So like a lot of people right now I’m at home all day with my housemate, and although we typically get along famously it’s beginning to wear on us both.
We got pretty angry at each other the other day, and neither she nor I are the type to actually fight or yell, but we were both pretty steamed and went to our rooms to cool off. It wasn’t even about anything important, but it still became a thing.
Any advice on how we can manage our situation, now that we’re both at all home day instead of at work and only seeing each other at night and on the weekends?
I suspect that a lot of people are navigating similarly murky, interpersonal waters at the moment, due to the shelter-in-place reality many of us are living through.
My main advice is to consider how you might adjust your communication habits so that you and your housemate are both able to address potential conflicts before they become issues.
What this might mean in practice is being willing to bring up things that are annoying to you, things that need to be done around the house, things you’d like to do but which you worry might impact your housemate in some way—and bring them up clearly and directly, so that everyone’s on the same page as much of the time as possible.
Saying something like, “Hey, would you mind keeping the volume on the TV a little lower in the evening? That’s usually when I like to write, and it’s pretty loud even in my room, which makes it tricky to focus,” can be difficult for many people, because although this hypothetical housemate’s behavior is hurting you, it’s also understandable to not want to rock the boat—to just put up with things because you don’t want to risk some kind of conflict.
In this hypothetical example, though, chances are good that your housemate didn’t even realize the TV was loud enough to reach your room, or they didn’t realize you were doing something that would be interrupted by the sound of the TV.
Mentioning such things to the other person before you start to internally simmer about them gives you, as housemates, the collective ability come up with solutions to problems before they have a chance to negatively influence your relationship.
Consider, too, that they may have similar complaints that they haven’t brought up, because they also don’t want to rock the boat.
Wouldn’t you prefer to know, so that you can adjust your behavior accordingly?
If you never bring up your issues, though, and never ask them to do the same, you may constantly, and completely accidentally, annoy the hell out of each other pretty much all the time.
Facing that understandable conflict-avoidance reflex, then, will often be an investment worth making, for both of you.
Something that I’ve found works well, in terms of making sure potential points of conflict are brought up when they arise, is explicitly agreeing that it’s okay to have these sorts of discussions, and that it’s not an insult or reflection on the other person’s character. If you bring something up, you’re doing it because you respect your housemate’s space and sanity, and want to ensure you maintain a healthy relationship.
It could also help, especially if you generally have disparate schedules, to set pseudo-formal check-in times, perhaps as part of another regular or semi-regular get-together.
Maybe you decide to have lunch together on Saturdays, and at that lunch, you make time for these sorts of issues, alongside other normal, housemate-related conversations.
So you have lunch, decide who will take out the trash that week, and then you ask if either of you has anything tricky to discuss, suggestions or tweaks to make, so that none of these seeds of conflict has the chance to bloom into something bigger and more difficult to extract.
Such lunches (or brunches, or coffees, or martinis) could be particularly beneficial right now as you navigate your own, and each other’s, situationally changed (and thus, more stressful than usual) needs, preferences, and concerns.