreeing with her or not. He’s going to come down on the side of it’s okay because he said it’s very unlikely for young people to die from this or even get terribly sick, but it’s more the risk of they’re bringing it home and grandma or grandpa getting very sick and perhaps dying.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
That’s a real tough one. I know many patients who have little kids in elementary school. What’s going to happen with them, and maybe more importantly, what’s going to happen with their teachers and then their grandparents?

Sue Hallowell:
Right. Right. Yeah. The situation is so tough and the decisions are so challenging. What I try to work with people around is really look at your values and look at the risk benefit analysis. That has to be different for every family. I have a family where the dad has multiple myeloma and the mom has had significant heart issues, so both of them are extremely compromised. Their children are of an age that are looking at college or being out in the world a little bit too. In that case, the risk is so high to the parents that you might need to look differently at the independence of the child and the child being able to move on, or how are you going to manage that if the child … well, young adults, they’re not children, but young adult … does go because their need to move ahead is such an important value for them, but you’ve got parents with such risk.

Sue Hallowell:
So you have to take that into consideration as opposed to another family where parents are older, there may be some risk, but the idea of what the child needs moving forward may take some precedence over the risk if you weigh it carefully. The same thing about whether you have people over, or how much you see people. What are the mental health risks versus what are the physical risks? What are the risks for the illness?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Ass you say, it’s not just the medical risk of getting the virus; it’s the enormous psychological toll. I mean, kids really need school. They really need other kids. And to deny them that is really … I mean, I think the kids will suffer far more …

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
That’s our daughter’s little Chiweenie barking.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
The kids; it’s the psychological toll, the mental health toll of missing school. Not to mention the parents who have to somehow provide care all day. I had a mom saying to me, I’m really tired of being a parent 24/7. There’s a psychological toll on the child, on the parents, and that’s not to be minimized. And the toll of being separated … My big thing about the other vitamin C, vitamin connect. We’ve been living through a period of forced separation. Now there are ways of getting the vitamin C as we’ve talked about in other podcasts. But gosh, it’s so hard to do the calculus. Where do you come down?

Sue Hallowell:
And then you have differences in just people’s internal anxiety levels, right?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Sue Hallowell:
I mean, there’s what is safe and what is unsafe on one level, and then there are certainly people who their anxiety leads them to be much more concerned about the virus than maybe other people would be at the same time. [Inaudible 00:21:38] go all the way to an extreme example. I have a family whose 28 year old son came home from New York. He really has OCD almost to I wouldn’t say psychotic, but extreme, extreme. Whenever they brought groceries in, they couldn’t just rinse them down. I mean, he wanted everything disinfected. He couldn’t tolerate people going out and seeing anybody. He was to such an extreme, it was absolutely making everybody in the house … it was intolerable.

Sue Hallowell:
You have that level all the way up to people who are just much more anxious and concerned about it, and then people who by nature just don’t have the same level of, again, we’re talking within normal limits, don’t have the same concern about it. It’s hard to manage those feelings and those differences. Especially with a person who feels, “Look, it’s not that bad. We don’t have to be that concerned about it.” And the person who’s anxious just falls apart.

Sue Hallowell:
There’s a lot of helping people understand that sometimes the facts don’t even matter as much as people’s feelings. And you have to go into the level of understanding of how each person feels and accept that and acknowledge it and work around that rather than telling them you’re ridiculous for being so anxious about this. It’s just not that bad. Or I can’t believe you don’t love us at all, and you don’t care whether I get sick.

Sue Hallowell:
There’s also trying to really listen to the other person and understand what their concerns and worries are, and not just get angry or dismissive of them, but take that into consideration and figure out a solution that feels at least somewhat comfortable for both parties.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Yeah. Our advice is to respect the other person’s point of view, understand the other person’s point of view, listen long enough so that you know the other person’s point of view. You often say, Sue, it’s so hard to see anything from the other person’s point of view. It does take an effort.

Sue Hallowell:
Yes it does.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Keats called it negative capability, the ability to negate yourself in favor of someone else. Now’s an important time to do that and not ridicule the other person and not let your family become polarized because this thing is not a political issue. It’s a medical, psychological, emotional issue that I think each person, each family solves following guidelines. I know you and I both wish the country would follow of wear a mask, keep social distance, keep six feet distance and wash your hands. Not that hard. Not that hard. If everyone would do that, we would have this thing licked maybe in time for school, or at least in time for a full football season.

Sue Hallowell:
Well, we maybe have the opportunity at some point, but it seems like we’re a little behind the eight ball now. We really need to get started in really thinking through how are we going to set up boundaries and rules so that we are going to be able to get back to the life that we all want to have?

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Well, we can at least endorse the concrete steps of wear a mask, keep social distance and wash your hands. Sometimes I think we mental health professionals, ambivalent and obfuscate and ambigu-wise. So at least we can be very straightforward about this, wear a mask, wash your hands and keep social distance. That’s not that hard to do. It’s not that hard to do.

Sue Hallowell:
And within the context of a couple, really try to understand your partner. Don’t dismiss their feelings. Don’t get angry at them. Try to look at risk benefit analysis. Really understand your values. Be patient, compromise, and try to find a solution that works for everybody.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
All the ways that you are with me every day.

Sue Hallowell:
Yeah. In my best self anyway.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
You are pretty much like that. You really are. You’re far more tolerant than I am. I’m the reactive one, the judgmental one. I don’t model what your advice is. I try, but you succeed better than I do. That’s one of the many reasons I love you Sue.

Sue Hallowell:
I love you too.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
All right. Well, thank you. Will you come back another time?

Sue Hallowell:
I certainly will if you’ll ask me.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
I would love to have you as a regular guest, as long as you’d allow me to introduce you fully each time.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Okay. Well, that’s all we have time for today. Remember to please reach out to us with your questions, comments, and show ideas. Write in and say how much you liked having Sue as a guest, and we’ll have her all the time. Write an email or record a voice memo on your phone and send it to [email protected] That’s [email protected] We really, really rely on your questions and comments and show ideas. We, from time to time devote an entire show to just answering your questions. So please, we take them very seriously. Just take a moment and a voice memo or an email to [email protected]

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
Distraction is created by Sounds Great Media. Our producer is the brilliantly talented, Sarah Guertin, and our recording engineer and editor is the multi-talented and an absolutely impeccable, Scott Persson. I’m Dr. Ned Hallowell, your host. Thank you so much for listening. Stay safe out there. Bye-bye.

Dr. Ned Hallowell:
The episode you just heard was sponsored by OmegaBrite CBD, formulated by OmegaBrite Wellness, creators of the number one Omega-3 supplements for the past 20 years. OmegaBrite CBD, safe, third party tested, and it works. Shop online at omegabritewellness.com.

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