Thanks to some guy in Wuhan thinking a bat looked like a tasty snack, we have all been spending a lot more time at home recently. I bet at the start of this year the prospect of more quality time with your partner or housemate would have seemed like a fantastic idea – perhaps you even made it one of your new year’s resolutions!
Oh how quickly things can change.
One global pandemic and a national lockdown later, and many of us have discovered the true meaning of ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ because just as we can all relate to missing the friends and family who don’t live with us, we can also relate to wishing it was socially acceptable to throat punch the friends and family who do.
With social distancing rules and working from home arrangements likely to continue for the foreseeable future, I have decided to share with you my top tips for getting through this challenging time without killing the people you live with.
Disclaimer: Please don’t actually throat punch your friends or family. Or anyone at all. I do not condone violence in any circumstances (except for satire apparently).
Talk about the problem after you have calmed down
So you followed my advice on lockdown snacking and treated yourself to a chocolate fudge cake, Tesco’s Finest. Good for you! Sure, the box says ‘serves six’, but in the midst of a global pandemic that feels like more of a personal challenge than actual guidance. As you open the fridge to get your first slice, you find to your horror that the cake has already been opened and, worse still, half of it is gone.
Firstly: breathe. I understand your rage – I am notoriously awful at sharing food, especially without advance warning. My boyfriend still likes to tell people about an incident in Wetherspoons three years ago where I tried to stab his hand with a fork when he took a chip from my plate without asking (admittedly not my finest moment).
But before you tell your 10 year old child to get their thieving ass on Zoopla and find a new place to live, take some time to calm down. You might need five minutes, half an hour or even a whole day (it was Tesco’s Finest after all) before you feel ready to discuss the issue without exploding, but by giving yourself that space you will be able to approach the conversation from a more rational state of mind.
Who knows, once you have calmed down you might realise you were over-reacting and that maybe you should have considered sharing the cake with your family… or hiding it better.
Avoid playing the blame game
Start by removing the phrase ‘you made me feel’ from your vocabulary – all it does is send the other person straight into defensive mode. Instead re-frame the issue, so you are speaking more in terms of ‘I’ than ‘you’.
For example, let’s say that for some unfathomable reason your husband wants to watch Top Gear all evening. You, on the other hand, would rather continue watching Normal People because Paul Mescal exists. Obviously a sexy Irish man with piercing eyes getting naked several times an episode beats Jeremy Clarkson playing vroom vroom in a car and then another car and finally (spoiler alert) another car.
Unfortunately your husband disagrees.
Rather than saying to him “you made me feel like crap when you refused to change the TV channel last night”, try “I feel like my opinion doesn’t matter to you when you only want to watch shows you enjoy”. Or if he doesn’t seem to fully understand, “I would rather stick pins in my eyes than ever sit through another episode of Top Gear.”
You are still making your feelings clear but without immediately dumping all the blame on the person you disagree with. This should allow for a more productive discussion to take place.
Always consider the other person’s perspective
Empathy. It’s a thing and it’s important. Even if it seems impossible to understand why your housemate would use up the last of the milk without saying anything, leaving you with no choice but to face the feral shoppers at your local supermarket, it is still worth trying to consider their point of view.
Perhaps they woke up in a lower mood than usual because they are missing their family. Maybe they were in such a rush to start work that the milk situation slipped their mind and now they feel insanely guilty about it.
Or maybe they are just a selfish git who couldn’t care less about your morning caffeine fix as long as they get to enjoy their giant bowl of cheerios.
My point is communicate with them rather than making assumptions and do your best to empathise. Chances are they were just being a selfish git, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ve all had our selfish moments over these past few weeks and maybe your housemate deserves the occasional free pass.
Make alone time a priority
Spending too much time in anyone’s company can leave you feeling irritated and claustrophobic. If you’re an introvert, you will already know this – meanwhile the extroverts among us have spent the last two months learning this lesson the hard way.
My boyfriend is my favourite person to hang out with (don’t tell him that, it’ll go to his head) but I consider myself extremely lucky that we both need alone time to function properly. During lockdown, this has often meant relaxing in different rooms and going on separate exercise outings.
Whatever it is that you enjoy doing by yourself, aim to do it daily. Take a bath, read a book, relax in the garden, go for a jog or stick your earphones in and listen to some music. I promise that your mental health and your relationship with the person or people you’re living with will thank you for it.