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Asking A Second Time For Boundaries To Be Respected


I share a house with a friend. We have separate bedrooms. I have a computer in my bedroom, and I use the computer for personal and business use. For about 1 1/2 years, I shared my computer with my housemate for a variety of reasons – he set up the computer for me, was without a job for a time, and helped me in various ways with my business. Recently, because my computer had significant virus problems and computer technicians advised me to limit access and because my housemate had held a job for over a year, I asked him to stop using my computer. I also asked that he not allow any of his guests to use my computer. He understood and stopped using the computer for a time but asked on occasion to check his emails, to which I agreed. I was recently out of town and upon my return realized after logging on to my computer that he had used the computer for more than emails and apparently allowed his father to use my computer. Please help me with an appropriate approach to this issue. I very much like my housemate (and his father, by the way!) and in general, we get along very well. But I do not want him using my computer (for at least more than emails) and I do not want his houseguests in my bedroom (which is usually pretty messy!) and on my computer. My housemate continues to do nice things for me when I ask for his help and his father has been nice as well, which, I think, is why, I find it difficult to ask for this request of mine to be respected. Help!

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This is a simple (from my point of view) case where assertiveness training will help you understand how to act. You know what you want to say. You want to ask your housemate to lay off using the computer. The thing that stops you from simply saying this is that you don’t want to alienate him or cause the present nice and friendly relationship to get complicated. In other words, you are worried that if you ask him to lay off your computer, that you will be acting aggressively and that this might offend him or cause him to think less of you. Your choice to speak to your housemate and ask him to lay off (again) need not be an aggressive act however. Instead, it could be an assertive one. The difference is not in what you ask of your housemate, so much as it is in how you ask him. If you walk up to him and start calling him a jerk and a loser and an insensitive bastard (etc.) and tell him that he is a terrible person for not respecting your wishes, that would be aggressive, I think. If you walk up to him and tell him that you are upset about his use of your computer, would like that to stop, and can the both of you brainstorm about ways to help him get the temporary computer access he needs without compromising your privacy and security, that would be assertive. In the first example, you are berating the man, attacking his person, and generally trying to harm him. In the second example, you are defending your own right to be the arbiter of who uses your own property (which is a reasonable right), but you are not trying to cause him to feel bad, and you are also offering to help figure out ways that he can get what he needs without disturbing you in the future. By talking about how you feel (hurt, uncomfortable), rather than what he is (e.g., insensitive), you enlist his sympathy and desire to help you feel better. By offering to help him achieve his goal, you present the potential for a bonding experience to occur wherein you both work together to get him something he needs, and you need too (e.g., separate computers).

There are a lot of good cheap desktop computer solutions these days thanks to used computers and advances in the linux operating system. Your internet access can be set up so that it connects to a router, rather than directly to your computer. A router, which can be had for under $40 new, allows multiple computers to share a single internet connection. A used computer and monitor can be had for very little at many thrift stores, and a copy of Ubuntu Linux (or for very much older computers, Xbuntu Linux ) slapped onto an older system can provide a very functional operating system for simple desktop tasks like web browsing and word processing. An entire (used) computer and (new but low-end) router can probably be had for around $150 with this method. Not sure if you would want to go in this direction, but you’d spend at least that much having someone come to your house to remove viruses. Maybe the two of you can agree to split the costs? At any rate, if you find a way to work together on this problem, you will likely create good will rather than animosity.

Since this is a computer we’re dealing with, there is another solution that can be contemplated, which is that you put a password onto your computer such that only people who know the computer can log into it. This is a good idea for someone like yourself who requires computer privacy to do. You can even remove the "guest" account so that no one can log in at all without your permission. If you do these things, let your housemate know so that there are no suprises; no one likes surprises. If you set a password on your computer AND help your housemate find alternative means of computer access you should be okay. There is no predicting how people will respond to communications, but I believe most people would find such a communication as I’ve outlined here to be quite reasonable.

Assertiveness is a communications skill that improves with practice. You can read more about assertiveness on this page in our large self-help e-book Psychological Self-Tools.

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