Blog post – 25th March 2020
Coronavirus: The stop-at-home rule, and potential family conflict…
By Dr Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling
The UK government’s decision to promote social isolation and social distancing will have at least two positive effects:
1. The spread of the virus should be greatly reduced; and:
2. People who have been very stressed by their attempts to balance full-time working and a busy family life, and who are not essential workers, will have a chance to rest and recuperate for a few weeks.
But there will also be one unintended negative effect:
There will be a huge increase in the potential for family friction and aggressive conflicts, which will cause a great deal of misery for many individuals.
How do I know this?
The psychological research
Back in the early 1960’s, when I was in my early teens, my favourite activity was trawling through the stocks of books and magazines in the second-hand bookshops on Aston Quay and Bachelor’s Walk, near O’Connell’s Bridge, in Dublin. When I was about fifteen years old, I found a copy of a psychology magazine in which there was a study of the effects of increasing the population density of rats in an accommodation tower.
Initially, one or two rats were placed in a six-tier tower. On each level of this tower there was an accommodation pod, which could hold one or two rats. And on the bottom of the tower there was a communal water bowl, which could accommodate a couple of rats drinking at a time. On the top tier, there was a feeding bowl, which could also accommodate a couple of rats feeding at one time. The six tiers were connected by a kind of rat-staircase.
The experiment consisted of adding one rat every few hours, and monitoring the level of conflict and aggression as a result of each incremental increase in the number of ‘residents’.
Predictably, the more rats that were obliged to share this limited space, the more the level of conflict, and the intensity of the aggression, tended to increase.
Here is an extract from a Shelter report from 2005, which looked at families that normally or routinely experience overcrowding (whereas in this blog I am looking at families which are about to experience unusual levels of overcrowding):
“Strong agreement that overcrowding harmed family relationships stood at 77 per cent. Out of 14 tick boxes about the possible effects of overcrowding, a lack of privacy was the one that received the highest rate of strong agreement with 92 per cent of overcrowded families selecting it. Eighty-one per cent strongly agreed that overcrowding caused fighting and arguing among their children.”
And I remember from my own childhood and early teens at home that the worst day of the week was Sunday, when mum and dad, and seven kids were all home at once! It was bedlam. Conflict was at a maximum. Once dad went back to work, and one or two other family members went out to work or school, the level of peace and harmony increased dramatically!
One of the main determinants of the level of conflict in a human habitation, when population density increases, is the level of interpersonal skill of each individual present.
A lot of problems arise in overcrowded homes because people do not know how to ask for what they want.
And they don’t know how to say ‘No’ to what they do not want, in a way that promotes cooperation and agreement.
I have been trying to help with this problem for many years. In 2004, I produced an online pamphlet titled ‘How to Beat the Christmas Blues’, which was about how to handle the situation where people come home for Christmas; there is overcrowding and clashing; and there are all kinds of unrealistic expectations regarding the giving of presents; the receiving of presents; and who would turn up for dinner; what the food would be like; and so on. Endless scope for conflict and aggression; anger and depression; and so on.
How to Resolve Conflict and Unhappiness, is the current version of this project.
Of course, the Coronavirus stop-at-home-fest is different from Christmas, Hanukah, Diwali, Eid, various Saint’s Days, Easter, and family weddings. But some of the interpersonal skills that help to smooth over clashes and conflicts at Christmas time could also be very helpful during the Coronavirus stop-at-home-fest.
If you’d like to see the kind of skills training that I promote for high-stress family situations, then please see this book:
Dr Jim Byrne (With Renata Taylor-Byrne)
Conflict can happen in families at any time of year. It just so happens that the first Monday after the Christmas & New Year annual holidays is called ‘Divorce Day’, because that is when the highest number of divorce petitions is issued. And it seems most likely that the other major family holiday times are the runners up in the divorce stakes. (And the Coronavirus stay-at-home rule may push up the divorce rate). However, what is hidden under these divorce statistics is the mountain of personal and social misery that precedes such drastic ‘solutions’ to repeated conflict, disappointments and interpersonal clashes.
But there is a better way to deal with these problems. Rather than letting the misery build up over time, you can take control of both your own mind, and the way you communicate within your family and society. You can insulate your social relationships from constant or repeated misery and unhappiness; and learn to have a wonderful life with your family and friends.
The solutions have been assembled by Dr Jim Byrne in this book about how to re-think/re-feel/re-frame your encounters with your significant others; how to communicate so they will listen; how to listen so they can communicate with you; and how to manage your lifestyle for optimum peace, happiness and success in all your relationships.
PAPERBACK AND eBOOK ON CONFLICT RESOLUTION…
Don’t let your relationships deteriorate. Get the solution today. Click this link for more.***
I hope you find this helpful.
 Shelter (2005) Full house?: How overcrowded housing affects families. Available online: https://england.shelter.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0004/39532/Full_house_overcrowding_effects.pdf