Separation: couples self isolating in the same house

Well now here is a post that I didn’t think I would ever type.  Even a few weeks ago could we have imagined the fact that large parts of the world would be not able to leave their houses?  It is a challenging situation for many:  concerns about the health implications; worries about reduced income or businesses going under.  I appreciate all of that.  One of my biggest concerns is for couples who are in the process of separating and may end up having to self-isolate for 14 days in the same house.  Many couples may already be finding remaining in the same house challenging – even with being able to leave to work, and go round to friends and family.  There is often a move during these times to spend time out of the house wherever possible and to keep contact between the two of you to a minimum.  But how on earth will this work if you end up having to self-isolate – either because you are experiencing symptoms or because you fall into a vulnerable category.


There are no easy answers to this situation but here is some guidance that I have put together this morning:

self isolation and separation or divorce

  • First and foremost if you are feeling threatened in your current situation you can call 999.  If you feel you may have the virus then it may be sensible and only fair to make this clear to the police operator.  I don’t know how the police will assist in such a situation and probably nor do they.  But if you feel that your safety, or the safety of your children is threatened then you need to call 999.
  • You are both in this situation and your children may well be too.  It may be helpful to give some thought to putting in place systems to make it tolerable.  I think aiming for tolerable is probably the only benchmark there is currently.  In order to keep things tolerable you need to make a commitment to each other to respect each other’s own space as much as possible.  There may be a temptation to think that if you are both stuck in the same house for a period of time you should try to get things sorted regarding arrangements for your children and money issues.  Whilst I think this desire is understandable I would suggest you put in place strict rules that if either of you feel pressured by such conversations they need to stop and you need to then give each other space.  It may be helpful to time limit such conversations and to agree this in advance.
  • If it is not possible to self isolate in different places (with friends or family or another option) then consider having separate rooms in the house where you will ‘hang out’ during this time.  Clearly defined space where you can each have space to yourself and try to remain calm and fill up the time.
  • Consider a rota for communal spaces like the kitchen and the lounge.
  • If you have more than one bathroom then consider separating who uses each one.  If you don’t have separate spaces then be respectful and give each other space to use this.  The boundaries of what was acceptable behaviour during a relationship change very quickly upon the decision to separate and you both need to understand and respect each other’s boundaries (even if you personally feel they are unnecessary).
  • You could think about taking it in terms to do activities with your children to ensure each parent gets some downtime and some space to do activities they would like to do.  This will be particularly important if one of you is ill as the other parent may need to take over caring for children and try to keep things as normal and reassuring as possible for them.self isolating during separation
  • Try to fill the time with activities to distract yourself if you feel you are worrying and getting wound up.
  • If you can try to remain calm it will help.  Breathing deeply (in and out over at least 5 seconds) for 5 minutes will activate your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system over the fight or flight response.  There is an app called the breathing app which has a moon as a picture which is helpful.  You can also use other meditation apps that are available for free. There is calm.  Or we have a guided meditation in our shop to help retain some calm in the midst of a separation.  You download this and can access it straight away.  There is also an app called mindshift that gives tips for dealing with difficult issues like anxiety, worry and depression.
  • Focus on what life will be life after this is over.  Really imagine all the details and let it fill you up.  You want to feel like you’re putting yourself in that life and feel like it’s already started for you.  The brain can’t tell the difference between imagined and real scenarios so vividly creating what life is going to look like for you can set up all the emotions that you will get from being in that place in the future, now.
  • If you feel angry, overwhelmed or upset then consider taking such time to just breathe rather than reacting and talking about things now.  Remember that conflict is unhelpful for children and it’s better to go to separate places and try to regain your calm before reacting.  This is hard but if you both agree that you will do this and give each other space then this is more likely to make things manageable.
  • It can help to see the situation as something external that you need to tackle together.  There is a temptation to see the problem as the other person but externalising it and working together to solve it encourage a more collaborative mindset which will assist.
  • Online mediation is available through LKW Family Mediation and other mediators and can be used to move things forward during this difficult time.  It can also be used as a safe space to set some rules around how you will manage this difficult time.  There are also other online support services so please feel free to contact us if you are finding things challenging and feel you need some assistance.
  • We run a free Facebook group where those going through a separation can talk to others in the same situation (people are at varying stages in the separation so can share experiences at all stages) and where professionals coming in and talk to you about issues you’re facing and how to deal with them.