During this time of social distancing, many of us have found ourselves actually becoming less socially distant from the people we live with. Whether it’s our partners, roommates, friends, or family members, chances are you’ve been spending more continuous time together in the last few weeks than you have over the course of your entire relationship. Healthy relationships require physical space in order to thrive, so what happens when you’re literally not allowed to leave your house? Here’s a basic guide on how to identify, set, and maintain boundaries with the people (physically) closest to you during the quarantine.
What Are Boundaries, Anyway?
Think of setting boundaries as a form of self-care, a process for protecting your time and energy, and a way to honor your needs. Some of the most common types include: sexual, financial, emotional, physical, and verbal. We're going to focus on the two that may be the most helpful to you right now—physical and emotional. Let's dive in!
While humans are highly social creatures, even the most extroverted people need time to themselves. When we live with others, especially romantic partners, we often forget that it’s normal and healthy to map out intentional alone time. Pre-quarantine, many of us only spent time apart during work hours. Now that we don’t have that built-in time away from our loved ones, it is our responsibility to make time for ourselves.
I know this may sound difficult, especially if you live in a small apartment, but I promise that it’s possible! You and your housemates can decide to work in different rooms during the day or agree not talk to each other if you’re wearing headphones. You can also enjoy moments of solitude by taking a long bath or sitting in your backyard. Utilize this time to collectively brainstorm creative ways to maintain a comfortable amount of physical distance.
This is the first global pandemic in the age of social media, meaning it’s almost impossible to consume any news that isn’t related to COVID-19. While it’s good to be informed, it’s ok if you want to tune out because you feel anxious or overwhelmed. If you and your partner or roommate have different thresholds for receiving information regarding the coronavirus, speak to them about this openly. Consider agreeing to a “headphones-only” policy to minimize any accidental eavesdropping of the news.
If you find yourself feeling drained during a conversation, it’s ok to say “I’m feeling at capacity for any talk regarding this topic. Can we change the subject?” Effective communication involves both expressing how you feel and what you need from others to feel better, so open up a line of communication to avoid resentment down the road.
Because the issue of health is also relevant at this time, be mindful of your roommates’ feelings about leaving the house. Everyone has different levels of risk they’re comfortable with. Try to come to an agreement about how often and for what reasons everyone is comfortable leaving, if at all. Be respectful and know that it’s better to air on the side of caution.
Check In With Yourself
Now that you have an idea of what some potential boundaries might look like, let’s figure out what yours are! Ask yourself some questions to assess how you’ve been feeling and figure out what you need. Here are some journal prompts to help guide you:
Have you been feeling annoyed or frustrated lately? Try making a list of everything that’s been getting on your nerves. Is there anything on the list you can address? Make a plan to resolve it. Is there anything that is out of your control? Make a conscious effort to let it go.
Do you have enough time and space for yourself? If not, come up with some creative solutions! Maybe that means taking an extra long shower or waking up early to enjoy the morning quiet while everyone else is still asleep.
Is there anything that would feel liberating to say “no” to? Many of us have suddenly become our housemate’s only source of face-to-face human interaction, but that doesn’t mean we have to hang out 24/7. If you don’t want to watch reruns of The Office or listen to them talk about their relationship drama, you don’t have to! Choose one thing you want to say “no” to and then write about how liberating it would feel. When you’re done, challenge yourself to actually do it.
It’s important to understand that you can’t expect others to respect your boundaries if you don’t even know what they are. By understanding exactly what your boundaries are and how you want them to be honored, you are setting you and those around you up for success when it comes to respecting your limits. While it’s true that sometimes we don’t realize we have a boundary until it’s crossed, we can try to prevent this from happening by taking time to check in with ourselves.
Let’s Talk About It
Once you’re aware of your boundaries, you’re ready to communicate them. Schedule some time to have a conversation with everyone you’re isolating with about each person’s individual needs. Here are a few examples of how to communicate your boundaries effectively:
"I feel anxious listening to the news. Would you mind turning it off or listening with headphones?"
"I feel uneasy when you leave the apartment for more than essential trips. Can you please limit your time outside?"
"I’m worried about my financial situation during this time. Can we work out a way for me to contribute to the household in non-monetary ways?"
"I find myself feeling distracted when we work in the same space. How about we work in different rooms during the day?"
Using “I” statements, like in the examples above, is a great way to own your feelings and invite others to actively listen. Remember, there’s no need to take a defensive or aggressive tone. View this as an exciting opportunity to learn more about the people around you while also sharing more about yourself! Have everyone go around and express their needs and boundaries, one by one. Let each person speak freely, and wait until after they’ve finished to ask any questions or voice any follow-up thoughts. It doesn’t have to be an intimidating conversation, either. Share a bottle of wine or make some communal food to lighten any nerves.
Stand Your Ground
Just because you’ve communicated your boundaries, doesn’t mean things will magically change. Sometimes, people need to be reminded, and that’s ok. If this happens, have patience. It takes time for people to make lasting changes.
If someone continues to cross your boundaries, even after a few reminders, sit down with them and have a chat about how their behavior is affecting you. Remember to use “I” statements like “I feel disregarded when you leave the apartment to see your friend even though I expressed that as a boundary” or “It makes me feel anxious when you don’t knock on my door before opening it like I asked. How can I help remind you to do that?”
We ultimately can’t control whether or not people respect our boundaries, but through compassionate and effective communication we can try to come up with solutions so that everyone feels respected.
Some General Things To Keep In Mind
Have compassion. We’re all struggling in different ways right now, so it’s important to show compassion to yourself and those around you. Some days will be better than others, and that’s okay. Remember that tomorrow is a new day with the potential to be better than the last.
Be flexible. Rigidity is only going to cause rifts and arguments during a time that is already so emotionally charged. Don’t be the person who passive-aggressively requests $2 on Venmo after your roommate uses your milk. If you feel as though your boundaries have been violated, communicate that, but don’t cause issues that could be easily resolved with a conversation. Have patience and remember we’re all going through a lot.
Don’t take things personally. If you find that your partner is snapping at you, remember that you’re most likely not the cause of their agitation, but you are the closest person for them to take out their frustration on. We’re human and we’re going to make mistakes. Little things will upset us more than they normally do right now. Keep this in mind as we all navigate our vastly evolving emotions about what is going on.
Miss Cory B (she/they) is a queer, polyamorous sex educator and kink coach. She uses humor and honesty to mentally, emotionally, and physically navigate the slew of (mis)information surrounding sex and non-monogamous relationships. Through self-exploration and experimentation, she has paved a path of sexual liberation for herself and is helping others do the same.