Dear Miriam | How Do You Game Risk?

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Dear Miriam,

What’s the right way to resolve situations where I have different levels of risk tolerance than my partner? This has become especially relevant during COVID, but it’s not a problem exclusive to COVID.


Reacting to Risk

Dear Reacting,

This has been said many times about both religion and pandemic precautions, and probably about a lot of other scenarios, too, but it’s pithy and poignant to say that anyone who does more than you is a paranoid fanatic and anyone who does less than you is a reckless heretic. Or whatever the adjectives; you get the idea. You do what you do because you think what you’re doing is right. And that is true for everyone, which can lead to difficulty in seeing eye-to-eye with, well, anyone.

This intro is not to make you feel despondent about relating to your partner about risk tolerance, only to give some context for the reality that these conversations are potentially extremely challenging and are about deeply ingrained patterns, beliefs and even personality traits. If the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that no one can truly control or convince others how to behave, and that avoiding risk for other people’s benefit is not in most people’s nature.

If we’re talking about something like skydiving, and your partner wants to and you don’t, you just don’t have to go. Sure, there’s some sense of “If, God forbid, your partner gets injured, it impacts you,” but mostly you get to make independent decisions.

However, if we’re talking about something like going to an unmasked party, your partner’s potential COVID exposure directly impacts your potential exposure.

Here, certainly, you don’t need to go to the party, but you’ll want some formula for figuring out your family’s overall risk tolerance. Maybe your partner agrees to mask at home and take a rapid test five days after the party or you agree to sleep in a different room for a week. Maybe you work together to make a list of all your potential exposure points and develop a risk budget for each month, which takes into account both the mental health needs of needing to socialize, as well as the overall positivity rates where you live.

A year ago, the metrics may have felt clearer in terms of what was safe and what was risky. With the addition of vaccines and variants, not to mention constantly changing guidance, there’s hardly an objective measure to go by. What hasn’t changed is that what feels risky to one person may not register as a problem to another.

How you manage these differences is going to end up being more about your relationship and your overall communication strategy and less about a tangible measure of safety.

Be well,



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