More housemate problems...
August 25, 2020 11:30 AM   Subscribe

...AKA Trials and Tribulations in the time of COVID-19.

This was me. Trapped in the house together, the housemate and I were arguing over the correct way to wash dishes. You could say we resolved this issue not with a real solution but with armed neutrality, as it were. Things have only gotten worse since then, almost like a bad comedy routine; we just are at loggerheads about every stupid thing you can imagine, and have the most ridiculous arguments, even when we are just trying to converse like people who don't have all of these grudges against one another. Housemate especially has a tendency to store something I say to them, stew over it, and finally release a stinging passive-aggressive remark at me hours later, leaving me confounded, defensive and furious. So finally, and I feel terrible about this, I stopped talking to them about anything except what is absolutely neccessary. The person is extremely guess-culture and I am ask-culture; they are forever offended by something I said or did that I didn't mean to offend them with, and I in turn am fed up with their indirect manuverings to get what they want, which I view, rightly or wrongly, as attempts to control me. Ideally, this person and I would go our separate ways. For reasons, plus the difficulties COVID-19 adds to everything, we cannot go our separate ways for at least a year. So I am here asking for strategies on how to live with someone whose ways have completely burnt me out.

Communicating has become very hard, because I feel like I go to them and tell them what I feel and we have a conversation about it, and then everything goes back to the way it was. They seem to expect everyone around them to intuit their feelings and act on those, instead of on verbal communication. This person has a tight relationship with a mentally ill parent, who also lives in the house, and basically they are what I would call heavily co-dependent with that parent, although obviously that is not an official diagnosis. I feel that a lot of the resentment this person has (that they have admitted to having) is really about anger that they have given all of their resources to this parent and there is nothing left for them, and what they want from me is somehow to be a perfect friend (as they define that) who is always positive, never says what I think, always follows their rules for things like how to wash dishes, and supports (this is contradictory) both their efforts to help their parent, while at the same time providing soothing talk validating their feelings of anger at that parent. I am exhausted with this, because they get so angry with me for just, someone they don't like at all, it seems. All of this was easier before COVID-19 because we all left the house more frequently. We didn't dwell so much on all of these things. Now housemate and parent never leave the house except to take parent to the doctor. I used to take fitness classes and writing classes, and now the only time I ever leave the house is to go to work or buy groceries. I feel at my wits end and I am sure this person is sick of me also, but we are all stuck living together until certain circumstances change.

So what I need are books, links, and anecdotes on how to get a headspace to where this person no longer makes me angry. I understand that I have things to work on, and I am not blaming them for all of this, because as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. I know I've said things that were too abrupt or harsh, out of impatience with the very delicate way that this person wants to be addressed. I am sorry if this is a jumble, but it's a huge problem and I need to do something productive about it if I am to continue living under these circumstances for a while longer.
posted by Armed Only With Hubris to Human Relations (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I know you asked for resources for you, but - - Could you print out the Ask/Guess thread for them to read? I didn’t really know about the two communication styles until that thread and it definitely turned on a lightbulb for me. Maybe it would ease things up a little.
posted by gt2 at 12:11 PM on August 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: 1) talk to them as little as possible, don't respond to stinging passive-aggressive remarks, don't let yourself get caught in arguments trying to make them understand your point of view, or treat you the way you want to be treated. accept that it is not going to happen and put as little pressure as possible on the relationship by being polite and distant to whatever degree you can. maybe feel sorry for them re: their relationship with their parent and their emotional constipation.

2) find ways to get out of the house more often if possible. even if it's just going for a walk each day after work that's good, but hopefully you could go to the library, visit a friend in your neighborhood for a socially distanced hangout, offer to walk someone's dog, or volunteer someplace (do you live anywhere near a community garden? it's outside, more covid-friendly). even just going for a drive around your town during the time that you would normally be at a fitness class or writing class would be an improvement on being trapped at home with your housemate.

3) spend less time in the kitchen by cooking a bunch of food once a week, putting your meals in containers in the fridge, washing the pots/pans and being done with it. and keep snacks in your room. now for the next several days you are only going to have to wash silverware and the containers the food is in, and whatever your housemate is doing won't affect you much.
posted by zdravo at 12:12 PM on August 25, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Practical things to avoid them:

-is it possible to get a mini fridge, hot plate, and microwave for your room and paper plates so that you're not using the kitchen and just cooking in your room? Or as zdravo suggests, doing a weekly meal prep so that you're only using the kitchen once a week. There are tons of online resources on meal prepping.
-being outside the house as much as possible: depending on the COVID situation where you are, can you sit in a park or outdoors at a coffee shop?

Ways for you to cope:

1. Self care:
-is free/low-cost online therapy an option for you? I'm thinking of something like 7 Cups of Tea.
-journalling, meditation, talking with friends about this
-grey rock technique. Google it. Be absolutely boring in your interactions with them.

I feel terrible about this, I stopped talking to them about anything except what is absolutely neccessary.

Don't feel terrible about this, seriously. This is a really good coping technique.

I feel like I go to them and tell them what I feel and we have a conversation about it

Stop doing this, because it's not getting you anywhere and making things worse. This is not someone you can trust with honouring and respecting your feelings. I think the goal here instead is just to be civil and polite about the shared areas of the house and that's it.

what they want from me is somehow to be a perfect friend (as they define that) who is always positive, never says what I think, always follows their rules for things like how to wash dishes, and supports (this is contradictory) both their efforts to help their parent, while at the same time providing soothing talk validating their feelings of anger at that parent.

This is where you have to have good boundaries. You are not their therapist, you can't help them with their parent, you aren't available to be a sounding board for when they want to vent, unfortunately.

2. Learn:
-learning more about codependency and trauma might help. E.g. Codependent No More and Beyond Codependency by Melody Beattie are oft-recommended. Maybe have a look at the Dance of Anger and the Dance of Intimacy by Harriet Lerner too.
-it sounds like housemate is carrying a lot of trauma, which having a mentally ill parent would certainly do. Maybe look into trying to understand the experience of what that's like and what the typical responses are, so you can discern some patterns in what housemate is doing, which could lead to understanding them better and having compassion for them. E.g. my older sister and I never had a great relationship and only in the last few years was I able to see and understand how much her having trauma was affecting her, her thinking, and how she related to me (and how that all affected me). When I look at it through a trauma lens, I could understand it a lot better and also know better what **I** needed.

3. Exit Plan
-is it absolutely, totally, 100% impossible that you cannot leave before the one year is up? Maybe it's time to just start dreaming/imagining about what would have to happen (a vaccine? Cases to decrease? Politicians to be less idiotic? etc.) in order for you to leave earlier, no matter how impossible it would have to be for the current circumstances to change. I'm gonna get woo here, but sometimes when our thoughts and actions start aligning with a certain wish/intent, we see things a little differently, notice opportunities that we wouldn't have considered before and little cracks appear in these once impenetrable structures we thought existed.
posted by foxjacket at 12:50 PM on August 25, 2020 [5 favorites]

You might like the "Staying calm with THAT person" hypnosis track from

You don't have to "believe in hypnosis" or whatever, the idea is basically just that you listen to this 20 minute guided visualization type track and it helps you unlearn some of your stress triggers regarding your roommate. (I've had success with some of their mp3s, and they have a money back guarantee.)
posted by hungrytiger at 2:15 PM on August 25, 2020 [1 favorite]

It may feel silly, but can you declare a truce due to extenuating circumstances? I was once stuck in a bad roommate situation over the holidays and we declared a Christmas Truce and it actually worked...both parties have to agree and abide by it, is the thing.
posted by kapers at 12:14 AM on August 26, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So when I read this, I see people gritting their teeth and getting along, which is sometimes what you do with roommates. So I don't necessarily think you need to change anything practical--you disagree on housekeeping, so you do your best to concede to the other person (especially when what they're doing is demanding to do chores themselves) and stand politely firm on the things you feel strongly about.

It sounds like the main problem is that you used to be friends and get along, so this forced politeness feels like a failure. I think the key thing for coming to terms with this is to let that go. Set aside your friendship or your expectations about how you should get along and imagine that this is a totally new person you're living with and tolerating as best you can.

The similar roommate situation I had (she threw away a lot of things without asking because she didn't understand why I had them--a bowl of food that was cooling on the counter while I went to the bathroom; tupperware she couldn't find the lid for because I had used it as a makeshift plate to carry a pinch of salt into my room, etc.) was a relative stranger, so we were able to just live our very, very separate lives and be polite to each other. I explained to her that she should ALWAYS ask before she throws something away, and I kept literally everything in my own room or on my shelf in the kitchen (which sucked; she moved into my apartment, so my stuff was all over the place).

Anyway, I think your best tip for survival is to treat her like a stranger to whom you are going to be polite and distant. Which is what you're doing, so just remember that you're doing it on purpose and it's really the right thing to do. Maybe someday when you move you can find your way to friendship again, but for now, the extra-kid-gloves treatment is how you both hold it together.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:20 AM on August 26, 2020 [2 favorites]

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