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Personal boundaries are an important piece of all healthy relationships, but it can be difficult to figure out what our own boundaries are and communicate them clearly with friends, romantic partners, and family. During this time of COVID-19 and social distancing, it can be even harder to maintain our existing personal boundaries, create new ones, and respect the boundaries of both those around us and those who we’re separated from. Going back to school in a pandemic, whether virtually, in-person, or a combination of the two, means it is a crucial time to maintain our boundaries and strengthen our communication with family and friends.

It can help to take a moment to consider what boundaries are: boundaries help you determine what you are and are not comfortable with. Love is Respect believes that “Even though we talk about them in relation to other people, in some ways boundaries are really about your relationship with yourself; they help you honor your needs, goals, feelings, and values.” Our personal boundaries can, and will, change over time. New situations and events will lead us to reevaluate what is okay and what is not depending on how we’re impacted, and this pandemic is impacting all of us differently each day. Before we bring other people into the picture, we need to take the time to assess our current needs, goals, feelings, and values.

Does talking with friends help you feel connected?

How much time do you need to yourself?

Do you prefer to communicate through messaging, phone calls, or video chatting?

What level of in-person communication makes you feel safe?

How do you feel after talking with friends? Supported, energized, and happy; or drained, upset, and confused?

A huge impact we’re all feeling is having to rely more heavily on digital communication and connection. Everyone has different expectations for how often we should be available to talk and how quickly we should respond. It’s also more challenging to communicate our boundaries and needs through digital communication, so it’s important to be clear and patient with others. Here are two examples of a texting conversation about boundaries related to communication. The first video shows unhealthy communication; the second demonstrates a healthy conversation around boundaries.

Even though setting and communicating our boundaries – whether physical, social, emotional, or digital – can be more difficult while social distancing, it’s also an opportunity to get to know people better. Initiating these conversations about personal boundaries with our friends, family members, and romantic partners will create healthier communication and relationships overall. Having these conversations isn’t always easy, so below are a few tips for communicating boundaries in a healthy way:

Try to find a time when both of you are calm and not distracted, stressed, or in a rush.

If you’re having trouble collecting your thoughts, consider writing them down ahead of time.

An example of phrasing: I feel/felt ____ when you _____. That’s a boundary violation for me. It would be better if you______.

You do not have to understand why a person has a particular boundary, but you do have to respect it.

You can also visit Love is Respect or One Love for more information and examples around boundaries and healthy relationships.