Healthy Relationships in Close Quarters


By Carrie Jones, LCSW

Director of Counseling, Community Center Shanghai

Not everything about the recent Covid surge and the resulting lockdowns, quarantines, and need for many to work/do school from home has been terrible. One of the positive impacts perhaps is increased time together with family or others you may live with – or who may be locked in with you!  

Hopefully this unique time can be used to strengthen bonds and make special memories. However, reality is that sudden unexpected increased time together in close quarters during a stressful time period can result in challenges for relationships. Personality quirks may become grating, tempers may flare, arguments and disputes may arise, and there may sometimes be a general feeling of tension.

Here are some tips on how to cope, protect, preserve, and even strengthen your relationships with those you care about:

  • Create an emotionally safe and healthy environment where you regularly check-in on the emotions of each household member and allow each other to be real, honest, and open about how you are feeling.  
    Do not fall into the trap of just interacting to manage practical, logistical matters; be creative and intentional about designing fun and meaningful ways to spend time together.
  • Set boundaries.  As important as it is to spend quality time together, it also is important for individuals to have some “alone” time and space too.  This can be tricky if in a small space, but is worth figuring out.  
    Ask for what you need and allow others to ask for what they need.  This may be extra support with the kids and e-learning, time alone, time to work in peace and quiet, or any number of things.
  • Manage expectations, both of yourself and of others.  Sure, it would be nice if time together was all sunshine and flowers, but this isn’t reality.  If you accept that life isn’t perfect, people aren’t perfect, and relationships aren’t perfect, it will be easier to navigate the rough patches.
    Remember the 5:1 Golden Ratio.  Studies have shown that the healthiest relationships have a ratio of at least five positive interactions/comments to every negative one. 
  • When you need to address a difficult situation or voice a complaint, use softened or gentle start up. This means starting with the positive and then moving on to state the issue.  For example:  I appreciate how hard you are working to support our family.  I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed managing the kids and hope we can find a way to create a little more balance.
  • Take time-outs. When an encounter becomes emotionally charged and the conversation is no longer productive, it is okay and healthy to ask for some time for all parties to cool down and self-soothe.  Do be sure to follow up afterwards though.
  • Don’t be afraid to apologize – and be willing and ready to accept apologies.  When emotions are intense, it is easy to say things we don’t mean or act in ways we wouldn’t usually act.  Accepting responsibility for your role in conflict and offering a sincere apology can be a very powerful and transforming experience.
  • Remember we are experiencing a very unusual and stressful situation.  Give yourself and others some grace.  We all have different thresholds for tolerating anxiety, uncertainty, change, and lack of control.  Most of us are coping the best we can.  It is important to recognize and acknowledge this.  Also remember, this is a time-limited situation.  We will get through this and life will move on to whatever our next “new new new normal” may be.  

By being intentional about relationships and interactions, greater quantity of time together with family and/or significant others and an enhancement in the quality of these relationships just may be a welcomed gift from this strange time period.

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