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family boundaries

Family Boundaries: Now that your spouse is your co-worker…

Dr. Dana McNeil
Latest posts by Dr. Dana McNeil (see all)

Like many of my clients, you survived week one working from home through a haze of shock, worry, and interrupted routines. This week you have decided that you want to have a plan in place as to how to best navigate what appears to be at least several months of working under the same roof and possibly even the same room as your partner and family. You want to be able to do more than just keep the peace and be cordial with your unexpected office mate. You want to be able to actually feel productive while avoiding feeling resentful of your partner because of too much forced togetherness. You’ve probably decided that you need to set up a new set of rules as to how best to co-work without emotional distancing. You need family boundaries. 

Here a set of guidelines I have been suggesting my clients put into place while waiting out the quarantine:


Rule 1: Set healthy family boundaries around your space and time.

Where is your work area, and how is it designated? Do your partner and family know?

It’s helpful for you to create a workspace area in your home that is respected by other members of the household. This means this desk, kitchen table, or corner of the room is to be off-limits for others to borrow from, play at, or disorganize. 

Try creating an office area that you feel is safe for you to think and feel productive in. Consider making the area represent things that are an inspiration to you. Carve out a little section of your world that represents your passions and motivators.

Also, understand that carving out space doesn’t mean that you won’t ever experience any interruptions. Just like you probably experienced at the office, there are going to be encroachment and distractions. Take a deep breath and treat your family with the patience you would like to experience if roles were reversed.

Setting healthy family boundaries around your time also means noticing and actively seeking out time for self-care. Expect to need some downtime from your family and partner. Schedule at least an hour a day where you can go off to a room or backyard area and sit down with a good book, meditate, journal, or do something that helps you reset and take a deep breath. There is a lot being asked of you right now both mentally and emotionally. It’s time to honor the need for self-care now more than ever.


Rule 2:  Hold family meetings and daily check-ins.

Even though the pace of life in the outside world has slowed down, there are still a lot of things to coordinate and give your attention to inside your home and family. 

Create a daily checklist about the needs and to-dos that need to be taken care of. Assign tasks and chores to each family member so that everyone is participating in keeping the house moving and in order. Talk about ideas like setting aside a certain time of the day for chores. Having a morning meeting or check-in about family boundaries and tasks will save you mental energy.

This checklist should also include recreation and connection for the family.

If you want to reinstate dinner at the table, then this is the time. It will be much easier to make these habits a part of your daily routine during the quarantine than any time ever before in our hectic schedules. 

Your family will also likely benefit from holding weekly state-of-our-union meetings to address how everyone is feeling and what may or may not be working in your current situation. If a family member or partner is feeling frustrated, worried, unacknowledged, or concerned about how you are handling things together, this is a time to find empathy and compromise about how to do things differently moving forward. 


Rule 3:  Be compassionate.

Your partner and your family don’t want to be in this situation any more than you do. If you are feeling frustrated and upset, it is likely your partner is too. They aren’t acting and behaving the way they are in order to make you mad or push your buttons. They are having their own experience that is painful, and they are suffering too.

I tell my clients to accept an attitude of being curious versus furious with their partners. If you are noticing they are not acting normally, check in with them about what’s making them upset. 

What is causing them to feel disconnected, worried, angry, or upset? Checking in with your partner and finding something you can acknowledge for them does not mean you agree. It doesn’t even necessarily mean you are going to do anything differently.

It means that you are offering compassion, kindness, and care to a person that you love. This attitude is going to serve you well as you continue to manage confinement, close quarters, and the uncertainty of our current situation. 


Rule 4:  Have a sense of humor.

It isn’t all about setting up family boundaries and space. Nothing beats stress up better than a good belly laugh. Looking for something to share will bring a smile to the face of your partner or child. Find humor in your situation. Being able to do something silly with your family, or planning a surprise will be contagious and will encourage the playfulness to be reciprocated.

Maybe you all put your pajamas on and watch a favorite Disney movie in the back yard. Maybe you start your day retelling a story about a time your partner made you laugh or did something that you still think about. This is good medicine during such serious times.


Rule 5: Use this time to strengthen your relationship and communication.

Many of my clients see this time as one to work on strengthening commitment. If you and your partner have had issues with communication, it is unlikely that this time will automatically fix things without doing some difficult work. 

Acknowledging the areas of the relationship that need some attention is one way to utilize the time spent with our partner. All of us want to have loving relationships where we feel acknowledged and comfortable being emotionally vulnerable with our partner. If you find yourself dreading having so much time alone with your partner, your relationship needs some healing elsewhere.

Consider using this time to enter into couples therapy as a way to help build skills. The rate of divorce in China rose exponentially during their home confinement, now seeing a record number of divorce filings. This doesn’t have to be the fate of your relationship, and your marriage doesn’t have to be a casualty. Taking the time now to craft the skills needed to respond to your stressors in the relationship will go further now than ever before. 

Here at The Relationship Place, we’re offering free remote consultations. Schedule yours today! We’re here to help.

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