Chances are, you are isolating at home and sharing living space with family members, roommates, or a significant other. We are currently navigating uncharted territory in so many areas of life, and this is showing to be no different for our close relationships. While our interpersonal connections are likely the most important factor that will pull us through these challenging times, they may also be the most likely to suffer or be affected.

Perhaps one of the most important takeaways from examining our interactions during this time is a heightened awareness of the impact that stress can have on our behaviours. It’s normal for us to be going through the motions with those around us, especially in living situations where there may be a lack of space, shared living quarters, and limited opportunity to take a break from it all. Even though the strongest of relationships may be put under strain at this time, there are some things you can do to maintain harmony with those you care about.

If you are physical-distancing on your own, check out our past blog Top 10 Free Resources for Self-isolation. Also remember: many of these navigation areas can be applied to the long-distance relationships you may be maintaining.

1. Self reflect

This may be the perfect time to start some relationship SOS by pausing to examine yourself. A starting point is to realize and accept that in any situation, you only have control over two key areas. Your own actions, and your response to other’s actions. To begin making progress towards a positive outcome, become hyper-aware of these two points. By taking responsibility for these two aspects, exchanges with those around us become less about our reactions (something someone has done to us, out of our control) and more of a response (a dynamic exchange resulting from an objective examination of the situation).


2. Catch yourself

If you’ve started to bring awareness to the areas of your relationships that are in and out of your control, then it’s also the perfect time to begin observing your own emotions. Suddenly irritated by the way your partner chews – was it always this loud? Has your roommate left their dishes out on the counter – for the third time this week? Is your mom on your case about something she asked you to do on Monday – am I in high school again? The first step to informing your response is to become aware of your triggers and watch for them to pop up. Allow yourself to feel that initial gut ‘reaction’ and then proceed to the next point.


3. Communicate (the healthy way!)

Avoid responding to conflict with global statements. “You always…” or “You never…” tends to corner the other party, and can promote defensiveness. Try instead to refocus on your own experience, needs, and feelings with ‘I’ statements, (“I feel..”) as they relate to the present moment. Sometimes it can help to take a step away before you talk, to cool down and put things into perspective.


4. Pick your battles

Once you’ve diffused the initial urge to react and stepped back, achieving perspective for your response may rely on what a certain issue means in the big picture of things. On a deeper level, a dirty dish on the counter may actually represent your roommate’s respect for your shared space. What is the meaning behind your initial emotion, and will tackling the roots of this issue result in a harmonious existence in the long run?


5. Contribute

Pulling your weight in a household is always something to strive for, but can especially important when in close quarters for these long stretches of time. On top of that, doing a small act of kindness to show those you live with that you care, could help to break a tense atmosphere and boost your dynamic. Making a shared meal, helping with a chore, or simply letting someone know you appreciate them can go a long way.


6. Create an agreement

Making a list or clear agreement with those you live with about expectations around household duties can help avoid conflict, and at very least provide accountability if a disagreement arises. Being transparent about a shared workload will help achieve a more equal distribution of labor and avoid one party growing resentful of the other(s). What is the task, how frequently does it need to be done, and who is going to take care of it?


7. Prioritize some time alone

Set aside scheduled periods of time where you can be alone in your own space. If you live with roommates or family members, this may involve asking for solo use of a particular room for a set time, or even just asking to be completely undisturbed for an hour every day. When it comes to your significant other, you may decide that taking a walk by yourself does the trick. Setting and communicating clear and reasonable boundaries (where physical boundaries may be hard to maintain) can alleviate some pressure, and building it into your schedule may help those around you respect it.


8. Self-care

Taking good care of yourself often has a ripple effect on your relationships. Prioritizing time to do good for yourself is important to maintain your mental health and happiness. Journalling, exercise, cooking, calls with friends, video games… whatever is an important component to your self-care routine, should not fall to the wayside if you can help it.


9. Have compassion

When we have insight into our own emotions, we can more clearly understand others. Right now, those around us are likely reacting to great amounts of stress and uncertainty, which can result in certain behaviours and interactions– good and bad. There are often layers beneath the surface, and a person’s anxious habit could in fact be their coping mechanism, or their grumpy demeanor, a result of sleepless nights. In these times, it may be easier to find patience and understanding through the context of this global emergency.


Note: Not all living situations are healthy, safe, or will respond to positive changes. If you or someone you know is experiencing family violence, visit Stop Family Violence by The Government of Canada for more information and resources in your region.