- As the coronavirus pandemic grows, cities and countries are asking people to stay at home as much as possible — meaning many people are spending prolonged time with their families or roommates.
- Hours of time spent inside with people can lead to conflict, whether it be passive-aggressive comments or full-blown arguments.
- Insider spoke to Veronica Chin Hing and Dr. Melissa Robinson-Brown about the best ways to assess and diffuse conflict.
- Setting boundaries about space, seeking conflict mediation from professionals or possibly other roommates and family members, and communicating are the best approaches to minimize conflict.
- Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.
As cities shut down and officials tells people to engage in social distancing for the foreseeable future, many individuals are hunkering down in their homes — in some cases, with family members or roommates.
Days on end spent inside with people you don't usually spend lots of time with can create the perfect breeding ground for conflict to arise.
"It's very different to be with another person 24/7, especially if you are in a smaller space like an apartment," Dr. Melissa Robinson-Brown, a New York City-based relationship therapist, told Insider. " Many individuals value space and time to be alone."
Insider spoke to Robinson-Brown and Veronica Chin Hing, a New York City-based sex and relationships therapist, on the best strategies to navigate spending extended periods of time with roommates and family during the coronavirus pandemic.
Establishing boundaries is crucial when living with others
Before conflicts can intensify, Chin Hing and Robinson-Brown said it's important to establish clear boundaries with family members and roommates to discuss how living together will look.
Negotiating how common spaces like the kitchen and living room will be shared as well as how much time people want to spend socializing can be helpful in stopping future problems over space from occurring.
"Clear and honest communication is important," Robinson-Brown said. "Start with a house meeting to discuss "rules" or "guidelines" while you all are staying at home together."
Understanding what your own social limitations and boundaries are can also be helpful to figure out before telling your family members or roommates.
"Humans have varying capacities for social interaction and change," Chin Hing told Insider. "In assessing how people are going to be triggered, it's important to not only look at where you fall on the Introversion-Extroversion spectrum but also how you respond to change."
Communicating problems when they arise can help diffuse situations early
Regardless of all the boundaries set beforehand, conflict is bound to arise at some point. But when it does, the best way to approach it is to be direct rather than stewing about it.
"While these aren't always easy conversations, if you keep things inside, then you're likely to blow up later," Robinson-Brown said.
Using "I" statements about how things are making you feel rather than telling someone they are wrong is a helpful way to bring up a concern or annoyance without making the other person defensive.
"For example, 'I felt frustrated when you left the pan on the stove after you made breakfast' or 'I feel concerned (or anxious) that you are having friends over during a time when they are recommending social distancing,'" Robinson-Brown said. " That's very different from 'You're so inconsiderate and messy when it comes to the kitchen.'"
Mediate conflict between others when helpful, but make sure to protect your energy as well
While you may not have problems with any of the people you are living with, tension could still pop up other between roommates or family members.
Robinson-Brown said becoming the go-between in a roommate or family conflict can be bad for the situation and your mental health, so instead encourage people so speak directly with one another.
"Encourage roommates to talk about their conflicts together," Robinson-Brown said. "If a roommate or family member comes to you with a concern, encourage that person to have a sit down with the other person involved and share those concerns."
Chin Hing recommends deciding to mediate between people on a case-by-case basis, rather than immediately jumping to do so.
"If intervening can bridge roommates' differences and restore serenity to your home, feel free to try and help," Chin Hing said. "If that energy could better be allocated to bolstering your own sense of comfort, feel free to avoid that conflict by going for a short walk, using headphones to disengage from the household, or asking roommates to be mindful of how loud or stressful they are given the state of things."
Understand that this is a stressful time for everyone and expecting 'only good vibes' is not necessarily realistic
Though it's important to limit the conflict and stress you have surrounding you during the pandemic, Chin Hing said it's important to remember that it's ok to feel stressed or upset sometimes.
"Many people believe in that saying, 'Good vibes only,'" Chin Hing said. "I recommend, 'Good vibes, primarily.' We don't want to limit people's emotional range because that can lead to an inauthentic expression of feelings about the COVID-19 crisis and social distancing movement."
Robinson-Brown said being open to adjusting your communication style and learning how other people operate is a great way to reduce your level of anxiety during this period of time.
"Infuse humor, stay connected with friends and other family members outside of your immediate space," Robinson-Brown said. "Be open to trying new things and become an expert communicator and listener."
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