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Managing relationships at home during lockdown

Behavioural Insights Adviser at Bupa UK
15 April 2020

There are usually only a few times a year that we spend this much time at home – perhaps a holiday or Christmas. This year’s Easter holidays might have been especially tricky because of social distancing. It’s hugely important we do this to save lives, but for some, it’s having an enormous impact on how we live day to day.

For families, couples and flatmates alike, we’re now spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week with the people we live with. What makes this time even more challenging is the uncertainty of the end date. But here I look at how to manage and maintain healthy relationships with the people you live with during this time.


Feeling the strain is normal

Although we humans are social creatures, spending so much time together is bound to cause some tension. Our roles and identities within our relationships are changing, for example, as parents become teachers and we share workspaces with family members or flatmates. This can blur the lines between our working or schooling lives and our home lives.

It may help to know that feeling the strain is normal under the circumstances. No one has been in this situation before and it will take some adjustment. Humans are very adaptable though, and we naturally crave routine and habits, so day by day we will adjust to our new normal unconsciously.

Personality traits and social distancing

Some may think that social distancing will be easier for some more than others. They may think it would be easier for introverts who stereotypically prefer 'staying in' – whereas extroverts tend to want to be out and about seeing lots of different people. But it’s important to remember that it’s hard for everyone, just in different ways.

If you’re finding it tough, be patient and kind with yourself. Don’t feel as though you should be doing better or that others are coping better than you are. There will be good days and bad days for everyone.

That said, there are some things you can do to help look after your relationships with the people you live with.

Seven ways to manage your relationships

1. Communicate and have empathy with others

Have quality conversations with those you live with. Tell each other how you’re feeling, what’s currently on your mind, and most importantly – listen to one another. If you find that difficult, try to imagine the situation from the other person’s point of view. This can help avoid jumping to any conclusions and letting tensions build into a disagreement.

Communication is crucial. Research shows that when the going is tough, strong relationships provide a buffer from the negative effects of stress and you bounce back quicker.

2. Tell each other your plans and routine

It’s a good idea to make sure that everyone in your household has a routine and that they stick to it. When things are uncertain, this can give you all something solid to focus on.

  • You might find it helps telling each other what you plan to do each day so that you can work around each other’s schedules if necessary.
  • You may also want to set some specific and achievable goals for yourself, so you have something to aim for.

It’s important to keep to a regular routine – getting up at the same time each day. You might find doing some exercise first thing sets you off on the right track. Take breaks for lunch, play with your children. Make lunch and dinner times occasions when you all come together and look forward to.

3. Establish boundaries

It may be tricky to find time and space from each other but look for activities to do alone which support your own personal emotional wellbeing. It’s important to do things you enjoy. If you can’t do what you normally do, see if you can adapt them or come up with something new.

With that in mind, here are some ideas to try.

  • Go for a run or do a workout.
  • Read a book.
  • Listen to music, a podcast or audiobook.
  • Call a friend.
  • Do a jigsaw or crossword, or some colouring in.
  • Journal or meditate.
  • Stretch or do some yoga.
  • Sign up to a course and learn something new.
  • Watch Ted Talks.

If you can, get outside in your garden, your balcony, or sit on your doorstep. Or open your windows or door and sit where you can see a view. Mix up the rooms you spend time in too. This can help ease feelings of being trapped inside.

4. Make time for fun

It’s important to keep making efforts to have fun with the people you live with. For example, you could dress up for dinner, have a games night, cook, do a workout or watch a film together.

Spend some quality time with one another to bond over a shared interest. And perhaps leave your phone in another room so you’re not tempted to check the news or social media.

5. Do something nice for someone

In psychology, the principle of reciprocity states that we feel obliged to give back to those who have given something to us. Do something nice that’s unexpected and with a personal touch for those you live with. Perhaps it’s cooking a special meal or hand-making them a gift as a token of your appreciation to them. Not only will it bring joy to you when they receive it, but the chain will continue as they will want to do something nice back.

6. Look for others’ positive characteristics

If tensions rise too much, first take a step back and breathe. Our attention can often focus on the negative things, so it’s easy to only see the flaws with those we spend a lot of time with. Take a second to pause and think about the things you appreciate about them. How are they supporting you during this difficult time? Take a moment to be grateful for them, to help you be in a more positive mindset towards that person.

7. Connect with others

Have video calls with people together, or movie nights with friends via Netflix Party. Connecting with others outside of your household, together, and by yourself, is good for your mental wellbeing. Be mindful of how much you’re using social media though. Sharing funny jokes and memes can be good. But if being online is making you feel anxious, only look at it at specific times of the day, maybe once or twice, or perhaps not at all.

Now that most people are working from home, it’s also good to set up non work-related check-ins too. It can help to see your friends, family and colleagues on a video call and remember that the wider world is still out there.

If you need help

You might be in a situation where you need some specialist support and help. Here are some other organisations that may help.

  • The Samaritans are there to support you if you’re struggling. You can contact them via phone or email, and their website has lots of helpful resources.
  • Relate is another resource you may want to turn to for relationship worries.
  • Citizen’s Advice has information on organisations that can offer help and support for domestic abuse.
Lauren Gordon
Behavioural Insights Adviser at Bupa UK

    • Guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK. GOV UK. www.gov.uk, updated 30 March 2020
    • Guidance for the public on the mental health and wellbeing aspects of coronavirus (COVID-19). GOV UK. www.gov.uk, updated 31 March 2020
    • Lau AL, Chi I, Cummins RA, et al. The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) pandemic in Hong Kong: Effects on the subjective wellbeing of elderly and younger people. Aging and Mental Health 2008; 12:(6)746–60. doi:10.1080/13607860802380607
    • Strohmetz DB, Rind B, Fishe R, et al. (2002). Sweetening the till: The use of candy to increase restaurant tipping [Electronic version]. Retrieved [14 April 2020], from Cornell University, School of Hospitality Administration. www.scholarship.sha.cornell.edu

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