Instead of being at work, on campus, or out with friends, most of us are now spending our time at home and in the virtual world. Navigating this new normal can be difficult and confusing, especially as living with others takes on a whole new dimension; our routines have changed drastically, including how we interact with those around us. As our time spent inside continues, interacting with housemates on a more regular basis may naturally bring up new concerns and potential conflicts.
Not every issue will develop and end the same way in every household, however, getting familiar with strategies for dealing with conflict can help you be prepared! Here are some ways on how to navigate living with housemates, including tips to address potential conflicts:
Establish a safe and supportive environment
You don’t have to have a perfect relationship with your housemates to avoid conflict and co–exist! Whether you are new to the housemate situation or have been living with each other for a while, spending time together can set a foundation for how you interact with each other. Taking time to discuss your day, any problems that you’re facing, current TV obsessions, etc., as well trying some activities that you can enjoy as a group are some ways you can strengthen your relationship, connect for support, and bring up concerns without fear of “ruining” your relationship.
Negotiate and accommodate
Figuring out what works for everyone, especially as our routines continue to change, is not a one-time conversation. Checking in regularly and giving yourself and others opportunities to implement new routines and strategies can address any concerns before they become an issue.
For example, staggering household chores and establishing quiet hours can help eliminate feelings of being confined and “bumping into” others. As we continue to socially distance, if your housemate is looking to bring over people outside of your social circle (e.g. family and friends you don’t live with), suggesting that social interactions occur outside of your home or in non-shared spaces, having “visitor hours,” and creating a “heads up” situation (so any activities aren’t a surprise) will establish clear boundaries and ensure the safety and comfort of you and your housemates.
Address conflict early on and respectfully
Talk about how you feel early on, rather than letting it fester; addressing it later can cause a misunderstanding and further conflict among housemates.
If you’re someone who dreads confrontation and is worried about unintentionally hurting your housemate’s feelings, try role-playing with a friend. You can figure out the main points and areas of concern you want to cover and work out which delivery works best for the situation through comments and feedback.
Expressing how you feel on paper before you talk can help alleviate stress beforehand. It is important that you address any issues early on before they become unmanageable, and instead of criticizing behaviour, comment in a way that is constructive and allows them to reflect on their actions.
Spend some time apart when needed
Not every situation is going to be solved in a 15-minute conversation and that’s okay. If tensions are rising, spending some time alone before you revisit the issue can help both parties “cool off” and create an opportunity to discuss the issue later in a safe and calmer environment. By proposing you revisit the issue, you can eliminate any future awkwardness in waiting for a resolution and let the other person know you are not disregarding their feelings or concerns.
It is okay to feel upset and confused, quarantine has drastically changed our day-to-day and it can be challenging to cope with any potential stressors, especially if they include the people you are living with. By looking for ways to address your concerns, you are already creating a better atmosphere for you and your housemates.
Written by: Asees Dhinsa
If you’re someone who likes to have things on paper, McMaster Housing has a helpful guide, including a Sample Housemate Agreement, you can fill out here.
The Student Wellness Centre offers a variety of resources supporting students during the COVID-19 pandemic. For a full list, please refer to the page.
To ensure your household is following current COVID-19 protocols (including what to do if someone exhibits symptoms), please refer to the Ontario guidelines. The Student Wellness Centre created accessible COVID-19 guidelines on dealing with sickness for McMaster students here.
If you are considering adding people to your social circle, follow the guidelines provided by the Ontario government.
Goldfarb, A. (2020, April 16). Roommates or Partner Getting on Your Nerves? Read This. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/16/smarter-living/coronavirus-roommate-fight-home.html
Owen, B. (2020, June 9). Rising tension with roommates? The new rules for managing tricky relationships during the coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/relationships/article-communication-is-key-to-maintaining-good-relationships-with-roommates/