Locked away with family or housemates? Here’s some tips to keep you from driving each other nuts.
We’re all talking about COVID-19: the healthcare system, the data, the economy, the hygiene, the science, the politics. There’s also another profound impact COVID-19 is having: we’re all driving each other crazy. Isolation means we’re stuck inside, seeing the same people, every day. Working from home used to be a fun treat or a practical solution for a busy life…and now it’s tough. When someone is yelling at the TV news and the kids are fighting in the next room, productivity can take a hit. If you’re a parent of young children, it’s a wonder you are still alive. If you live with housemates, you probably know them a lot better than you did a few weeks ago. Those annoying habits of your partner? They seem a lot more irritating than usual. As we bunker down at home, it’s worth taking a minute to think strategically. How are we going to get through this with our relationships intact?
Normally, you can’t wait for your partner to get home. A weekend together or early night in is a rare and treasured occasion; now you can’t get rid of them. You wake up, they’re there. You start work, they’re there. You take a lunch break, they’re there. You go for your daily exercise, they come with you. You call a friend for a chat, they are talking on their phone right next to you. You get the picture. Isolation with a live-in partner can be tough. It’s a big change for any relationship to undergo. Here’s three tips for keeping romance (and sanity) alive and well:
You’ve heard it before and you probably know you should be better at it. Now is the time to put those communication skills into practice. A confined space + lack of communication = conflict. In normal life, you might be in the habit of leaving things unsaid. You can always deal with it later (i.e when you get home from work), but not if you’re both WFH! Communication has never been more important. Don’t bottle things up. Express how you’re feeling and resolve small conflicts before they grow.
Keep it fun
Your weekly date night at the local Thai restaurant may not be possible, but you can always have a date night at home. Order some take-away (support those small businesses!) and put on a movie. Play a board game or set aside an evening to read a book together. At the end of a long day together, make time to really connect. Being together all day isn’t the same as being together.
Get a code word
It’s normal and important to need personal space. Decide on a code word you or your partner can use when you need some space. Even if you’re stuck at home, you can have ‘don’t talk to me’ periods. It’s okay. It’s not weird. In fact, it’s probably smart. A code word means you don’t need to have a big conversation every time. Simply say the word, and get some space. Don’t forget, this works both ways! Your partner won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t respect theirs.
No school. No preschool. No trips to the grandparents or playdates. Parenting in isolation is the stuff of nightmares. Just kidding, of course…you long for more time with your kids, don’t you? You can think of nothing better than endless hours entertaining those sweet little ones, right? No judgement here. Kids are a lot of work and they often have a lot of energy. Contained to the same four walls, that energy can be a little too much. How can you use this extra family time for good?
In all seriousness, spending this much time with your kids is rare. Be determined to use this extra time for their good—and yours. No football training or ballet lessons? Use those additional hours to get to know your child a little better. Find a fun hobby to pick up as a family. Spend time playing together. Set this goal: By the time all this ends, I want to have grown my relationship with the kids.
Take it easy on yourself
Your kids might be watching more TV than usual and that’s okay. If it keeps them happy and you sane, do it.
Kids and adults alike thrive on routine. Try to start the day together, either over the breakfast table or by going for a walk. Work at the same time and play and rest at the same time.
Treat weekends like weekends
Put away your laptop and have some family fun on the weekends. Make pancakes for breakfast. Watch a movie together. Play Monopoly. Whatever signals ‘weekend’ to your kids, keep it up.
This category may be the toughest of all. Housemate relationships are tricky at the best of times…and these are not the best of times! Housemate fights are the worst. Whether it’s about the washing up or the rent, we’ve all been there. You’re not related to this person. If you’re lucky, you might be friends, but there are plenty of people who live with total randoms. If that is your isolation situation, we salute you. You’re in for a wild ride. Maybe you live in a sharehouse and there’s that one housemate who is never home. You’re not even 100% sure of his name. Suddenly, he’s always home. In fact, you all are. You’re stuck there, 24/7. The dishes are piling up higher than usual and the shower roster is out the window. What to do?
Make your space a sanctuary
You’ll probably be spending more time than usual in your room. So, make it nice. Use this extra self-isolation time to spice up the decor.
Talk about it
This is a stressful time for many people. Have a housemate meeting and hear everyone out. Are they worried about finances or hygiene? Who needs to work from home? What is your visitor policy? Work it all out and write it down. Put it on the fridge. That way, you’re all on the same page. Be sensitive to what your housemates need and be ready to give them that.
Increase social time
We’re all seeing less of our friends and family at the moment. In some ways, having housemates is a huge benefit during this period. Your social circle is naturally a bit bigger. Use this for your advantage. Have housemate dinners or start watching a Netflix series together. Can’t go to the gym? Workout together at home. Perhaps you could even hold a housemate fitness competition. Some of your housemates might move from the roomie-zone to become genuine friends! If you’re already besties with your housemates, use this time together well. Build on what you’ve got.
You have to laugh…otherwise you’ll cry
Human relationships are tricky territory, especially when you’re constantly in the same territory. We’re locked up with our loved ones (or not so loved ones). And, if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s starting to take a toll. Let’s do our bit to prevent relational explosions this COVID-19 season. Take a deep breath and look at the bright side; years down the track, you’ll probably laugh about it. Even in dark times, there’s plenty to laugh about. So, spread the joy (and patience) among whoever you’re in isolation with.