Relationships can be challenging at the best of times, but what do you do when you are stuck in self-quarantine with a difficult person? How do you set boundaries and deal with challenging roommates, partners or family members? In this week’s blog and podcast, I talk about what we can do if it is not safe to go outdoors or stay inside, how to set firm boundaries during this period of self-quarantine and how to navigate difficult relationships with relationship therapist and clinical social worker Nedra Tawwab.
First, it is important to recognize that if you feel physically threatened in any way, domestic violence and emergency services are still operational, and you should seek shelter with family, friends or at an organization or home. In crises emergency services increase—they will be available to help you. The national domestic abuse hotline for the USA is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). The national child abuse hotline for the USA is 1-800-422-4453.
If you are feeling uncomfortable at home, it is essential that you set firm boundaries, as you have limited mental energy and you do not want to expend that getting stuck in difficult, draining or stressful situations.
1. Know your triggers.
Triggers are indicators that boundaries need to be put in place. Indeed, the biggest indictor that you need boundaries in the home is when you find yourself feeling frustrated, angry or resentful. Pay attention to these triggers, don’t suppress them! Think about the root cause of your feelings, and take steps to improve the situation.
2. Don’t make assumptions.
Identify your need and act to change what is happening, don’t just ruminate on the frustration or make assumptions. Don’t just assume that people know what you need! When you make assumptions, you create a story and act on that, but what you think may not be true in totality—maybe the person you are dealing with didn’t even know you needed help!
3. Talk to the person you are having issues with.
Talk to them in a gentle, but firm way (especially if you are usually passive), making your request in a confident and clear way. Do not apologize or ask the other person if this is okay. When setting boundaries, you want people to understand you mean business.
4. Avoid bringing up major issues.
During this quarantine period, you don’t want to bring up those deep issues and start fights. Save that for when you have freedom to move about in the world and process what is going on.
5. Spend time in a different room or separate area of the house.
You can even go outside, if possible. Give yourself and the other person space. If they follow you, or are emotionally or verbally abusive, try go into a room with a door you can lock, and if you feel threatened contact a friend or family member you trust or emergency services immediately.
If someone you live with does not respecting quarantine, it is equally important that you set firm boundaries and let them know that they are not allowed to enter your space if they continue their rash behavior. It is very important that you maintain your own safety, especially if someone you live with who doesn’t respect quarantine.
6. Set firm consequences.
Let the other person know you will leave or lock the door if they do not stop or do not respect your boundaries.
But what happens if you are alone and do not even have someone to set boundaries with? How do you deal with socially-mandated isolation? Reach out to your friends, coworkers and family via video mediums like Zoom and Skype and the phone, it is important that you keep your mind active, so that you avoid ruminating on unhealthy thoughts! Start a new DIY project at home, learn new skills, watch educational videos (such as learning how to build a website), and read books! Novels are a great way to pass the time, as stories make us feel more human and connected. For more ways to occupy your brain during this period of self-quarantine, see my recent blog.
It is also important that you give your neighbors grace. Be gentle with people that are out and about at the grocery store, in the park or walking around the neighborhood—this may be how they are managing their mental health and loneliness, and is not necessarily a sign that they are not respecting social distancing guidelines. We are all in this together, and we are all trying our best to make a tough situation work.
If you are a parent, it is equally important you give yourself grace! Many of us are stepping into new roles at home, so don’t shame yourself for not being the best teacher when you are not a teacher, and give yourself space if you are battling. Nedra recommends waking up a little earlier than everyone else, which will give you a few moments to relax and prepare for the day ahead. You can also schedule in periods of independent play or tablet/TV time for your children, so that you have “me time” during the day, which is so important for your mental health! Creating a schedule for your kids can also be helpful, so that they don’t spend every ten minutes asking you what is next—predictability makes things easier for everyone, as I discussed in a recent blog and podcast (episode #144) on parenting during the pandemic.
And if you are feeling hopeless, depressed or angry, that is perfectly okay! We are all cycling through the different stages of grief, as we have all lost a sense of normalcy. So many things are uncertain and unknown, so it is very understandable if we feel hopeless or at a loss. You need to allow yourself to feel all these things, and try not to ruminate of 1 feeling: let them pass, and don’t suppress or ignore your emotions, as doing so will negatively impact your mental and physical health.
It is also important to set self-boundaries, so that you are not constantly triggered at home, which make your emotions spiral out of control. Be very careful about what you are ingesting or who you are around. You need to reserve your mental energy and preserve your mental health, sp watch what conversations you are having, how much you are watching the news, how much you are talking about COVID and so on. If what you are discussing with a friend or family member is upsetting you, ask to change the conversation. Don’t be afraid to let people know how you feel.
Remember, you need to make sure that you feel safe and live a life that make you feel content, both during a global pandemic and during “normal” times. Like Prince Harry and Meghan, creating the sort of life you want may be in direct conflict with what you family want for you, but you may need to make challenging decisions and set firm boundaries if you want to live a life that makes you happy. Be firm with your loved ones, but recognize that you may need to spend some time away for them. Give your family time and grace to adjust, because you have probably been thinking about making a change or pursuing a certain direction in life for months or years and now they need to process it as well.
– Dr. Caroline Leaf