Although the easing of restrictions is welcome, it’s given rise to a new challenge for those living with others. How do you handle conflict when you and your partner or flatmates differ on how to interpret the new rules?

John Gottman, professor emeritus at the University of Washington and co-founder of the Gottman Institute, has some tips.

Talk regularly, but not face-to-face or amid distractions. Set aside time once or twice a week to talk about exactly what “easing” means to each household member. Twenty to 30 minutes is ideal. If you have children, wait until they’re in bed. Turn off phones and screens, but if possible, discuss while doing something that avoids face-to-face interaction, for example taking a walk or washing up. Looking at one another directly is more likely to trigger aggression and defensiveness.

Listen fully and pick up signs of distress. Simply showing you’ve noticed emotional discomfort avoids escalation, and means the other person feels reassured you care how they’re feeling.

Frame comments, suggestions – even complaints if possible – in positive terms.

Strive for equality. Try not to assume you know “better”.

Avoid negativity. Gottman has found the most toxic responses are those that show criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and most of all, contempt. Avoid them.

Expect to compromise. If each of you feels confident their suggestions will be considered thoughtfully, you’ll be more likely to find one solution (among many) that suits everyone well enough.

Compliment more than criticise. Gottman suggests offering five positive suggestions and/or compliments for every negative comment.

Be quick to repair. If you sense negativity escalating, say or do something to defuse the situation. Gottman refers to this as “repairing”.

Keep talking. Everything is changing, so talk regularly, prioritising honesty and kindness.

The Daily Telegraph

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