Picture a few weeks spent alone with just your partner and you’re likely envisioning a ‘sunsets and sangria’ honeymoon setup. Self-isolation in a shoebox-sized city flat? Not so much.
With COVID-19 now declared a worldwide pandemic and increasing numbers of us self-isolating and working from home as a result, our relationship rhythms are also seeing an upheaval. If you and your partner are more ships in the night during the working week than glued to the hip, getting down to business in the same space can prove to be quite the challenge.
From booming conference calls to discovering that your partner’s idea of background music is more heavy metal than Classic FM, the struggle can be real when co-working as a couple – but a new ‘colleague’ dynamic can also reap rewards in the relationship department. Here’s how to make home working with your significant other a harmonious rather than hot-tempered experience, with not a passive aggressive post-it in sight.
1. Establish Boundaries (and Respect Them)
You don’t need to build a wall, but getting some physical and emotional boundaries in place from the off will make for a more productive environment. It’ll help to keep the peace and prevent simmering resentment from bubbling up into full-blown work from home warfare. Psychotherapist and founder of The Talented Ladies Club Hannah Martin emphasises that some clear-cut timetabling can work wonders:
“Set boundaries around work time so you can devote all of your focus to work when required and then completely switch off when it’s family or personal time. Be clear with your employer about when you will and won’t be checking emails and stick to it. If you respect your own boundaries, other people will too.”
This includes your partner. If you need to commandeer the kitchen table for a Zoom meeting with your team, book it out in advance. Prefer working in silence? Ask your partner to wear headphones to stop you twitching whenever the bass drops. Adapting to each others’ working habits and tendencies may take some compromise and discipline at first but it’ll make for a happier home office for all.
Letting your partner know your plan for the day – what you’re working on and when, times when you absolutely mustn’t be disturbed and a ‘clocking off’ time when you’ll log-off and meet in the living room – ensures that there will be no crossed wires and gives you both something to look forward to, even if it’s a micro-date by the kettle.
2. Speak Up
You can’t march your partner to HR if you’re home working but you can establish a dialogue to lessen conflict. Hannah advocates tackling tension head on:
“It’s so important to really express how you are feeling. Bottling up disappointment and resentment will just enable it to fester and it will crash down on you as a couple at some point – either in the form of a blazing row or by setting a precedent for withdrawing from each other, creating distance.”
If there’s something that you need from your partner, be it reassurance or a cup of tea that doesn’t resemble dishwater, let them know while keeping accusatory statements to a minimum. Basically, just because you’re now working within feet of each other for the foreseeable, don’t assume that your partner is a mind reader. Which brings us to…
3. Cut Yourself and Your Partner Some Slack
If you’re snapping at your beloved on account of some lacklustre plate stacking or repetitive foot tapping, Coupleworks relationship counsellor Christina Fraser explains that you’re likely experiencing a touch of ‘displacement anger’.
“Displacement anger is that spike of rage you might feel when waiting in a long bus queue that leads you to take out your frustration on the bus driver. The issue isn’t the driver – it’s a fear of being late or of possible implications down the line. The same dynamic can commonly crop up among couples, especially when limited to a confined space as most of us are now.”
A degree of friction is inevitable when living and working under the same roof, but be aware that you or your partner could be especially on edge because, let’s face it, these are extremely strange and uncertain times. Lashing out probably has less to do with dishwasher feng shui and more to do with the fact that you’re feeling scared.
Christina advises accepting that you’re both feeling delicate and practising ‘compassionate listening’ to try to understand how your partner is feeling rather than engaging in active ‘battle’. It’s not easy (that’s where the cutting yourself some slack part comes in), but establishing a ritual of talking through your days and how you’re both feeling about things will give you space to let it all out. Mug of tea or wine optional.
4. Learn to Self-Soothe
Christina notes that much of our validation and self-worth can come from sources outside of the home, be it a high-five after spin class, a glowing appraisal from your boss or a bear hug from a friend. Now that we’re practising social distancing, these daily external ego bumps aren’t on the menu which can lead us to feel low and affect home working morale with our partner.
Christina underlines that it’s key to find ways to ‘self-soothe’: identifying what we can do to make ourselves feel better while giving less heed to the things that make us feel worse. Think less time getting stuck in a scroll hole of doom on social media and more time establishing what makes you happy and doing just that. Stream an upbeat yoga class, bake a cake in your lunch break or clear out your sock drawer – whatever helps you to feel more calm and in control. Also, don’t underestimate the transformational power of a little alone time…
5. Go It Alone
We don’t mean banishing yourself to the cupboard under the stairs – this is more ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ vibes. Hannah presents a case for getting some space:
“Get out of the home and away from each other sometimes: FaceTime a friend in the park or just go for a stroll on your own (bonus points if you bump into your partner doing the same thing). It will give you the chance to miss each other, and have fresh topics to discuss when you return home.”
Normally we might crash through the door into the sanctuary of our partner’s arms where we can blow off steam about irritating colleagues – now our partner is quite possibly morphing into said irritating colleague, so space and perspective is essential. Be clear with your partner that you’re taking some alone time so that they don’t take it personally and you’ll be more likely to pull together when you’re back in the same space again. Nip out for a pastry (pick one up for your partner), work up a sweat in a green space, meditate or just retreat to your bedroom with a book – you’ll retain a sense of normality and variety and return to your partner with reinvigorated chat.
6. Plan a Social
Like office karaoke but far more enjoyable. Just as solo spells are necessary to stay sane, planning out how you’re going to have fun together will not only give you something to look forward to at the end of the day but it’ll also help you to nurture intimacy in your relationship. Cook dinner for each other, schedule a themed movie marathon, take virtual dance lessons, host a latte art competition…whatever it takes to keep things spicy.
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7. Touch Base
Not just office jargon for a catch-up. Discovering what your partner actually does all day can help you to appreciate each other all the more. Use time spent working together to find out more about what makes each other tick, notice each other’s talents and see your partner as colleagues might. Chances are you’ll emerge from lockdown feeling prouder than ever of each other and incredibly well equipped for any Mastermind-style dinner party questioning on what your lover gets up to at work.
Really can’t think about work and Coronavirus anymore? Browse our countdown of the top honeymoon destinations in the world and start planning your dream trip for when all this is over. At least you’re unlikely to argue over a holiday.