Covid-19 and Relationships

By Jane

I recently wrote a piece about how to cope during the COVID-19 crisis. (If you missed it, you can read it here.) So much has happened in the short time since I published this, I want to give an update.

Firstly, an example of how to use the CIA framework specifically to the COVID-19 pandemic. I have – like many people – frequently found myself overwhelmed by the news, and using the structure of what I can control, what I can influence, and what I can accept – and let go of – has been a helpful way to ground myself.

Here’s mine:

I’ve talked here specifically about the COVID-19 pandemic, this is a model that can be used in other scenarios, too. I have written before about how I used this to solve a problem with my allotment here, it can also be used for work issues, or problems at home.

The second thing I want to address is all the posts on social media exhorting us to use our free time to acquire a new skill. Let me say this loud and clear: Do not feel that you need to do this! This is a time unlike anything we have lived through, and many of us are feeling stressed and overwhelmed. This alone is enough to make it difficult to learn something new. Add into this uncertainty over the future of our work, money worries, caring for our older and vulnerable family members, having school-children at home and supporting their school-work and their well-being…do you see how challenging this is?

What I would like to share is my model of our hierarchy of needs. Another post on social media has been talking about Maslow’s hierarchy, and how we are on the bottom two layers – meeting our physical needs and feeling safe. Now, this is true enough, but it is not the complete picture. After Maslow, John Bowlby and his colleagues looked at why these were not enough to survive, let alone thrive. He found that infants will cling to a soft, comforting figure with no food supply, in preference to a metal framework that had a food supply. This, and much subsequent research, led him to conclude that attachment is our primary need, not food and shelter. Here is my hierarchy to show this:

John Bowlby defines attachment as “the lasting psychological connectedness between human beings.” We see this in infants when they reach for their primary care-giver for comfort and reassurance. How does this work in these times of physical distancing, people who are self-isolating, and being apart from our loved ones? In Bowlby’s research with Ainsworth, they say It is a “deep and enduring emotional bond across time and space”, so these social connections are not dependant on physical proximity. This is good news for those of us who are apart from our loved ones; we still feel the connection with them.

For us to maintain good mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic, social connection is the foundation-stone. For infants, this is manifest in being cared for, soothed and nurtured. For adults, it a dyadic relationship; a two-way ‘dance’ between us and others where we support each other and meet each other’s needs.

This is why we feel unable to embark on skill-acquisitions; our very foundation is threatened, and we feel powerless to respond. If we use the model of what we can control, influence and accept, we can see that we do have the power to maintain connections with our loved ones. This may not be in the usual way; we may need to connect remotely via online media, letters, or phonecalls – but we can do this. In building and sustaining our relationships, we will then be better able to respond appropriately to the challenges of Covid-19, foster our well-being and support our loved ones. The pandemic has thrown into sharp relief what is important to us – our relationships.

Skills acquisition can wait.