Managing relationships during COVID-19

Family sat at a table working

The close quarters of COVID-19 lockdowns can put a strain on relationships with family members and housemates. In this article, we'll discuss how to keep the peace during the difficult situation we all find ourselves in.

Have an open conversation

If something is bothering you, it is best to let the other person know. Similarly, it can be helpful to let other people know you are happy to have such conversations.

Little things like dirty plates lying around, lights being left on, or manners of speaking to each other can be intensified in close quarters.

These conversations can be difficult. Few people enjoy having them! But the benefits of talking issues through, which may have a similar solution, or the other person may not be aware of, can be significant.

Use empathy

Empathy and understanding are about getting inside the other person's head and seeing it from their point-of-view.

For example, let's say a flatmate was planning to attend Glastonbury. Anyone would be disappointed if they had tickets and it was cancelled. But to truly understand their disappointment, you may need to know that they had booked to go with old school friends they had not seen for years and were looking forward to catching up with. That they had been trying to get tickets as a group for years. That they had carefully planned their time off from work to work around the festival. It was not a mere music festival to them: it was the result of months of hard work planning to see people they loved.

Or maybe your partner gets 30 minutes to themselves in a morning between the children going to school and starting working. Nobody likes to lose some self-care time. But to truly understand their frustration, you may need to know that they view that as sacred time, that they feel every other minute of their lives is devoted to their family, and now they have lost their one small allowance of "me time".

Some people find empathy difficult while others are naturals. But however easy it comes to you, empathy is a skill that can be practised.

If you really struggling, you could try role-playing a highly empathetic person. Instead of reacting on how you feel, imagine what a counsellor would think and say, and do that. For example, let's say it is your partner's turn to cook dinner, but they ask you to do it instead. Your first reaction may be "that's not fair, it's their turn". But then you imagine a counsellor thinking "I know it's their turn, but they've been stressed out working from home all day while the children are screaming, so maybe I can take this one on the chin".

Set clear boundaries

Many of us find ourselves with a sudden lack of personal space and less privacy than we would like. This is an unfortunate consequence of the lockdown but can be partially remedied by agreeing on some clear boundaries with everyone in the house.

For example, maybe you need 45 minutes in an evening to take a bath or do some reading. You could make it clear that this is your self-care time and you are not to be disturbed.

Or, maybe you and your partner are finding it difficult to share the childcare as one or the other is constantly being pestered. You could agree on shifts in which there are times you are responsible for seeing to the needs of your children, and other times when it is your partner's job.

Be kind to yourself

If you do find yourself snapping, shouting or losing your temper, these actions are often followed by feelings of anger and guilt that you failed to control yourself.

Of course, it would be nice if we could maintain 100% control of our emotions at all times. But that is an unrealistically high standard to set yourself at the best of times, let alone in such a challenging situation.

So, if you do find your behaviour less than perfect, give yourself a break. You are doing the best you can in a tough situation.

Get out of the house

Leaving the house is permitted for exercise. Running, cycling or just a gentle walk are all allowed.

This is a great chance to get some fresh air and some alone time. Even a twenty-minute walk around the local neighbourhood can improve your mood.

Focus on the short term

Some people worry that the friction may be indicative of underlying problems in the relationship. You may worry that tension or arguments are a sign that your relationship is not as strong as you thought.

This could be true, but there is a much more likely explanation.

These circumstances are rare and unusual. How often do you have to spend weeks or months cooped up with the same people, even (or maybe especially) if those are the people you love. It has never happened in my life until now and may never happen again.

So, even if the situation does put a strain on your relationship, it is more likely to be the difficulty of the situation than any other factor.