How do families and couples that had challenging relationships before isolation work through being cooped up in a house? Even in homes where there are no apparent relationship struggles, the dynamics of the relationships have changed.
In a world before isolation, each family member would go to their work/school destination and reconvene at night. There was physical distancing and different experiences that could become conversations at dinner/bedtime. However, in our world today, there is no distancing and our experiences are very similar. How do we maintain healthy and positive relationships in small spaces and new dynamics?
Consider the following:
Create boundaries. Boundaries do not have to do with physical parameters or proximity to someone. Boundaries are the imaginary walls that we create for ourselves and others so that we can coexist in a healthy manner.
When we create boundaries we are setting parameters and expectations for us and others to think about each of our limitations. We are putting acknowledging the notion that we have limits as human beings. We all have limits, whether we are a parent, spouse, daughter, or friend. We all have limits as to how much we can give. If we don’t accept that we are human we are not doing justice to ourselves or the people around us.
Lack of boundaries. What happens if we don’t set parameters and think we’re super-human, able to respond to the whims of everyone around us? We can break. When we break our responses and results are much worse than if we had set clear limitations.
Dealing with guilt. Parents and spouses deal with guilt on a constant basis. Some feel that being a good parent is being available to your child 24/7 and getting up every time someone calls your name. However, being a good parent is knowing how much you can handle before you crack, because cracking is so much worse than telling your child you need space or that they have to wait for their needs to be met.
It’s okay to have personal needs. Take time to eat things you enjoy, do things that make you happy. If you do not have enough time in the day, make time. Your mental health will allow you to remain level headed, respond more calmly to your loved ones, and make you a better family member. Losing who you are and forgetting your needs does not make you a better spouse or parent; it drains you. At these times it’s imperative that we feel in control and able to manage difficulties that come our way. Listen to your needs and if you need a break, take one.
It’s OK to let your spouse know that you need time alone. It is also reasonable to tell them that you do not want to engage in anxiety-provoking conversations. Simply because your partner, parent, or sibling wants to discuss the virus and its ramifications doesn’t mean that you have to have that talk. If you need a break from anxiety-provoking conversations it’s okay to set boundaries for yourself. Understanding what you are capable of and your limitations will make you a stronger individual and keep you healthier for a longer time.
Each individual will need different types of boundaries to feel in control. For one person, alone time for 15 minutes is enough to recharge, while for another giving children clear guidelines on how many times they are allowed to call “Mommy!” works for them.
There are beautiful things about being with people you love for long periods of time. However, it is also important to know that relationships will be challenged, dynamics will change, and health and economic stressors can burden relationships. The one thing that does not change is that we are all human. We all need different things to thrive. Simply because we’re in isolation does not mean that our individuality is lost and our needs are forsaken. Listen to what you need so that you can be a better mother, spouse, and friend. Protect your relationships by listening to what you need so when someone requires something from you, you can respond in a healthy manner.
You can find out more about Gali by checking out www.galigoodman.com or you call to set an in-person or remote appointment at (201) 870-0331.
Gali is a bilingual therapist (English and Spanish) with a private practice in Englewood. She also offers remote sessions through Zoom. Gali earned a double master’s degree from Columbia University School of Social Work and a master’s degree in special and general education from Bank Street College of Education. She has worked in schools and inpatient and day treatment programs treating children, families, adults, and couples.