Lesley acknowledges that it can be difficult to say no to relatives, depending on your relationship with them, but declining to host someone who doesn’t want to comply with your needs doesn’t have to end in aggression or conflict. According to Lesley, you can always tell the person in question, “I totally understand that you may feel I’m asking too much and that this is not something that you’re willing to do, and I respect that. But this is what I need. And if that is something that you cannot do, I will absolutely respect that. However, we’re probably going to have to make a different plan for Thanksgiving.”
Stay flexible and collaborative
Though you have a right to set guidelines for folks staying in your home, Lesley reiterates that it’s key to talk about those expectations ahead of time, then frame your requests as a discussion rather than the rule of law. An inflexible attitude opens the door to pushback and arguments.
“The more collaborative you can be in coming up with solutions, the more likely everyone is to buy into them,” she says, “because then it often sounds like it’s everybody’s idea.” You’re likely to find that some of your guests may have had a similar need, but felt nervous or embarrassed about bringing it up.
You can try framing your request this way: “As much as I love spending time with everybody, sometimes I need a little bit of time just in my own space, and I thought other people might have this need also, so let’s talk about that.” No matter how you phrase it, ask for concrete, specific ways that your guests can help out, and don’t wait until you become irritated or frustrated to address these needs with your guests.
“When you just say, ‘This place is a mess, and no one cleans,’ that’s very broad. People will feel attacked,” Lesley says. “But if you say, ‘I feel really overwhelmed and if someone could take on the dishes today, that would really help me out a lot,’ no one can argue with that.”
Respond to negative reactions calmly
Of course, there’s always a chance that your relatives may not immediately acquiesce to your needs, no matter how they are framed. For instance, if the response is something like, “I came all this way to spend time with you, and you just are going into your room to be by yourself,” it’s important to empathize with their perspective.
Lesley recommends responding gently but firmly. You should stand your ground on your need while acknowledging that your relative’s emotions are just as valid as your own. Try responding with something like, “Spending time with you is really important to me. I can see that if I’m not spending time with you while you’re here, that can seem like I don’t care, but the way I’m wired is in order for me to really be present and connect with you the way I want to, I have to recharge.”
This approach helps the guest in question feel validated. They’re more likely to respect your needs if you make an effort to identify with their perspective.
Try not to take it personally
Even if you do all the work to create healthy boundaries and articulate your needs in a collaborative, flexible manner, there might still be conflict. Even arguments. This is where empathy and compassion for everyone involved in your quarantine bubble is crucial. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, even if they aren’t on their best behavior, will help you resolve issues as they arise. It’s hard work, and perhaps even an attitude that will take a lifetime to perfect. But it’s worth trying.
“The more you understand what’s going on with your family members, you start to not take it personally, and when it’s not personal, you realize, ‘I’m not going to change that. That’s their own work, it’s not mine.’ And you’re not triggered,” says Lesley. “You can kind of roll with it. Because sometimes you have to just accept that you can’t change your family, but you can give them the benefit of the doubt that behind their [behavior] is something well-meaning.”