Living with someone is not easy at the best of times but especially when you can’t escape them. At university, I mainly lived with people who I’m still good friends with. But then there was Martha.
Martha was loud. Every single thing she did made noise, whether it was creeping around at 3a.m. or bringing home overnight guests who would surprise me at breakfast as I stood making coffee in my dressing gown. She’d freeze her used earplugs next to my frozen peas (any ideas why?!) and leave a long trail of her hairs in the bath tub. She drove me insane and instead of just asking her to be more considerate, I stayed silent. I’d return home after a long afternoon of studying, fuming after rehearsing the arguments with her I was having in my head. As my resentment festered, I spent more and more time away from the flat, thankful that one of my favourite parks in London was a five-minute walk away.
The Great Escape
Although you can leave your home for short periods of time, for the moment you’re stuck with the other person until the restrictions are lifted. There is, however, a solution. It’s not quick, or easy but if you can master this, every single area of your life will deepen and unfold.
Why? Because relationships with others are crucial to our well-being and progress whether you like it or not. Where there are relationships, there are disagreements or at least the potential for them.
Freedom to Choose
What I’m encouraging is responding to conflict and not reacting to it. The former approach involves your freedom to choose. Nobody can ever take that from you. Reacting, on the other hand, makes you powerless to your emotions which is where many conflicts become destructive.
Personal growth is about choosing when not to engage, which battles are worth fighting, when to apologise, and finding mutually beneficial solutions after mustering up the courage to say what’s wrong. The aim of this is to preserve your mental health, to treat yourself and others with respect and kindness and most benefiting of all, to live without unnecessary drama and to turn your attention to your happiness and the people you love instead.
That’s one of the best lessons you can teach yourself so make the most of it whilst you have the time. Here are a few ways to do it:
- Distance helps to quell conflict. You don’t always need to leave your house to do that. You can go to another room, for example, or the garden. The idea is to disengage. If you feel that you are becoming overwhelmed by your emotions, this is when distance is most effective as it will give you both space to calm down and once you are ready to do so, to think how you would like to respond to the situation. Better still, tell others when you need space and ask for it when you feel you need it. Use your space to breathe deeply for a few minutes. Try to recognise any physical emotions in your body and concentrate on those. Call a friend or loved one to talk about your feelings. Consider how you would like to respond in a way that resolves conflict instead of making it worse.
- Ask yourself what you need to stay balanced and acknowledge the needs of those living with you. Write down what is important to you. For example, as soon as I have finished my work for the day, I need to meditate for an hour or do some physical exercise. I need this whether or not I am living with others because it helps we offload some pent up energy. Remember, you’re not the only one with needs!
- Set some boundaries for the people you live with. Communication is crucial in any relationship but especially now. Tell others when you do not want to be disturbed. Explain why that’s important to you, such as it helps you stay calm and to deal with your emotions. Ask what others require from you and comply with their requests. This will only work if you communicate kindly and sensitively.
- Apologise when you have overstepped the line. You may need to use your instincts to pick up on when other people in your household need space. We’re only human but when we make mistakes by taking out our negative emotions on others, apologising may help to build bridges.
- If you are living with a romantic partner, use this time to focus on your relationship goals. This exercise is a beautiful way of creating more intimacy, mutual respect, consideration, kindness and generosity of time and emotion. It may also make you realise that you don’t have a future with this person and if this is the case, consider what you will do about it after lockdown.
I’m choosing to see the lockdown as a period for personal growth. Now is the time to work on how you relate to others and what your conflict style is. Communication is not always easy, especially if you feel your self-confidence is low. Boundaries can also bring up all sorts of personal issues when you don’t know what yours are or how to talk about them. This is a golden opportunity to work on them and to practice speaking about them and exploring your own needs to reap a lifetime of conflict related benefits.
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