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Stay at home: How to survive without hating your partner, roommates or family

Coronavirus stay-at-home orders leading to lots of fights? You're not alone.

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Quarantine and social distancing can make relationships tough to navigate.

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For the most up-to-date news and information about the coronavirus pandemic, visit the WHO website.

Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have challenged us to get creative about how we maintain relationships and connect with those we love. For some people, distance and space from iffy relationships or toxic people is a good thing. But navigating mandatory distance away from those you love the most, like in a long-distance relationship with a fiance, can be really challenging. 

On the other hand, families, partners and roommates quarantining together are spending much more time together (which can be good) but it can also be a challenge. Forcing people to stay home, without much time outside or outings to other places can take its toll on even the strongest relationships. Not to mention the added stress a global pandemic places on people in general. 

Below, therapist and certified life coach Chelsea Connors shares why quarantine and stay-at-home orders are hard on relationships, why emotions may feel more intense than usual, and how to cope.

Managing expectations at home

One of the most common relationship challenges, both during the pandemic and outside of it, is managing expectations. These times are tough since everyone has their own expectations for a relationship, and if you aren't communicating them well, it can lead to conflict. 

"Two people are likely to have different expectations about what this experience is supposed to be like or what relationship dynamics should look like, no matter what type of relationship it is during this time. As humans we all have different needs, different energy levels, different moods and emotions we are working through, different responsibilities at work or school so there can be a lot of friction that comes up around what people are expecting of themselves and of each other. That can be really difficult to navigate," Connors says.

For example, if you are living with your partner or roommates during quarantine, you probably aren't used to being home together all the time. So the roles for who is cooking, cleaning and handling other chores now can get blurry. It's important to communicate clearly what you expect from each other, and don't let one person take on more than is fair.

We all cope with emotions, stress and grief in different ways

Everyone is feeling lots of different things right now. This can range from sadness, anxiety and frustration to boredom, loneliness and so much more. Everyone is allowed to feel what they need to and in the way they need to. And it's important to realize this will look different from person to person. Just because you may feel more sad, upset or lost than another person in your life, it doesn't mean that the other person is cold, or that you are too emotional. 

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It's important to communicate clearly and calmly when you have a conflict.

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"Everyone is going through their own process of working through what's happening in the world right now, and whether we are able to clearly articulate or see how it's directly impacting us, everyone's been shifted and are going through a big transition and are grieving a lot of different things. So that looks very different person to person and can cause a lot of friction or feel really difficult in a relationship or when living in a confined space with somebody," Connors says. 

Tips for navigating conflict and stress 

Identify what's not working

When you're feeling irritated or frustrated with someone, it's easy to confront them right away. But this can be a problem for two reasons: first, you're likely to say something you don't mean in the moment, and second, you haven't given yourself space to figure out what exactly you need from that person. 

"Think about what's coming up for you and take some time before confronting anyone else. Really think about what's coming up for you. Whether that looks like sitting down and actually writing a list of what's not working, or what you're longing for, or what you feel isn't being met by somebody else that you're living with so that you can really clearly see your perspective and articulate that well," Connors says.

Create a new normal

Let's face it: everything about life looks pretty different right now. So trying to force old rules, practices or expectations on a relationship just may not work right now. Be open to the fact that you need to create some new boundaries or structures that fit better with how life is now, not how it used to be.

"I'm seeing a lot of people trying to make things fit into the way things were when they were normal, and it's OK to need to rebuild and restructure and set some new expectations and new processes in this experience," Connors says. It's important to make sure you have what you need to take care of yourself, whether that means set alone time every day or asking someone else to take over a chore or task that you need help with. 

How quarantine can affect romantic relationships

While dating IRL is off the table for now, couples riding out the crisis together are facing new challenges too. Living alone and in isolation with one other person has to be the true test of a relationship. I feel like people have been splitting up left and right since the crisis, and I'm not alone.

"I'm seeing that a lot too. I think given that this is an emergency situation, people are spending much more forced time together and people are learning a lot more about each other very quickly, in a unique situation," Connors said. 

Sure, learning more about your partner and spending more time together can also help you become closer and feel more connected, but the opposite is also true.

"I'm seeing a lot of people recognize either qualities, values or things in their partner that they did not necessarily recognize before, or [that] felt easier to push away before, that now are just unavoidable. So that is causing a lot of conflict and causing a lot of people to question if they are in the right relationship with the right person, and where they really want to be," Connors said.

If spending more time together during the crisis is causing more conflict and things to come up, know that it's normal to feel this way and face these challenges. Take some time to communicate your needs and feelings to each other and give each other space to process how you feel. If you need more help, reaching out to a therapist who specializes in relationships can be helpful, and many of them are working over Zoom or Skype in light of the crisis. 

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Family dynamics can change during quarantine, which can lead to conflict.

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Navigating family stress 

Many of my friends (and myself, too) have decided to leave crowded cities and go home to stay with family for the duration of stay-at-home orders. Whether it's been months or even years since you've lived with family, the dynamics can be challenging in this new normal. Whether your parents treat you like a kid, or you go back to acting like one -- it's important to set up realistic expectations for yourself and others. 

"Try not to lose your individuality in this process and really think about what you need, what you want your days to look like, what flexibility and what autonomy you need to feel good in this environment," Connors says. So that may look like deciding you need set hours alone per day, or that you need to be able to call your friends or significant other without interruptions at least once a day. Whatever you need, clearly make that known to your family and those around you.

"Again, clearly communicating [what you need]  with the people you are cohabiting with and asking that as a collaborative experience, too. Hear what other people need and what they're expecting and see how all of these needs can kind of mesh together in a way," Connors says. 

No matter what your circumstances are, keep some perspective on the current climate. No one may know how long things will be like they are, but it's not a permanent situation. Things will not always be this way and life will eventually go back to normal, even if that's a "new" normal. 

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The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.