It’s not a holiday that’s brought us under one roof. It’s not a celebration. It’s not a vacation. It’s a worldwide pandemic we’re all forced to navigate while many of us continue to work and study. Personal connections between partners, families and friends have changed drastically. Loved ones we don’t live with are now reachable only virtually, while the people we do live with are a little too reachable. We talked to three different people — in very different cohabiting situations — about what’s causing friction and what they’re doing to live harmoniously during this intense forced togetherness.

FOR THE FAMILY THAT’S UNDER THE SAME ROOF AGAIN

Marie (late 20s), has been at her family’s mountain house in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia since mid-March. Marie, her parents, and her high school-aged sister left Washington, D.C., as soon as things started to get scary. One of her sisters has an autoimmune disorder, and they weren’t taking any chances. Once the two other siblings in college arrived, their family of six was all of a sudden whole again. We spoke to Marie about this experience of adult children reconnecting with their parents under the same roof while continuing to work and attend school.

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What is it like with six people cohabiting?

Having six people together in one place is crazy — I’m going to be honest. Less so because of the number of people and more because of how many different schedules, attitudes and coping mechanisms are happening under one roof at the same time.

What has caused tension under your roof?

I think the biggest thing is everyone’s personal anxieties and moods coming out and impacting the rest of the group. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding this thing … the kids want to be with their friends or at school, which can result in resentment and frustrations being taken out in the wrong way. Another thing is we are all on different schedules, so sometimes one person is bored and wants to do something when the other does not, which can lead to silly arguments. All-in-all, we know we are stuck here, so when tensions do rise, it seems all involved are much quicker to just let things go and move on.

What do you do to ensure everyone gets along?

Each family member has a different section of the house where we go to work. We have a shared respect and understanding that we are all going through this together. We’ve also relaxed normal rules and standards, and we aren’t giving others a hard time for doing what they need to do to cope. If someone needs space or wants to spend the day in their room, you let them. If someone needs to have a drink at 1 p.m., go for it.

Family quarantine cohabiting

Marie’s family poses with a neighbor at the shared bocce court where they’ve been spending time playing outdoor games as a family. Healthy competition is good for the soul! Image: Submitted

Have you decided on shared responsibilities around the house while cohabiting?

Everyone in my house has actually really stepped up. Everyone cleans up their space and common spaces without even thinking about it and have taken on responsibilities they are good at or that are therapeutic to them. This is in an effort to create a nice living environment and avoid nagging and fighting.

Another crucial element of family harmony has been the large dinners we put on at night. It’s a great way to bring everyone together. Nothing makes people happier than good food and a great cocktail. Everyone always pitches in!

Any ideas or tricks for managing the stress and emotion that can amp up in close quarters?

The biggest piece of advice I can give is just to be flexible and patient with one another. It is really important to let everyone quarantine at their own pace. And to have their own space to work. And as lame as it sounds, I think we have all found that when things get stressful or overwhelming, it is helpful to just take a second and be grateful for the fact we are not alone but surrounded by the people we love. And a pro-tip: If the family is really getting on your nerves, a glass of wine and walk around the block does the trick.

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FOR THE COUPLES WHO’VE BEEN TOGETHER A WHILE

Sarah and her husband have lived together for 17 years. We’ve loved seeing their backyard wine dates and gardening adventures, so we wanted to talk to Sarah about how she and her husband — both now retired — are spending their days and thriving together.

How are you spending your cohabiting time together?

We are doing yard work together and watching movies and Amazon Prime shows. We are really good at sitting side by side and being on our laptops. We’ve been planning meals to cook and, of course, drinking red wine together after (which I am doing while I write this). We are planning to do a raised garden this year, so it’s been fun talking about where and what to plant. That may sound mundane, but it’s one more self-sustaining thing to keep us out of the grocery store and improve our health post-COVID life.

Are your schedules mostly aligned?

They are aligned now that I am not working. Before this, I know he felt that I was always gone … at work, working out, or going out with girlfriends. It’s been super sweet to see how happy he is to have me around.

What do you do to ensure you both live harmoniously together while cohabiting?

We always say to each other, that at the end of the day, it is just YOU and ME. Meaning that despite our love for family and friends, we only have each other to depend on, and we must keep this relationship strong.

Do you have different agreed-upon responsibilities around the house?

He does the mowing and weed eating and won’t let me. That’s his sweet Southern man self coming out. We pretty much share the load on everything else. Now that I have just retired, I plan on picking up housework more to make up for all of the years he did it so that I didn’t have to while working full-time.

Two candid quarantine cohabiting photos

Left, Sarah’s candid photo of her hubby: cigar, slippers, wine. Right, his of her: book, dog, midday nap in the sun. Anything goes! Image: Submitted

Any ideas or tricks for managing the stress/emotion that can amp up in close quarters?

Enjoying this nice weather and being outside, even if it’s just a meal or happy hour on the porch has helped so much. Had this happened during the winter months, I am not sure we would survive this. I love games and puzzles and he hates them, so that eliminates a huge opportunity of something to do together. I am trying to stay busy and keep planning for things to do once the ban is lifted. So, planning trips, places to eat and friends to see, along with making sure I’m reading and exercising and not just sitting in a chair and watching TV all day.

Have things changed regarding your children and grandchildren?

The biggest change is seeing them. It breaks my heart not to be able to hold the kiddos, but they’re isolating as a family, and I am so happy knowing they’re all safe. We can FaceTime every so often until the kids run off distracted by something. I will say this … my daughter has told me that for her, she has loved having quality time with her husband and kids. They are truly bonding as a family and not caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. So I think we all could learn from this and talk with each other and find out why you fell in love and like this person you live with in the first place!

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FOR THE 20-SOMETHINGS WHO JUST MOVED IN TOGETHER

Maybe you’ve seen the meme on social media that says, “Pray for the couples who moved in together on March 1.” Well, we found one! We spoke to Emma (name changed), who lives in Nashville, about the experience of moving in with her boyfriend during this strange time.

You moved at an interesting time. Tell us a little about the timing and this transition.

We moved in together March 1 — what a month with the Nashville tornado as well. Probably the worst month of some people’s lives.

What is it like with two full-time jobs happening in one small house?

Distracting at times. We’re both actually really busy with work right now, but we always welcome an interrupting check-in. I’m sure if our jobs weren’t slammed right now, the productivity would drop significantly just because we know the other is in the room. We work from separate rooms and meet for lunch and snacks.

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What’s caused tension under your roof?

There have been a few:

  • Television: news vs. “Summer House”
  • Meal plans
  • Different thoughts on what it means to social distance

What do you do to ensure you both live harmoniously together while cohabiting?

I’m sure to exercise every day and have a good book handy. It’s crucial to go out for walks alone for catch-up calls with friends and family in addition to walking together.

Quarantine cohiting tips - hammock and book

A little hammock hang with a great book is a great way to escape for some alone time, Emma says. Image: Submitted

Have you decided on shared responsibilities around the house while cohabiting?

It feels like we are constantly doing dishes and laundry now, and we don’t even have kids! We work together or trade off tasks. Both of us cook, and since that’s the main entertainment of the house, we try to switch it up and make it fun.

Any ideas or tricks for managing the energy/stress/emotion that can amp up in close quarters?

Having a cocktail and talking about what we’ll do in the future after this is all over doesn’t hurt. Making things fun when you can. For example, we had a couple of drinks and danced in our formal wear we would have worn for our April weddings. The trick seems to be finding the humor when it’s there and also allowing the other to be sad when they are feeling so. It’s important that both of us can’t be down at the same time and we can take care of each other emotionally in a time of need.

Thank you to all who opened up about how you’re cohabiting in close quarters. If you have cohabiting stories or tips to share, email [email protected].

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