Having to quarantine during the coronavirus crisis has made living together more challenging than ever.
Spending what feels like ceaseless hours with someone else is no walk in the park, whether that person is your significant other, your family member or your roommate. (Speaking of walks, you probably wish whomever you live with would take a very long one every now and then.)
Of course, it’s not always your housemate that’s the problem. We all can get a little irritating under the duress of a pandemic. As week 10 of lockdown approaches for folks in some states, we figured it might be a good time to go over some signs that you could be a better lockdown partner.
1. You’re passive-aggressive about your needs.
We’re all experiencing and adapting to this weird new normal. In the process, we’re finding more things that irk us (on top of all our worn-in pet peeves).
Maybe you’re an introvert staying with your parents right now, secretly feeling smothered and in need of a personal timeout. Or maybe you’re a clean freak with a roommate whose tidying habits have gone from chaotic neutral to completely unacceptable. To maintain the peace, you’re keeping your frustration to yourself.
So how does that make you the bad guy? When you don’t speak up about how your needs aren’t being met, all that pent-up discontent is bound to bubble to the surface eventually and result in some tense interactions with your roomie.
“You aren’t doing anyone a favor here when you keep quiet about how you feel,” said Brittany Bouffard, a psychotherapist in Denver. “If you’ve set a precedent that you don’t need anything ― whether it’s more time alone, better COVID precautions, the dishes done ― you’ll feel the wrath soon of agitation toward your space sharers.”
To break the vicious cycle, stop quietly enduring and start talking about what’s bugging you. (Heck, your housemate will probably have some grievances to share, too.)
“Not speaking up to ‘keep the peace’ usually leads to you feeling neglected and in a disappointed funk with your space mate,” Bouffard said. “Kindly speak up ― and ask what someone else is needing, too!”
2. You’re not respecting work boundaries.
When you transitioned to working from home, you may have noticed that you and your housemate have different habits and needs on the job. You think it’s fine to pop in and out of your roommate’s workspace, for example, but they might prefer a respectful knock first, at the very least.
If you haven’t talked about how each of you operates, new boundaries need to be discussed, agreed upon and followed ASAP, said Kurt Smith, a therapist in Roseville, California. He used an example from his own practice to illustrate how important this point is.
“One client I’m counseling has his video meetings interrupted by his wife, who just walks into his home office anytime she has something to tell him because he’s now so available,” Smith said. “He wants to be understanding, but his work is suffering and he feels she’s not respecting him and his work the way she should. This type of stuff really needs to be discussed.”
3. Your body language speaks volumes — and not in a good way.
Careful with those eye rolls and heavy, annoyed sighs. Your body language could be creating a tension-filled home, said Karla Ivankovich, a counselor in Chicago.
“When experiencing anxiety, especially in prolonged situations such as with this shelter in place, we tend to lose a bit of our normal moral reasoning,” she said. “When we do, our body tends to tell a tale of how annoyed and irritated we are with nonverbal cues. For instance, an eye roll or cold shoulder.”
Dismissive body language like that can be especially damaging to couples’ relationships. According to renowned psychology researcher John Gottman ― who’s spent 40 years studying what makes or breaks relationships ― contemptuous behavior like eye-rolling, sarcasm and name-calling is the number one predictor of divorce.
4. You’re a slob.
Right now you’re in close quarters with someone all day, every day. That calls for a certain level of tidiness, no? When a roommate or partner doesn’t carry their weight on household chores, then the other is inevitably left feeling disrespected and unsupported, said Amy Rollo, a psychotherapist in Houston Heights, Texas.
“Resentment builds,” she said. “The good news is that household chores are a solvable problem that can be fixed with open communication. Open and direct communication of needs, as well as splitting up the tasks each week, can remedy this situation.”
5. You have a short fuse.
Whether you’re suddenly living with family, spending more time than ever with your S.O. or truly never wanted to see this much of your roommate, it’s natural that your fuse may be a little short. And it’s not like you can seek respite at work or by making plans with your friends. You’re essentially stuck together.
If it’s your S.O. you’re lashing out at, you might need to sit down together and talk about your problems using “we” language.
“Discuss ideas around solo time, chores, working from home together or even new parenting strategy,” Bouffard said. “Don’t let negative moments build without discussing them.”
Once you start talking, make a point to check in every week or two. “Just like everything regarding COVID-19, your feelings or needs could change daily or weekly,” she said.
If it’s your roommate you’re going after lately, new rules or boundaries need to be established, too.
“Discuss who gets the living room when, a chore schedule, maybe what you can do outside safely to give each other some space,” Bouffard said. “Start the conversation ASAP if you haven’t already.”
6. You’re working the same long hours.
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance can be especially challenging when you’re sheltering in place. Your home is your workplace. Come Friday night, it’s all too easy to allow your heavy workload to carry over into your weekend. That’s probably no big deal if you’re living with a roommate, but it can be problematic if you live with your family or partner. In fact, Smith said he’s currently counseling a couple dealing with this problem.
“The husband used to stay at the office until after 7 p.m. and not get home until 8,” the therapist said. But now that he’s working from home, the husband has made some adjustments: “He [stops] to have dinner with the family and then goes back to work for a few more hours afterwards.”
It may not be an ideal situation ― ideally, the husband’s job would allow him to truly disconnect after work hours ― but Smith said he counts it as growth for the couple.
“At least the husband’s willingness to make some adjustments has resulted in an improved relationship with his wife and kids, and he’s still getting nearly the same amount of work done as before,” Smith said.
7. You’re withdrawing from your family.
In the beginning, many looked at this stay-at-home period as an opportunity to reconnect with their loved ones and maybe even engage in a simpler, more family-centric way of life.
As lockdown has stretched into months, though, not all of us are singing “Kumbaya” like we were before. Many of us are looking for an escape any way we can get it ― usually online.
“As time has passed and we are exiting month two, with no real end in sight, I see a lot of clients starting to withdraw into the devil they know: social media,” Ivankovich said. “There’s no rationalizing anymore that this time home is a gift and we should all be thrilled.”
While there’s nothing wrong with taking some time for yourself away from your family (in fact, it would be unhealthy not to do so), now is not the time to withdraw completely. With so much uncertainty outside your front door ― financial devastation, a staggering national death toll from the coronavirus ― embracing family time can make everyone feel safer, reassured and supported.
“In this time, consider those in your home and push through the desire to withdraw and isolate yourself from those around you,” Ivankovich said. “Your online family matters, but for most of us, your family at home matters more.”
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