Pandemic Relationships

Living Together, Separating, Divorcing: Surviving During a Pandemic



Health experts know that all human diseases have both primary symptoms as well as hidden symptoms and side-effects.

With the coronavirus, primary symptoms include fever, persistent cough, and fatigue. Latent symptoms include social, psychological, and job-related problems that manifest in high unemployment, depression, and the fraying of family and business relationships.

Conflict between spouses, children, and their parents, business partners, and with citizens and their government can be some of the most pernicious and long-lasting side effects of this pandemic.

Dealing with conflict as with a serious health problem, the first step is to obtain treatment for primary symptoms; then focus on the long-term latent symptoms. With the coronavirus, treatment of primary symptoms may involve bed rest or possibly hospitalization.  Once you’ve recovered (and most patients do), you need to address the latent symptoms or longer-term side effects.

Latent symptoms may be longer-lasting—and in many cases very damaging. Divorce, bankruptcy, behavior, and learning problems for children exposed to parental arguing, or even domestic violence can scar people for years, or forever.

Just as we are ready to shelter in place, social distance, and wash our hands, we should consider the following steps to minimize or resolve conflict that is happening within our families:

  1. Be aware of escalating behaviors that are initial symptoms such as raised voices or refusal to discuss concerns (both are harmful) or blame others.
  2. When those around you show stress or depression make every effort to feel empathy for their emotional pain. Try to put yourselves in their shoes rather than react to their behavior.
  3. If resources (money, food, freedom of movement) are scarce, work with those in your family or business to float options to solve the problem rather than to complain or push others to accept your way of doing things.
  4. Research and use the resources in your community (therapists, financial planners, lawyers, and mediators) to help you gain information and tools to solve your problem. During this crisis, many of these professionals are offering reduced fee or free services.

If you treat conflict with the same care you would with a cough or fever, your odds of a fuller recovery when this pandemic passes will increase significantly.


Forrest (Woody) Mosten is a mediator and collaborative lawyer in San Diego and Los Angeles. He teaches mediation and peacemaking at UCLA School of law and is the author of 6 books. In 2019, Mr. Mosten received the Lifetime Career Achievement Award from the Academy of Professional Family Mediators.

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Living Together, Separating, Divorcing: Surviving During a Pandemic

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