Five official days into social distancing from everyone except my boyfriend, with whom I’m living, I’ve finally come to grips with one hard and fast fact: The two of us are done keeping secrets from each other. Up until now, we’ve tiptoed around some, well, not-so-sexy parts of the relationship, but our close quarters under these safety guidelines have us in the express lane to become a poop couple (it’s a thing) and argue, oh, a lot, about pressing domestic topics like how to properly load the dishwasher. So my question is—given that social distancing with someone else puts a unique kind of strain on any relationship (a roommate, a romantic partner, a parent, a child, or otherwise)—how can all of us make it through with a stronger bond rather than a broken heart?
Rachel Wright, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, says that before you can tackle the situation, you first have to acknowledge why it’s difficult. “Any sort of abrupt change takes a lot to adjust to, and when we’re all navigating something unprecedented like COVID-19, in addition to working from home and being around your roommates or significant other 24/7, it’s a lot of change at once,” she says. That—compounded by the fact that your baseline levels of stress may be higher than usual as you watch the news and wonder limitlessly about the possible outcomes of what’s still to come—creates the perfect storm for a home life that feels claustrophobic, at best.
Once you’ve recognized that you’re #BigCOVIDMood is legitimate, warranted, and—yes—human, Wright says you’re ready to set the WFH boundaries that will keep you from turning to the passive-aggressive Post-it Note method of jotting down your self-quarantined needs IN ALL CAPS.
5 boundaries to set right now (like, right now) if you’re social distancing with someone else
1. Take alone time every. single. day.
“Regardless of what’s going on, everyone needs time by themselves and it can’t just be when you use the bathroom. Take time to be alone whether that is to just breathe, masturbate, text with a friend, take a nap, read, whatever. The important thing is to take time to be with you, yourself, and just you,” says Wright.
Now more than ever before, it’s important to stick with your habits, including the ones you do all by your lonesome. In some situations, of course, this boundary is particularly tricky to abide by—like, say, if you’re a primary caregiver to kids who are home. In this case, delegate alone-time “shifts” with a coparent, and or maximize time when the kiddos are sleeping, reading, enjoying screen time, or are otherwise engaged in independent activities.
2. Create a schedule with your cohabitants
If you think your Google Cal is OOO just because you physically aren’t there, think again. “For those who are newly navigating working from home together or simply being around each other a lot more than ‘normal,’ this is going to create a challenge of who is using what space and when—even of just a logistical level,” says Wright. “If you can sit down and come up with a rough schedule, it can yield some expectation of the day, which will help with all of those things, in addition to just feeling more structured and normal.”
“Come up with a rough schedule, to yield some expectation of the day, which will add a feeling of structured and normalcy.” —Rachel Wright, LMFT
If you have an online work meeting that’s going to involve a lot of talking in shared space, send your cohabitants a calendar invite so they know not to schedule a call while you’re, say, talking to your boss.
3. Go outside at least once daily
“We need fresh air,” says Wright. “If you’re immunocompromised and don’t feel comfortable going outside, open your window, sit next to the breeze, and get some of the sun’s rays on you.”
Spending time in nature has been found to boost your happiness levels, improve memory, and offer a number of other benefits. So if you feel like emotionally exploding on the people with whom you share space, give yourself recess instead.
4. Set up COLLABORATIVE ground rules
The way you and your living partners usually interact won’t necessarily serve you in a time when you’re spending every waking moment in close proximity. A change in the status quo calls for switching up the rules you have in place—whether that means drawing up a new roommate agreement or sharing a Google Doc with your significant other to lay down the new rules.
“For many, the dynamics of their relationships are changing because we’re all cooped up together, so there need to be ground rules set.” —Wright
“For many, the dynamics of their relationships are changing because we’re all cooped up together, so there need to be ground rules set. This could be who gets to use the bath when or how long you want to have the news on, but regardless of what they are, some need to be set,” says Wright. Even if some of your requests feel silly, don’t be afraid to air them out.
5. SCHEDULE AT LEAST 2 calls EACH DAY
“It’s important to maintain your other relationships while you’re primarily with your partner or your roommates,” says Wright. So make sure that you have one to two calls at a minimum per day with other people.” Now’s the time to catch up with your college roommate, your great aunt Sue, your teachers from grad school, your grandma, or whomever else you’ve been “meaning” to call.
And even though this situation of social distancing with someone else is remarkably tricky to navigate for any kind of relationship, remember, it’s also an opportunity to become even closer and more accepting of yourself and whomever shares your home. “We can’t change what’s happening outside of ourselves right now, so focus on being present and controlling what you can, which includes how you treat yourself and how you treat the people you’re at home with,” says Wright. “Be kind, share the love, and have a conversation about how you can make it the best it can be, given the circumstances.”
With the aforementioned five boundaries clearly in place, you’ll feel more freedom to make the most of the time you do spend together inside your shared four walls. Play games together! Clean! Spend time re-learning each other! Give each other massages! Have lots of sex (depending on your relationship dynamic, of course)! You’re in this together, so make a concerted effort to be the best source of strength, courage, comfort, and companionship you can.
Order a matching pair of slippers to earn some extra WFH brownie points with your roommates. And if you are social distancing with your S.O., you may well be having a lot more sex. In that case, I’d love to introduce you to the Kivin Method.