As the nation grapples with public lockdown, the reality of all living under the same roof has taken on a whole new meaning. Cohabiting families, couples, and housemates across the country will be seeing rather more of each other for the foreseeable future, putting those relationships under unprecedented pressure.
Fortunately, there are ways to manage the stresses and strains of being cooped up together for so long. Dr Angela Rowe, a social psychologist at the University of Bristol, has dedicated her research to understanding how we behave towards our nearest and dearest, especially in tough times. Her tips and advice can help keep your relationships happy and harmonious despite the trying circumstances.
It’s good to talk…honest!
“Having regular discussions about different family member’s evolving wants and needs, as well as plans for joint activities,is really important so try to establish an open dialogue from the outset. It’s good to be business-like in your approach, for instance arranging a weekly meeting with an agenda, to ensure the conversations happen collectively rather than behind peoples’ backs,” said Dr Rowe, Reader in Social Cognitive Psychology at the School of Psychological Science.
“There’s also no point skirting around the sensitive stuff to be polite, so try to be as honest as possible while also being respectful. There’s bound to be disagreement, heated debate, and possibly blazing rows on occasion. Be considerate and work through the conflicts. I’d definitely recommend never letting the sun go down on an argument. Instead of allowing frustrations to fester, part ways with a fist bump even if you don’t fully resolve things straight away.”
Identify pinch points
Being proactive and specific will help flush out potential sources of friction, ranging from rules about washing up to occupying communal areas.
“Often the smallest most trivial issues can generate the biggest upset, so don’t wait for chaos to descend before raising them. Noise and mess are common problems, especially if you’ve got children. New rules may be needed, if there are dirty plates and cups all over and the kids start running riot while you’re on a work conference call,” Dr Rowe said.
“The reality of having less room and needing to do more things in it will involve some trial and error. Try to keep others in mind when you’re in a shared space and consider setting up a timetable, so your exercise class in the lounge doesn’t clash with someone else watching their favourite soap. Being polite and respectful can go a long way to lessen practical challenges.”
Cut each other some slack
No one is perfect even at the best of times, so now may not be the point to catch us on our best behaviour.
“We can react and treat each other differently in stressful situations. Those closest to us often bear the brunt of this so keeping this in mind and just being aware that we’re all feeling under it at the moment is helpful,” Dr Rowe said.
“For instance, if someone is being tetchy, it’s good to make allowances and not bite back. We also all deal with difficult situations differently on an emotional level. Some will want to deal with it privately, while others are more expressive. There’s no right or wrong here – the main thing is to be sensitive to individual temperaments and make sure everyone feels supported.”
Have fun together
Crises, like celebrations, bring close family and friends together. Although now doesn’t seem the time to party, it’s important to keep each other’s spirits up and make time for relaxation.
“Whether you’re more busy than ever or suddenly have more time on your hands, it’s vital to keep having fun even when you’re stuck at home. Shared activities are a great way to bond, let off steam and stay positive,” Dr Rowe said.
“Having a board game, movie night or making a special meal together are all good options to get the conversations and comradeship going. It’s still possible to become quite isolated when everyone’s doing their own thing in the same place. Shared experiences help maintain mental health and wellbeing, especially when your contact with the outside world is much more limited so keep trying to enjoy treats together.”
Give each other space
Living on top of each other in social lockdown is a recipe for relationship strife, so you’ll need to take time out to keep your cool.
“Everyone needs their own space and that still applies, even if the practicalities make this more challenging. Some people prefer spending time on their own, while others thrive on social interaction. That means the current situation presents challenges for everyone,” Dr Rowe said.
“Remember to give people the privacy they need and recognise that the restrictions on going out and social interactions might be particularly upsetting for some. It’s about knowing and understanding each other, while also trying to accommodate their respective preferences. A degree of compromise and sacrifice will be required, as we’re not able to go about our daily routines as normal. Being kind and giving each other breathing space is an absolute must.”