I live in an Eastern European country within the EU where COVID-19 has created relatively few victims due to the lock-down being put in place quite quickly in the spring. However, as the autumn started the number of cases grew exponentially and the victims as well (the highest mortality rate due to COVID in EU). This is due to some people not being compliant (i.e. wearing masks) and poor hospital infrastructure.

What is worse is that in the last weeks the hospitals have become full and many people cannot be treated anymore (COVID and non-COVID patients).

For several months now, I have been periodically discussing with my brother and my father, and each time I kindly ask them to take care and respect the COVID-19 related restrictions. However, they are telling me that COVID-19 is not that serious (some kind of flu) and are not reducing social interactions.

My father in particular believes that COVID diagnostic is abused and that not that many people dying because of it (this is also due to media stressing out the comorbidities of the most notorious cases). He also avoids wearing a mask whenever possible (the law requires to wear inside and in "crowded" places only, but this is not seriously enforced). One such example was when he had a trip by train and multiple passengers agreed not to wear a mask.

Quite recently they have also sent some pictures about a so-called "miracle" medicine that can help you if you get infected with SARS-COV2. I have told them that this is clearly not a real medicine and the best way to protect yourself before having a vaccine is by drastically reducing physical contact with other people and wearing a mask. This is perfectly feasible for them (100% remote work/retirement).

I have also asked my aunt (retired biochemistry teacher) and my cousin (researcher that worked in all biosafety levels) to talk to them and provide more in-depth explanations. Their feedback is that they did not manage to convince my father about the seriousness of the coronavirus.

The issue

I am very tolerant of people having different opinions of my own (even if such opinions seem absurd to me), but the issue appeared when they reproached me for not paying visits anymore. I said that during this period it is strongly recommended to avoid all unnecessary visits/trips.

Since both my father (65+ and unknown medical issues because he didn't pay a visit to any doctor in years) and my wife (has some respiratory issues) have a higher chance of complication in case of getting sick with this coronavirus, I think it is especially important to sacrifice visiting in order to gain medical safety.

The relationship with my father and brother was never very close, but I do not want to completely ruin it. It has become clear that all my rational arguments are in vain.

So, my question is how to politely enforce to my relatives my will of limiting physical meetings in these uncertain times? My current strategy is to avoid any direct contact (only phone discussions), but I am not sure that this is the best option since SARS-COV2 is not going to leave any time soon.

1 Answer 1


When talking with relatives with vastly different worldview I have found, that fact based discussion is almost impossible, because set of sources they consider trustworthy has little to no intersection with my trusted sources. What I do in this situation is to try to build empathy instead of engaging in discussion. For this I found stories and personal experiences work better than statistics *.

First find some empathy for them. Admitting to yourself, that you are old is really hard. Many men of previous generation have been brought up in mindset to never show or admit weakness - including medical issues. This is a very hard habit to break at 65+ years age. I personaly know men who don't visits doctors/don't follow doctor's advice for this reason. Argumenting to your father, that you will not visit because he is in risk group (when he does not believe so) could turn in his ears to variant of "You are old, frail and incapable of making decisions for yourself".

Try to build their empathy for you. If you are worried about them and your wife, tell them about your emotions. Your worry is your personal experience. They may think your worry is unjustified, but cannot dispute the fact that it exists. You can say, that you will not visit because you would then worry for two weeks after the visit and it is not worth it.

If they say you should not worry, thank them sincerely for their consideration. Remind yourself that they try to convince you not to worry, because they care about you (in their misguided way). Then explain that nothing they could say would stop you from worrying. If they insist on trying to convince you not to worry. You can repeat your explanation over and over until they give up. There is nothing impolite about it. You are not telling them they are wrong. You just talk about your emotions.

Also consider supplementing the missed visits by a lot of video-calls. This way they will know you are not using SARS-COV2 as excuse to not see them. This might seem like strange thought to you, but if in their mind COVID-19 is not serious, it can appear to them as excuse.

Regarding the issue of them not complying with COVID-19 related restrictions and you trying to convince them. This is a tough one. I would recommend instead of asking them to do stuff (which has failed) and sending expert relatives (which has also failed) to ask and listen why thay believe COVID-19 is not serious. How did the arrive at that conclusion? Don't try to debunk every nonsense they say immediately. Listen. Understand. You need to understand their mindset and emotions intertwined in that mindset really well before you can hope to device anything useful to say. Find out what convinced them. Sometimes people on first ask about reasons for their believes give reasons they think will convince others instead of the real reason which originally convinced them (which is sometimes much more personal and less logically sound). Good luck.

*: Me and my husband have large net of friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances. Saying, that we personally know several independently infected people, some of which had it serious, and following by description the cases, was the only thing that made some of our neighbors stop and think.

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