Harriet heard the front door open and the jangle of keys. From the sounds, she recognized that it was her housemate, Mary. Mary came into the kitchen where Harriet was putting together a salad. A pot of soup simmered on the stove. Mary said, “Hi.”

Harriet looked up, smiled and responded, “Hi.”

Mary looked around, sniffed the air, and said, “Smells good in here. What are we having for dinner?”

 
 

“Split pea soup, a big salad and bread that I made. How does that sound?”

“Heavenly. Comfort food. How soon to dinner? Where is Jane?” Mary moved towards the silverware drawer and opened it.

Harriet responded, “She texted me and said she’d be late and that we shouldn’t wait for her. We can eat as soon as I’ve finished making this salad.”

“Great. I’m famished. I’ll set the table just for us. How was your day?”

What Makes a Shared Housemate Relationship Work?

Does this seem like a normal exchange to you? I hope so.

This is a little vignette of three housemates on a normal day. Within it are elements of what makes a housemate relationship work. It is a positive example of how to build healthy relationships.

Let’s look at the vignette more closely. First, there is a spoken greeting. Acknowledging the presence of the other feels good to the other housemate and opens up an exchange.

Then Mary takes in what is happening in the kitchen and offers a compliment to the person who is preparing her dinner. When she says the kitchen “smells good” she is recognizing that Harriet has been at work and appreciates it. Most likely Harriet is pleased. The compliment warms up the relationship between them.

Next, Mary gets to work setting the table. She sees what needs to be done and does it. She participates.

To set the table she needs to know how many she is setting for. Since Jane has been in touch that she won’t be at dinner, Mary has a clear answer and knows what to expect.

Greetings, compliments, sharing tasks, and communication are the ingredients in this exchange. If you think about it, these elements make any relationship work.

Deposits in the “Emotional Bank Account” Are Relationship Gold

Steven Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, uses the metaphor of a bank account to illustrate the importance of the cumulative effect of interactions on relationships.

Deposits into the Emotional Bank Account are made through acting according to the Golden Rule, paying attention to little things, communicating expectations and acting with integrity. Our little vignette has these.

What’s key in the Covey model is that the more you create a relationship that has those elements, the easier it is to manage when there is a disagreement or misunderstanding. There is enough positive energy in the Emotional Bank Account to weather the disruption and get back on track. It is worth reading the discussion about this in the chapter “Paradigms of Interdependence.”

Living with others offers many benefits. One of them is having daily social and emotional connection with other human beings. Social connection is a part of being physically healthy. It also feels good to live in harmony with other(s). We are social beings and are wired to be connected. Developing and using simple communication skills while showing a sensitivity to each other can help strengthen housemate relationships.

What do you think are the keys to building healthy relationships or living happily with others? If you are in a house sharing situation, what do you think are the secrets to living well with each other? How have you seen these key elements in action? What are the topics that tend to be most important when living with a housemate? Please join the conversation.

Annamarie PluharAnnamarie Pluhar, M.Div, is the author of Sharing Housing, A Guidebook for Finding and Keeping Good Housemates and directs Sharing Housing, a website providing training and tools to help individuals pursue this option. She lives in Vermont with one two-legged and two four-legged home-mates.

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