When disagreements come up at home during this season, how can we navigate tough moments?
Whether in a pandemic or in the future day-to-day events of life at home with a partner(s), spouse, or roommate(s)/housemate(s) conflict is bound to come up. Thus, when a conflict occur due to our needs bucking against the needs of those we live with, here are some ideas that come to mind to navigate such that I have used:
Feel your feelings while remembering feelings are not facts. When a stressor comes up that impacts your shared living environment, remember how you are feeling is important, but they are not facts. When your feelings tell you about how others will feel or will act, they may come from real places or experiences but they are not literally what the person/people you live with experience. Remind yourself that how you are feeling can clarify your needs, but do not represent other’s needs. Thus, when the opportunity arises ask who you live with what they are experiencing - you might be surprised how similar or different their experience is to yours.
Talk out stressors with others you trust, as needed. Sometimes when dealing with conflict that feels overwhelming, talking to someone you trust/is reliable/objective like a therapist or someone you do not live with can make tough conversations easier. They can help you think through the following steps below and challenge your biases as they emerge. Rehearsing what you would say and not say can make tough conversations easier, avoiding a world of heartache.
Make space to have tough conversations. As a fellow human, I can get flustered with navigating needs and get in my head to where I do not consider others needs. To mitigate this, I send a quick text message or ask my roommates in physical space to talk about things that are bothering me. This also means making oneself available when someone I live with needs to talk through their needs to make the home a harmonious place. I recommend doing this in physical space as much as possible. If that is not feasible, consider doing such over the phone/video-chat or via text/email.
Be honest about your needs. When navigating through the needs of multiple parties, speak up about what is important to you and ask those you live with what their needs are. Instead of assuming their needs, giving someone you live with a chance to speak of their needs can be life giving and relieving for all involved because they might be different from what is coming to mind at the moment.
Be flexible and ask for flexibility. Just because all parties express their needs, it does not mean that everyone’s needs will be met to the fullest extent. There are times in many relationships that one or all parties may need to be flexible with what they are asking for. Compromise in conflict might mean doing something you like less often for a short period of time and being available to talk through a current need on a regular basis to see if the situation changes. As solutions are implemented, they do not have to be permanent. Thus, ongoing communication compliments flexibility because it accounts for needs in real time.
I conclude with these thoughts I tell myself, “Conflict is tough and has only shown to be tougher in a pandemic. Try these steps and talk about them in therapy or someone you trust. See what fits and what needs editing for your circumstance. We are all in this together so know you are not alone in navigating conflict. I can do this!”
Lou Lim, LMHC, REAT is a licensed mental health counselor and registered expressive arts therapist (REAT) with a master's degree in Expressive Therapy and Mental Health Counseling from Lesley University. He is a member of the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association and on the committee for REAT credentialing. He has 13 years of experience in counseling and expressive therapy working with children, adolescents, teenagers, adults, and retirees.