Friday, March 27, 2020

Relationship Survival in Tight Quarters

Not everyone is able, or willing to abide by shelter-in-place recommendations at this time.  But for the rest of us, this way of existing can bring up some unique challenges.  One of them is: how to live together with others when some of the ordinary avenues of escape are cut off???


First, my credibility statement!  I'm inspired to write this because over the past couple of years, my partner and I have managed bay-area rental rates by sharing a single room in a community house.  We are blessed by having a living room to spread out to, and I also have a training hall where I go do noisy kicks and punches.  But our personal space is the same room, and we're both people who really enjoy a sense of space that is just our own.  We've survived, and thrived, by using some simple principles that I'd love to share with you.

Last fall Marya went on a trip that she didn't at first expect to accompany me on.  I had rented a "tiny home" from airbnb for just me,  but  thought "it will be fine if I just keep this rental and we share it," when it turned out she could come along.  The house turned out to be very tiny, and it required all of our skills to navigate living in close quarters for that week!  Fortunately, by applying compassionate communication and personal inner practice, the experience ended up bringing us CLOSER together.

Here are three principles you may wish to apply!

1. Use the tech and life-hacks at your disposal!

One thing that really made our time in the tiny home together work was that Marya had recently invested in a set of noise-cancelling headphones.  When it came time to turn things down for the evening and I wanted to read a book while she wanted to watch a show, she could just put on her headphones and we had created a shared space without anyone having to compromise.

Similarly, when I wanted to go to sleep before her show was over, I made use of an eye-mask that I had purchased at the local coop to reduce light-disturbance.  I simply darkened my own space, and she could use the shared space to finish her chosen activities.

Is there simple technology you could use to make your situation easier for you all to manage?  A room divider, perhaps?  Maybe even build yourself a fort in the back yard or the living room as necessary!

One of the best internal "technologies" I know of is having an agreement on "Green, Yellow, or Red Light".  Green means, "go ahead, everything's normal and fun!"  Yellow means, "I need a little  more care right now - please be cautious."  And Red is, "Stop, please leave me alone so I can regulate myself."  If household members agree to respect each other's lights, a great deal of unnecessary stress can be avoided!



2. Employ the Gottman Ratio

The Gottman institute's research has shown that relationships thrive when there is a 5 to 1 ratio of five positive, enjoyable, nourishing interactions for every one challenging, painful, or negative interaction.

In human relationships, we're bound to have challenging interactions, that's just part of the deal.  It's an increased likelihood if we're spending more time together in unusual circumstances!  Instead of being worn down by the futility of avoiding challenging interactions, we can increase the positive interactions so that we can keep this ratio balanced.

How might you do this?  You could do something that costs you little - sweeping the floor when it's not your turn, making someone a coffee or tea, etc. - but which brings sweetness and value to your ship-mate's life.  If you do a bunch of these cute and little things during the day, it goes a long way to making your shared time together feel wholesome and nourishing, rather than like an ordeal.



3. Have methods of repair

Finally, I think it's important to know what to do when none of the above works, and things get really hard.  You've had to call "red light" on someone because you were being too much of a butthead, or they were.  It might seem easy to let things die down and go back to "normal" but usually this subtly injures the relationship and can add up over time.

If you've been a jerk today, you might want to go back and explain yourself (I had to with Marya already today).  Let them know why you acted the way you did and that it's not your intention to make their life harder.  This goes a long way to helping them keep the intention not to make your life harder! 

If they've been a jerk to you, perhaps let them know how that landed for you and what might make things feel right.  Be willing to do what would make it feel right to them when the roles are reversed.  Understand that we're going to make mistakes, but mistakes don't have to be permanent.

When we allow for and focus on relational repair in this way, we're aiming the relationship toward mutual thriving.  We're making a potent statement through our actions that we care for the other and want them to care for us - so we can get through this together.



What if I'm sheltering alone?
Well don't worry buddy, the same rules can apply to you.

What's your tech?  It's doing the right workout for your body's needs, it's having music that can help tune your mind, it's taking supplements and eating foods that keep you healthy and happy.  It's also knowing when you're in a "Red Light" and being willing to just give yourself a break - take a nap, watch a movie, unplug from everything for a minute and let the system settle itself.

What's your Gottman Ratio?  Focus on the positives.  Instead of waiting for the feelings of boredom or despair to creep over you, find 5 things you want to do today?  Do you want to accomplish a writing project, a reading project, a fitness goal?  Do you want to help someone else?  There are plenty of ways to have enjoyable experiences today - if you focus on those rather than on wondering what might go wrong, you'll be more prepared when challenges DO come up.

What's your repair?  It's all about staying out of guilt and shame.  If you reach the end of the day and realize you haven't been living your values for the last 18 hours, the worst thing you can do is to shame yourself.  The best thing you can do is ask within: "How can I make this right?"  And listen for the answer.  Usually the answer is just "try again tomorrow after a good night's sleep!"

I hope these suggestions give you some easy ways to survive tight quarters and face the interesting times we find ourselves in with curiosity, inner strength, and compassion!



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