Advice

Hate Your Houseguest? Here's Why We Fall Apart When People Stay In Our Home

Please. Leave.

Oh, the struggles of Sonja Morgan and Tinsley Mortimer as roommates on The Real Housewives of New York City. Sonja invited Tins to stay in her townhouse then quickly lived to regret it.

We’ve all been there. But why do we invite people in when we know we’re gonna blow a gasket somewhere down the line? OMG, the way they eat, breathe, leave wet towels around. Get. out. Get ouuuuuuut, we whisper. Sometimes we yell it.

One of the first reasons people have for inviting people to stay is called Unhealthy Helping, says Shawn M. Burn, Ph.D., an author who has covered the topic in her book.

"People who are very helpful get themselves into trouble with their helpfulness. When someone appears to be in crisis our empathy is heightened and we’re distressed because of their distress and we’ll impulsively offer help without thinking it through," she says.

Dr. Burn adds that many people have impulsively invited or rescued someone to come live with them without thinking it through first.

“There is a ‘helper’s high’ and ‘helper’s honeymoon,’” Dr. Burn says. “I would expect that initially after making this offer there’s an excited phase between the two.”

So why does it wear off?
“When unpredictable and uncontrollable things in our environment create stress for us were don’t like it,” explains Dr. Burn. “Our home environment is one of the only places we have complete control. When you bring another person in and it disrupts your routine, and how much thought and energy is required out of your routine, it’s a lot. At home everything is predictable, a high degree of control makes it less stressful…when you have a houseguest, it’s stressful in part because of the routine disruption.”

Much of how you respond to a houseguest depends on your personality, says Dr. Burn.

“A lot of people, nice people who want to be generous and warm, they have a lot of conflicts,” she says. “They want to be a generous and thoughtful host, but it’s conflicting because they have strong feelings of ‘I want this person out.’ It could be outside of your role to vocalize that you don’t want someone there, say it’s your husband’s best friend from college,
those things also make a difference.”

The best case scenario for an unwanted houseguest is a solid depart date, otherwise you’re going to be locked in your room pulling your own hair out.

“The good news is we usually know they’re leaving, so grin and bear it. If we don’t know, people tend to seethe quietly or be passive aggressive about the person invading their privacy.”

Keeping the friendship after a long stay can be tricky, says Dr. Burn, and fear of damaging the relationship can keep people from assertively setting boundaries.

“Your attempts to be appropriately assertive may be misinterpreted by a guest as being rude or selfish,” she says.

Sounds weird, but, like, never having people stay may actually be the best option for some personality types.

“It is something to really consider,” she says. “Especially with introverts, who get overstimulated easily and find other interactions with people very draining. Extroverts are going to enjoy the stimulation and disruption. Someone with anxiety will not.

And make the rule clear no matter what you decide.

“With houseguests, sometimes you’re expected to show them around and do things,” Dr. Burn says. “Having a houseguest is like work. Some guests are more costly to us, that could be financial or emotional.”

Advice on how to survive an unwanted guest all up in our space? Dr. Burn says try not to be impulsive in inviting someone or rescuing them, for starters.

“Don’t say ‘if you’re ever in town’…then you’re in a position where you lie later on. Be careful who you extend invitations to. Have a time limit. Say you can’t show them around but you can have dinner, be specific. And be specific about your weird little things, your home habits, if you get up early, stay up late, your food habits.”

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