Surviving the COVID-19 Crisis Under the Same Roof


By Ed Wimberly, Ph.D.

This is a season of loss.

Certainly the losses that some in our world are experiencing are far greater than the losses of others. Nonetheless, loss at this time is a reality for just about all of us.

In spite of the fact that the degree and type of loss varies from person to person and nation to nation, we all have in common the loss of two very important ingredients that are fundamental to our emotional and mental health and well-being: the loss of control over our lives as we have been accustomed to, and the loss of predictability and what we can expect to happen next. The uncertainty these losses bring can give rise to anxiety, and in turn, lead to increased stresses in our relationships with the ones we love the most.

In the best of circumstances, we lack total control and total predictability in and over our lives (I suppose this is why Woody Allen refers to us all as “normal neurotics”). But the more we are able to maintain a high level of both, the greater our sense of safety and optimistic outlook. And as a result of the loss of these two important ingredients during this time of crisis, we all run the risk of diminished emotional health and well-being, optimism, and a sense that we are and will continue to be safe.

The result of losing both control and predictability can inevitably wash over into the relationship we have with our spouse. Certainly it can affect our relationship with our kids as well but here the focus will be primarily on our marriage relationship.

While we are unable in the midst of this crisis to completely eliminate the potential for negative influences to creep in, there are some intentional efforts that when made might help maintain a good and healthy relationship with the one we share our roof with.

For what it’s worth, here are a few:

Space and Grace

Under normal life circumstances, our weekly schedules provide a normal dose of natural and healthy space. A friend of mine who has a very good marriage once commented that, “I hesitate to retire because my wife loves that I leave the house and go to work, and she loves when I come home”. Their need for space, provided by his work schedule, is valued and understood, even though they have a stellar marriage.

Needless to say, natural “space creation” is temporarily nonexistent for many of us, so the need for “grace” must come into play by understanding our spouse’s need for space without assuming there must be something wrong. Allow it, embrace it as necessary, and then come back together, understanding that the need for a little elbow room during this time is not only necessary for both of you, but normal.

Wake up, look up, get up and dress up

Wake up. Over sleeping is a natural temptation since it is a way of minimizing an otherwise very long day.  The danger is that it can lead to depression and loss of motivation.

Look up. After waking up, look up and be thankful that in spite of your circumstances, you probably have it better than the rest of the world. Start your day with a proper perspective; share together what you are thankful for in spite of your current circumstances.

Get up and dress up. Rather than staying in your P.J.”s all day long, get into the habit of “dressing for the day”. Dress as if you were ready to take on the world-even if you are in for another day of lock-up. This might just be me and possibly not be helpful to you (my wife tells me there is something comforting about her “all day P.J.” attire once in a while), but for me, it helps to dress for the day.

Reach out

Social distancing should not mean relational distancing. Under normal life circumstances, our tendency is to reach out to our friends via phone, text or other devices only when we have a question, a need, or a particular concern. In times like this, it can mean a great deal to the one receiving the call for the purpose of just simply saying “hi” and catching up, not to mention the positive that may be in it for us as well.

Together consider ways you can make a difference

One common habit found in successful marriages is the presence of a common cause or goal that is bigger than themselves. During this time of crisis, it is more difficult and may take a bit of creativity but there are opportunities to make a difference together from the comfort of your home and the shelter of the roof you share.

Find something to laugh together about every day 

For many, and even under normal circumstances, laughter may not come naturally or often. Even in the absence of a universal crisis, life can be difficult, leaving laughter allusive. Laughter can take a back seat to simply dealing with one’s reality. Now more than ever, laughter may take intentionality-an effort to look for a bit of much needed humor. Perhaps a bit less news and more “Friends”, “Seinfeld or “The Office” would be a good prescription for us all in order to prompt our laughter during this difficult time.

Routine vs. rut

A rut is simply a routine that has become an unproductive habit. And a productive and enjoyable routine that is not occasionally refreshed and reshaped can lead to a dull and boring rut.

Under normal life circumstances, there are many more options from which to choose, making it easier to avoid falling into a rut.  Currently-and hopefully temporarily-we have fewer options from which to choose, making it far easier for our routines to morph into ruts. So make it a habit during these times to occasionally change up little routines, and replace them with fresh ones. Rather than listing examples here of what changes to routine can help avoid ruts, perhaps it would be a good exercise to discuss what changes might best work for you with your cell mate.

And finally….

Cut each other some slack

Referring to another characteristic usually found in healthy relationships, both make it a habit of asking the question, “does it really matter?” before responding. Now more than ever, fewer of the small things should matter, and our asking this question before responding can lend itself to our surviving under one roof during this time of crisis. Allow me to give you a simple example out of my sequestered life with my wife, Joan (and by the way, I could not ask to be held captive with a better person):

(Joan from across the kitchen): “Ed, would you zap my coffee again?  Not quite hot enough”.

(Ed): “Strange. I zapped it for 25 seconds which should have been enough.  Must be something wrong with the microwave”.

(Joan): “I saw 15 seconds on the micro when you did it the first time”.

(Ed): “I’m sure I did it for 25 seconds the first time.  Must be something wrong with the micro”.

(Joan): “15 seconds”

(Ed): “25…”

We finally realized a bit of humor in our efforts to fill our time  trying to win, rather than simply fixing the problem. Note to self: Just re-zap the damn coffee Ed! (But for the record, I KNOW I zapped it for 25 seconds in the first place!!)

We all have far more time on our hands which lends itself to making small issues big issues-to pick at things that really do not matter. More than ever, it is important to ask the question, “Does it really matter?” before making an issue a bigger issue than it ought to be. And by all means, if it really does matter, address it, but with the intention of fixing the problem, rather than winning the battle.

So there you have it; everything you need to know in order to survive together under one roof in this time of crisis.

Not really. And I am certain there are more-and possibly better-ideas that work for you and your relationship. I hope you will share them since we could all use a little help getting through this time.

Ed Wimberly, Ph.D.

Event: March 10, 2020

Event: March 10, 2020

Oh, the baggage we bring…and what to do about it…

Speaker: Ed Wimberly
Date: March 10, 2020
Location: El Montecito Early School, Santa Barbara, CA
Time: 6:30 PM

Protecting Our Kids from Perfectionism

Protecting Our Kids from Perfectionism

“Why is it that in every area of my life I seem to be doing well, and yet, I still feel like I am somehow failing?”

“I don’t know what I’ll do if I get a “B” this semester.”

“It seems like regardless of how hard I try, how well I do, that I always feel like I could have done better.”

“When I do experience success, the satisfaction and sense of accomplishment doesn’t last long”.

These are but a few of the comments that reflect the self-defeating attitude that, “my best is never good enough”. When the word, “perfectionist” is googled, the consistent definition that pops up is, “one who regards any act or effort that is not entirely without fault or defect, to be unacceptable”. Few would disagree with the notion that perfectionism is a problem for some kids. However, I suspect most would be surprised at just how prevalent the expectation of perfection is in many families today. For so many kids-because their goals and expectations have been set so high-Just getting up in the morning means facing yet another day of inevitable failure and falling short of the mark of perfection.

Who of us at one time or another has not said to our kids, “If you just put your mind to it, there isn’t anything you can’t do”, or, “If you just try harder, you could move mountains”. And yet, could anything be further from the truth? We all have limitations and for us to expect and demand nothing short of perfection from ourselves (and from others for that matter) is to deny and ignore that reality. Such unrealistic goals and expectations can show up in academic and athletic goals, in our social lives, and in our spiritual and emotional lives as well.

“Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street” Zig Zigler

The Fallen Perfectionist

There are no doubt skeptics out there who would disagree with this premise that perfectionism is much of a problem in the lives of very many kids at all. They might even assert that the opposite is actually more often the problem these days; that too many kids set their goals and expectations slovenly low. This is where what I call the “fallen perfectionist” comes in to play. The fallen perfectionist usually starts out as a perfectionist who has had the bar of life set so high-usually by others and then by themselves- that a sense of failure is almost always the outcome of any efforts made to achieve. Kids who are fallen perfectionists have usually experienced the consistent pain of failures that inevitably come with unrealistic demands and expectations, and have found that the only escape from the ever present sense of failure is to drastically lower the goals and expectations that they and others have set for them. But rather than dropping them to an acceptable and realistic level, they lower them slovenly low. By doing so, t hey rid themselves of the ever present sense of falling short and “failing” at all they attempt when the results are not perfect. The problem is however, that they achieve and accomplish very little as a result. In extreme cases the fallen perfectionist seems to fail at every turn. But somehow, the pain of failure is eased by knowing that they hadn’t really tried that hard anyway; they have given up and lowered their expectations in order to avoid the sense of failure.

Excellence is to strive for perfection, knowing full well you will usually not attain it—and that’s ok.

Excellence vs. Perfection

The real problem that plagues kids who learn to be perfectionists is not so much that they strive to do life perfectly, but that they are unable to accept falling short of it when they do.
It is reasonable to argue that striving for perfection is necessary in order to achieve excellence. And certainly, excellence is a sound and reasonable goal to strive for. So what is the difference between the two, and what is a good descriptive definition of excellence? There are many workable definitions of excellence but I define it in the following way: Excellence is to strive for perfection, knowing full well you will usually not attain it—and that’s ok. Some will say this is the definition of second best; I see it as a healthy balance between idealism and realism that is important to teach our kids.

The “Curse” of Perfectionism

There is a curse of sorts that comes with perfectionism. Simply stated, it is this: In extreme cases, perfection-whether internally or externally demanded-can ironically limit the level at which the perfectionist performs. This is because the perceived consequences of falling short of perfection are so catastrophic that their fear of failing takes the focus off the task, thus interfering with their efforts; the unintended curse of perfectionism is that the fear of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Perhaps an illustration would describe this self-fulfilling prophecy better (not perfectly, but better!): Suppose for a minute, that I place a 16 foot 4X4 post on the ground and then ask you to hop up on it and walk from one end to the other and then turn around and walk back. My guess is that most of us could do this with little effort. And if by chance a few of the less sure footed among us did happen to plummet four inches to the ground, their less than perfect efforts would lead to no real catastrophic consequences. They would simply get back on the beam and proceed to their assigned goal of walking to the end and returning. In fact, their “failure” might just lead to an understanding of how to avoid falling again by assessing what errors they made the first time.

Imagine now that same 16 foot, 4 inch beam attached securely to the 8th story balcony of a high rise (please don’t attempt to prove me wrong by trying this at home!). Again you are asked to perform the same feat on the exact same beam. This time however, it is suspended some 80 feet off the ground. My guess is that those of us who successfully accomplished the task just 4 inches off the ground would this time fail to walk to the end and back without plummeting 80 feet to the ground below.
“What’s going to happen if I fail? Will it hurt? Will I be dead before I hit the ground? Am I going to hit that little old lady? Is my will in order? Will anyone show up at my memorial? How long will it take my spouse to find someone to replace me?” All are reasonable fears that would understandably interfere with our successfully walking to the end of that beam and back at 80 feet off the ground. All are fears that would take the focus off the task of walking the beam perfectly. Instead, the focus is on the perceived catastrophic expectations that would befall us if we fail, thus interfering with our performance and limiting our success. Kids who struggle with perfectionism are living life some 80 feet off the ground where their fear of falling short of perfect invariably becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Kids who struggle with perfectionism are living life some 80 feet off the ground where their fear of falling short of perfect invariably becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Nurture vs. Nature

Are kids born perfectionists? There are lots of differing opinions among researchers far brighter than I, but I will venture a guess based on plenty of observations and say, no, kids who are perfectionists are not born but rather, over time learn to be that way. There are many, many childhood experiences, messages and observations that can feed into developing childhood perfectionistic patterns. To name a couple of the most influential ones: kids whose best efforts are consistently rejected because others are convinced they could have done better. And sometimes they really could have done better, which makes our task as parents difficult. It has more to do with how we address the issue of trying harder next time and how consistently we get our expectations for greater effort right. And then there is always the powerful influence of modeling from a perfectionistic parent who consistently berates him/herself for falling short of what are unrealistic, unreachable demands.

So, what’s a parent to do?

Here are just a few suggestions to consider if you want to protect your kids from the “curse” of perfectionism:

  • Teach and help your kids to know the differences between perfection and excellence
  • Encourage and model excellence rather than perfection in the way you live your own life
  • Teach your kids the fine art of succeeding humbly and failing gracefully
  • expect and encourage excellence while avoiding unrealistic expectations
  • Help them find ways to learn from their failures
  • Encourage and expect your kids to set their goals just a notch or two above what they think they can realistically achieve
  • Make it a habit to talk with them about their successes and do the same with them about their failures
  • Show and communicate your pride in their efforts, regardless of the outcome

I hope these thoughts and ideas about perfection help, and I welcome input that any of you might have on the subject.

25 Things I Wish Someone had Told Me when I Was 25

25 Things I Wish Someone had Told Me when I Was 25

Lot’s of Water Under the Bridge Since I was 25!

And as I look back on the years I’ve lived since, there are some things I have discovered-most often the hard way-I wish someone had given to me way back then (not that I would have listened much at the time, but at least I would have had the ideas to think about as I grew older).

So for what it’s worth, here are 25 things I wish someone had told me when I was 25.  And feel free to weigh in and suggest ideas of your own as well.

#1. Be as determined to make a difference as you are to make a buck.

#2. Plan for tomorrow but live for today.

#3. Don’t lose sleep over the things in life you have no control over

#4. Be content with striving for perfection-knowing full well you will seldom achieve it.

#5. Always be involved in something bigger than yourself.boys and their Dad going surfing

#6. Misunderstandings happen when communication doesn’t

#7. Never take money out of your house to invest.

#8. Be less critical, more compassionate.

#9. Under promise, over perform.

#10. You are most who you really are when you are alone.

#11. Live your life with less pride and more humility.

#12. Be motivated in life by appreciation rather than by obligation (or guilt, professional goals, expectations of others, etc).

#13. You won’t live forever.

#14. Be guided in your decisions by what is right, rather than by what will work.

#15. Find more in life to laugh about.

#16. Care less about what others think of you and more about what your god thinks of you.

#17. Be more content with “being” as opposed to “becoming”.

#18. Make life an adventure rather than a chore.

#19. Live in such a way that you accumulate few regrets.

#20. Be more willing to say, “I’m sorry.  Will you forgive me?”.

#21. Get in the habit of checking out your assumptions before reacting.

#22. That my feelings, emotions and attitudes are shaped by my behaviors and actions, rather than the other way around.

#23. Recognize the importance of needing others because you love them, rather than loving them because you need them.

#24. You will seldom have the whole picture, so be careful not to respond as if you do.

#25. Who you are today is shaped not so much by the mistakes others have made with you, but rather, by how you choose daily to respond to those mistakes.

From Guilt to Grace, and on to Gratitude

From Guilt to Grace, and on to Gratitude

I grew up in a church that taught a fear of God’s wrath was the most effective way to keep us sinners on “the straight and narrow” road to salvation and relationship with God.  I even recall being told that, “If you don’t feel guilty, the devil must really have you”.

Thankfully, I never bought into such thinking.  Somehow-I suspect by God’s grace-it made little sense to me that His way of drawing us closer to Him would be to keep us frightened and feeling guilty. Such an approach I reasoned might help steer us clear of our sinful ways, but surely, it would not do much to build a relationship with Him.

Some years later, my childhood belief in a God who was not out to condemn us but rather, to redeem us, was clarified and verified by the New Testament account of two  bungling followers of Christ.

In the gospels we are given the very painful and dramatic description of Christ’s death on the cross.  In the very midst of His crucifixion, Peter, Christ’s otherwise faithful follower, was not only a witness to Christ’s death first hand, but was at that very moment, denying that he ever knew Him. Clearly, Peter had sinned, and he was guilty.

In the same general area of the cross was Judas who just hours before had betrayed Christ by pointing Him out to the Pharisees.  Like Peter he was a disciple of Christ. And like Peter, he too had sinned and was guilty.

It is natural for most of us 21st century sinners to identify most with Peter since we are all guilty of denying Christ each time we sin, and like Peter we are deserving of death. Judas on the other hand, actually betrayed Christ-a sin that most of us find more difficult to identify with. Since we can all relate to Peter’s sin more than we can to Judas and his outright betrayal of Christ, the common inference is that Judas was the most egregious sinner of the two,  and even less worthy of redemption than was Peter.

From this episode in the life of Christ, I am struck less by the distinction between the two sins of denial and betrayal, and more by the dramatic differences that can be seen in the response of the two sinners to their sin. Both Peter and Judas sinned and had as a result, “fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).  But it is the difference in their responses to Christ’s offer of forgiveness that brought me back to my childhood recollection where I was told that feeling guilty and fearful would keep me from sinning.

Both Peter and Judas realized they had sinned; “Peter wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75 NIV), while Judas was, “seized with remorse and declared, ‘I have sinned’” (Matthew 27:3-9 NIV). Both were apparently aware too that they were deserving of punishment.  But it is at this juncture that the two part ways.

Somehow-I suspect by God’s grace-it made little sense to me that His way of drawing us closer to Him would be to keep us frightened and feeling guilty.

Peter followed a path from guilt into the process of conviction where he confessed, and then accepted Christ’s sacrifice and unconditional grace as sufficient. He then was free to move on to a life motivated by gratitude.

Judas chose to remain in his state of guilt rather than to move on to conviction and grace- a process that like Peter, would have led him away from destruction, and on to a life motivated by gratitude.

So we all have a choice to make in response to our daily sins:

Will we follow Peter’s example of conviction where his gratitude for the gift of undeserved forgiveness motivated him to move on to a life of serving Christ?

Or will we take the fear and self defeating route, refusing as Judas did to accept the sufficiency of Christ’s unconditional gift of forgiveness?

Fortunately, the vast majority of us do not choose suicide as did Judas.  But too often we do choose to sabotage relationships, undermine success, and to defeat ourselves in a myriad of ways that while not as extreme, are self defeating nonetheless-all in our futile effort to augment Christ’s unconditional sacrifice and gift of forgiveness.

So what will it be? A life held captive by guilt and self defeat, or one motivated by gratitude and the desire to serve?  The choice is ours.

Prayer: Lord, grant me the faith to accept the absolute and unconditional forgiveness you offer.  Then give me the courage to live my life as a gift and tribute to you.

May I choose freedom through your grace rather than condemnation because of my guilt.