Flatmates are some of the most important people in our lives, but building good relationships with them can be a lot more difficult than you might expect. Here, a psychologist gives their advice on the best way to go about it.
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Living with flatmates is a rite of passage most of us experience. It’s often heavily romanticised in popular culture, with flatmates often depicted as best friends living in perfect harmony. Flatshares can be great things. They can save you money, offer you a chance to meet new people and, sometimes, give you friends for life. But, living with other people can have its downsides too and maintaining a healthy, positive relationship with flatmates can be a struggle.
Flat sharing is considered to be most common among people in their early 20s, but a survey published in 2015 found the number of people in house shares aged 35 to 44 had risen by 186% in just five years. In fact, the average age of co-living tenants increased from 23.9 years in 2017 to 28.2 years in 2020, according to research by Built Asset Management.
Whether you’re considering moving in with flatmates or you’re experiencing some sticky situations with your current coinhabitants and looking to improve your relationship with them, psychologist Rebecca Lockwood has some advice to help you build healthy connections with the people you live with.
Set boundaries with your flatmates right away
Before you move in with new flatmates, it’s important to establish how each of you likes to communicate. “For example, being able to communicate whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert is crucial to your relationship with your flatmates, so they know where you gain your energy from,” Rebecca says.
This involves things like whether you want to text each other, whether a flat group chat might be useful, how you might handle chores and the ways each of you tends to respond to conflict. “This will make sure you won’t be offended by how other people communicate because you know it’s not personal,” Rebecca says.
This means you can set boundaries to ensure everyone feels comfortable and never feels pressured to act in a certain way to please others. These boundaries can be simple things like cleaning schedules and expectations, to more personal things like how much time you like to spend on your own.
Compatible personality types are more important than shared interests
“Having shared interests with your flatmates definitely helps, especially if you’re spending a lot of time together and watching the same things on TV,” Rebecca says. “But if you don’t like the same things, it’s not the end of the world.”
“What’s more important is who you are as people,” says Rebecca. She recommends doing a personality test with your flatmates, like the Myers-Brigg test, to help you figure out more about each other. You don’t necessarily have to have similar personality types to have a positive relationship, but it’s good to know where you might be compatible, and where you might not be, so you know from the beginning what kind of issues might arise.
Be clear with your flatmates about how you like to spend your time
Some people move into a new flat and assume they will spend all their time with their flatmates. Other people want to spend most of their time in their room, or won’t be home very often. Rebecca says all of these ways of living are okay, as long as you’re clear with your flatmates before you move in, and while you’re living with them, about how you spend your time.
“It’s important that each person knows themselves and what they like to do and that they take the time to know each other,” explains Rebecca. “Then you won’t internalise the way they behave and it shouldn’t cause any issues between you.”
It’s also important to ask your flatmates how often they have friends around and whether you want to be involved with each other’s social plans to see if your lifestyles are compatible in this respect too.
Be extra sensitive when handling conflict
The best way to avoid conflict is by having boundaries in place to begin with, Rebecca says. But, boundaries can be broken or issues may come up that you didn’t originally consider. “From the beginning, make sure everyone knows that it’s okay when they feel like something needs to be done or an issue arises,” Rebecca says. This could be something as simple as someone needing to clean more or something more serious.
When you do need to bring up an issue with a flatmate, it’s best to explain the issue from your own perspective and focus on how you feel. “This is making me feel this way because of this,” is a good way to phrase it, says Rebecca says. Your flatmate probably hasn’t intended to make you feel that way and they might not know that this is how you feel, so communicating your feelings to them is the first step.
If your flatmate replies saying they are angry or upset about the situation, you also need to acknowledge their perspective in order to solve the issue.
Rebecca explains that it’s important to be extra sensitive with flatmates, even more so than with your other friends, because you spend so much time with them. “It’s difficult to get space from them after a disagreement so solving the issue as soon as possible is important,” she adds.
Rebecca Lockwood, psychologist
Rebecca is a neuro-linguistic programming specialist who uses hypnosis, timeline therapy and positive psychology. She teaches women the art and science of how the mind works. You can get a free copy of Rebecca’s book The Females Handbook: Step into your Personal Potential via her website.
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