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Photograph: Shutterstock
Photograph: Shutterstock

A psychologist-approved guide to not falling out with your flatmates during lockdown

Written by
Kate Lloyd

Remember the good old days when, if your housemate was pissing you off, you could go to work and get pissed off with your colleagues instead? Beautiful times. Now, it’s highly likely that you’re trapped in a teeny three-bed with just a kitchen-lounge to work, cook, eat, relax and exercise in. It’s no wonder that your housemates’ bad habits are starting to grate on you. Have they always slammed the door so loudly? Did they ever empty the bins? Who knows? All we know is that it’s probably high time you got some tips from the pros on dealing with it all in a calm, and not life-imploding, manner. 

DON’T pick a fight for no reason 

If an argument has been brewing for ages between you and your housemates, don’t kick it off now. That’s what Gurpreet Singh​, a counsellor for Relate, thinks. He says that, considering we’re all going to be dealing with a huge amount of underlying anxiety and uncertainty at the moment, it’s probably not the best time to rework an entire relationship – unless it’s really necessary. Same goes for coping with your housemates’ annoying habits: as much as you can, try to ignore them. Give things a bit of space,’ he says. ‘Leave things ticking. You want to prioritise your battles. 

DO communicate carefully

There are some conversations that do need to happen. Let’s say your flatmate’s much more casual about the rules of lockdown than you are and you’re worried they’re putting you at risk of sickness. In this case it’s time to talk. ‘If you’re irritated by the fact that the other person is taking it lightly, then talk about it,’ says Singh​. ‘Don’t file it away – that turns into resentment.’ He says the best way to deal with is to avoid ‘telling each other off’ and instead find compromise. What can you do to make you all feel comfortable? If that doesn’t work: ‘Try and manage your own contained environment,’ he says. Disinfect clothes and cutlery before you use them. Consider if there’s anywhere else you can go and stay.’

DON’T be messy 

Sure, no one might have noticed your old cereal bowl on the side when you were all heading out to offices, but now it’s sitting there all day in the space you’re all spending your whole lives in. Washing up and cleaning will feel much more important now than before – show each other some respect for the fact that the space is shared,’ says Kate Moyle, relationship psychotherapist. We all have different ways of doing things but you have to work together to get through this tricky time.’

DO think about working separately 

In the past, doing anything other than sleeping and shagging in your bedroom was seen as terrible for you. But these are unseen times. Maybe taking it in turns to do a few hours work from bed would be a nice break from all intensely working on one sofa. If you have separate rooms which you can go into, that’s the best way to do it, says Singh​. If that’s not possible, then maybe it’s about heading into the bedroom to take calls. Singh suggests you all keep emotional distance between your work and free time. Those boundaries have collapsed,’ he says. Basically: try not to watch Homes Under the Hammer while someone’s try to do spreadsheets. Set a time when work ends. 

DON’T create unnecessary arguments

Which TV show are you going to watch? Are you going to go for walks together or separately? Who’s buying the weed? Michael Kallenbach, relationship counsellor, says that by talking about these kinds of things before they become problems, you can avoid conflict down the line. Perhaps you can draw up a rota, he says. And agree before on what films or TV series you all want to watch.’

DO do things together... 

Just because you’re hanging out in the same space, doesn’t mean you’re properly hanging out. Creating a bit of time where you do an activity together, rather than just scrolling through Instagram in the same room, can keep you all feeling connected – and wash away any tension. Kallenbach says maybe that’s eating together and taking it in turns to shop, cook and wash up afterwards. We say: maybe it’s time to crack open the prosecco that’s been on top of the fridge since New Year’s Eve. 

...DON’T feel you have to do everything together, though 

When we spend more time with someone, we notice the clashes between the ways we do things, says Moyle. ‘And we get more easily irritated. She says it’s important to tell your housemates if you feel like you need your own space and equally you shouldn’t take it personally if your flatmate suddenly decides to start doing a few things solo. Singh says finding alone time is a useful thing to do if you’re feeling annoyed by the people around you. Go exercise by yourself or watch TV on your laptop in your room by yourself instead of in the living room, he says. 

DO have compassion

Lastly, it’s probably a good idea to take into account that we’re all dealing with a tons of Bad Stuff at the moment. We might be snappier, lazier, quieter or drunker than normal as we try to handle it. There's hardly any of us whose mental health is not affected by what’s happening out there,’ says Singh​You need to take that into account when dealing with other people. Some of us are dealing with that better than others. If your housemate is really struggling with their mental health it’s especially important to have compassion. Acknowledge their feelings,’ says Singh​Listen. Help them to cope with the circumstances.’

Here are 50 things to do when you’re stuck at home.

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