Survive This COVID-19 Winter By Avoiding Conflict With Your Roommates

We can't avoid the stress, but we can control how we react to it.
There's probably going to be some tension with your housemates this winter, and that's OK.
There's probably going to be some tension with your housemates this winter, and that's OK.

If you’re having more conflicts with the people you live with these days, you’re not alone.

Bronwyn Singleton, a therapist based in Toronto, told HuffPost Canada she’s “talking a lot about the stress and pressure of managing domestic relationships during COVID times” with her clients.

It’s not unusual for there to be friction, given that we’re all living in “slightly unnatural circumstances,” she said.

“I don’t think that people were meant to be locked up in their apartments or their homes for weeks and weeks at a time, and doing everything here — living here, working here, educating here. It’s become our gym, our entertainment centre. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

Our living circumstances will make a big difference in terms of how we get through this winter, but it’s how we deal with those we live with, whether they be a partner, roommate, parents or siblings, that will help get us through the cold months.

With that in mind, here are some ways to cope with potential conflict during this unprecedented winter without freaking out on your housemates.

If you’re living with someone who doesn’t think about the pandemic the same way you do

At the centre of a lot of these conflicts is attitudes toward the pandemic itself. If your risk tolerance is different from the people you live with, it’s pretty much impossible not to clash when you feel that someone is either trying to unnecessarily limit your actions, or is putting you at risk by not being cautious enough.

This can lead to a lot conflict, especially if you’re the more cautious of the group and you start wondering what your roommate or partner’s seeming dismissal of COVID-19 risks says about their morals.

“If somebody’s roommates are on Hinge, and bringing home a hookup,” for instance, or “if they’re out drinking all afternoon at Trinity Bellwoods and then going to go visit their grandparents up in Bobcaygeon [a small town a few hours from Toronto], that can be a really galvanizing issue,” she said.

The sheer scale of the pandemic means disagreements about it feel much heavier than other kinds of conflicts.

“I’ve talked with people who are really, really upset, feeling like their friends are less caring, or less social justice-minded,” she said. “There’s some real core identity, political issues that can come to the fore.”

There isn’t really any way out of this situation but to talk it through, Singleton said.

Whatever your position, “remain open, and try to keep it constructive,” she said. “Avoid statements that are going to make someone else defensive, or make the situation worse — ‘You don’t care about Grandma,’ that sort of thing.” Instead, try your best to understand the other person’s point of view. A solution that works for both of you will likely involve both of you giving something up.

These conversations can be really hard, Singleton said. But they’re necessary.

“Sometimes it takes more than one go,” she said. “Some things aren’t immediately resolved ... but don’t just sweep it under the rug.”

If you’re living with someone who annoyed you before the pandemic

Living with anyone — your partner, a roommate, your parents — already comes with challenges. Even the most normal and innocuous stressors related to cohabitation can become gigantic problems when everyone is home all the time. Maybe you used to be mildly annoyed when your spouse or roommate forgot to do the dishes, or re-decorated with artwork you hate, or played loud, terrible music. Now, you’re furious.

That’s another clear side effect of going about our lives in a pandemic, Singleton said, because “we’re all super irritable now.” But it’s worth asking: “Do you really want to be acting and feeding on that irritability all the time?”

Essentially, you have to pick your battles.

“If you think that your roommate is making you crazy, you probably are doing something that’s not transparent to you that they would also cite,” Singleton said. Save your criticism for the most important stuff, and try to learn to deal with the more petty complaints.

Washing the dishes yourself might be more productive than getting into a fight about them.
Washing the dishes yourself might be more productive than getting into a fight about them.

Doing that means finding healthy outlets to release your stress. “Do your best to be doing your self-care to try to move through some of that grief, irritability, anger, a lot of the stuff that we’re all clogged with right now,” she said. There isn’t one blanket answer — look for something that can help you get rid of your stress, whether it’s exercising more, or journaling, or cooking, or something else.

If you’re living with a partner and want to go back to when you were still excited to see them

No one’s relationship is thriving when both people are highly anxious, constantly home and cut off from their usual social environment.

“I used to always be telling people to go on date night and make more time together,” Singleton said. “Now, I’m telling them to spend more time apart.”

It might not always be possible, but as much you can, it’s a good idea to spend time away from a partner you live with, she said.

And it won’t be possible in everyone’s space, especially if they live in cities, but having a division between where you work and where you spend the rest of your time can help.

Spending time apart, when possible, can be massively helpful.
Spending time apart, when possible, can be massively helpful.

It’s hard “not having boundaries around our space and not having boundaries around our time,” she said. “It’s hard to get out of one headspace and be into another.”

But by far the most important thing is to not give into stress and make jabs at each other, she said.

“I can throw solutions-focused work at you, like watching TED Talks together so you have something intellectual to talk about. But really, it’s about your interactions with each other, how you’re treating each other, being kind, being empathetic, being available.”

“I know it sounds kind of boring, but we should all focus on kindness.”