(The Canadian Press)

Family relations expert counsels communication between roommates during COVID-19

COVID-19 restrictions have blurred the separations between people’s work, home and social lives

Living with other people doesn’t always mix with a pandemic that forces people to stay inside, and an expert in family relations says COVID-19 is causing some people to reassess their living arrangements.

It’s highlighting the need for people to talk about what is and isn’t working in shared spaces, said Robyn Pitman, a registered clinical counsellor and lecturer in the sociology department at the University of British Columbia.

“When you are asked by the government to stay at home and self-isolate with other people, you have to renegotiate everything — noise, space, who’s working where, who takes breaks, what time can everyone make noise again, who’s making lunch or dinner.”

Public health restrictions because of COVID-19 have blurred the separations between people’s work, home and social lives, said Pitman. They have also disrupted routines, such as child care, visiting friends or going to the gym.

Those routines act as buffers and coping mechanisms, she said, especially since the pandemic is a chronic stressor.

Without those buffers, Pitman said, the challenges of living with other people are amplified and laid bare.

That’s what happened between Miranda Pattyn and her roommate of around two years.

The 28-year-old software developer said the pair met via Craiglist and they’ve become friends, but Pattyn is moving into her own place next week.

Until then, Pattyn and her roommate are sharing a three-bedroom suite in Vancouver, where both of them have been working from home since the pandemic began.

Early on, Pattyn said they chatted about keeping the place clean and tried out a few weekly check-ins, which helped at first.

“We’re both pretty self-aware, communicative people who have a lot of empathy for each other.”

ALSO READ: B.C. Mediation launches ‘quarantine conflicts’ service for people living together

They even researched strategies that might help them strike a balance between their needs, added Pattyn.

But tension escalated.

“We always felt like we were walking on egg shells or doing something wrong,” she said. ”It was just a really uncomfortable way to live, especially with home being the only safe space that we really had.”

Eventually, Pattyn realized the main sticking point was the increased amount of time her roommate’s partner was spending at their home.

“I just sort of felt like when I was there and they were there it was their house and not mine,” she said, adding that she and her partner spent less time in the shared space.

Pattyn said she and her roommate both recognize the pandemic has created extenuating circumstances and no one person is to blame for the way things panned out, though their communication could have been better.

“As we’ve been talking, we’ve been trying to keep the friendship as a priority.”

The pandemic also caused conflict between Maria Chung and her former roommate, as the 23-year-old recent graduate has since moved into a studio apartment of her own.

Chung said the pair met while living in student housing last year and moved into a two-bedroom house in Vancouver in January after talking about whether they would be compatible living together.

“I thought we’ll be a good match because we sometimes talked about our past roommates.”

But Chung said things quickly soured once both roommates were at home more starting in March.

She said she could often hear her roommate walking around the house and even vacuuming at two or 3 a.m.

In the end, Chung said the situation was affecting her mental health and she decided not to raise her concerns with her roommate, opting instead to give notice that she was moving.

As people renegotiate shared spaces, Pitman recommends addressing issues head on as they arise.

“One of the things people do that puts them in a position where they’re more likely to disagree or be unhappy or have a conflict or, unfortunately, in some cases, just end those friendships or relationships, is they don’t talk about it at all.”

Figuring out what works for everyone in a shared space isn’t a one time conversation, Pitman said, adding that people should check in with each other regularly as they implement new routines and strategies.

“Every day might be re-evaluating the changes that you make together as roommates, partners or family members, and so the important thing is to let people say what’s not working.”

Such conversations are particularly hard for people who avoid conflict, said Pitman, and the pandemic could be an opportunity for individuals or couples who don’t like confrontations to start developing new approaches.

Brenna Owen, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

COVID-19: Northern Health assuring public it has declared no public exposure events or outbreaks

As of Sept. 17, there are 241 cases in the Northern Health Authority region

Single-engine aircraft crashes near Telkwa

Two occupants of the plane sustained minor injuries and were transported to hospital

Cullen announces bid for provincial NDP nomination for Stikine riding

Current MLA Donaldson not seeking re-election

Anne Marie Sam seeks NDP nomination for Nechako Lakes riding

She also ran in 2017 but was defeated by BC Liberal John Rustad

Northern Health records 1st fatality due to COVID-19

Six people died from the novel coronavirus on the weekend, health officials confirm

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

CHARTS: Beyond Metro Vancouver, COVID-19 cases in B.C. haven’t increased much recently

COVID-19 case counts outside of Metro Vancouver have been level since July

70-year-old punched in the head in dispute over disability parking space in Nanaimo

Senior’s turban knocked off in incident at mall parking lot

Thousands of child care spaces coming to 35 B.C. communities

Province announces milestone in Childcare BC plan

Most Read