I love my partner. Truly, I do. We love each other so much, in fact, we got engaged in the middle of the pandemic after living and working together 24/7 for months. But no matter how much I adore this man, there is no greater rage than what I feel bubble up when I’m attempting to decompress after a long day, and I hear him typing. Sometimes they aren’t just normal keyboard sounds — they sound as if elephants have joined him on his Zoom call and are marching across the alphabet.
Like many couples, we went from having at least 8 hours a day of (much-needed) time apart to navigating the complex compromises required for two professionals to work completely different jobs while living under the same roof. We have very different jobs — he’s on calls all day, every day, while I need a quiet area to get into my writing flow. Of course while I don’t appreciate his tap-dancing keys, he isn’t a fan of my constant ‘shh!’ requests, either.
Like many couples, we simply don’t have space for two office set-ups, so he’s been camped out in a nook in our dining room, while I work from the kitchen. It isn’t ideal, but we’re making it work. And as the pandemic drags on, it’s clear that it may be something we need to work long-term. We’ve heard from countless couple friends that their companies keep pushing back “office return” dates and/or getting rid of their office space altogether. So, as we look to make our work-from-home arrangement succeed into year #3 of the pandemic, we also have to look for ways to set our relationship up for success. Here’s a look at a few of the steps we’ve taken this last year to protect our connection and effectively work remotely.
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Create boundaries — and respect them
Even the happiest of couples need time apart. Creating routines helps to establish needs and requirements for a productive (and fight-free) dynamic. No, we’re no longer strangers to the WFH pandemic dynamic, but it’s never too late to create boundaries or adjust the ones we created in 2020 if those are no longer working for you, says Courtney Geter, LMFT-S, CST, a licensed family and marriage therapist. To do this, she recommends going through questions like these:
- Do you need a specific space?
- Do you need a desk or better chair? Do you need basic office supplies?
- Do you need a sound machine to help with focus and drown out distractions?
- What time does your workday begin and end?
- When do you need quiet hours?
- What do you need from your partner to be successful?
Once the list is created, identify your top two to three priorities. Then, compare notes with each other to develop a plan… not only for your professional life but your personal one, too.
“Working from home has meant fewer boundaries with your job since one did not need to account for travel time or to get to other appointments or errands before or after their workday. This resulted in partners feeling neglected,” she says. “Work on setting rules with the ‘home and office’ and to try and mimic your original workday.”
Readjust your expectations about household duties
If you’re both navigating your job demands and potentially caring for children, the household chores may have fallen off the priority list over the last two years. Or, perhaps one partner started doing a specific chore at the start of the pandemic, and the other partner assumed this would continue to happen indefinitely. This may be an unrealistic expectation since everything about life has shifted several times since 2020, says psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. Without addressing these issues, it can lead to one (or both) partner feeling taken for granted.
“Even if one person used to do more of a particular task, the couple must work together to devise an updated plan,” Dr. Thomas says. “This should thoroughly identify and assign each household task to the partner who can realistically fit it into their schedule.”
Don’t offer your unsolicited opinion
One of the ‘rules’ my husband and I have made in our relationship is to clarify what we need when we’re venting. Sometimes, we want advice and a solution. Other times, we just want the other person to listen so that we feel heard. Establishing these ground rules early on has worked well for us. Oftentimes, with two people working in such close proximity, it can be tempting to offer an unsolicited opinion to your partner, based on something you hear or learn, says Elise Armitage, founder of What The Fab.
“When couples are working remotely and sharing a space, they can end up overhearing their partner’s work phone calls and meetings they otherwise wouldn’t have been privy to,” she continues. “Oftentimes, this can lead to partners wanting to share unsolicited advice with their significant other, whether it’s around decisions being made, or leadership or speaking style.”
More often than not, this will result in annoyance or an argument, rather than being taken with care and understanding. Armitage recommends saying something like: I couldn’t help but hear part of that conversation. I can tell your team admires and trusts you. Would you mind if I shared one piece of feedback on something I’ve noticed?”
Save the questions
Over the last two years, have you felt the need to utter your stream of consciousness to your partner at some point throughout the workday? Maybe you’ve found yourself saying things to your partner that you would never have normally called them at work to discuss. If you’re doing these things throughout the workday, this decreases both of your efficiency at work — and can even make your workday longer,” says Gail Saltz, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of Medicine. “Each time you are distracted, it takes more time to re-engage whatever you were working on.”
Instead, save the questions for your partner for a dedicated time for real discussions. For example, you can both plan to work from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and then take a lunch break together to dish on everything and decompress. Or you can wait and table all discussions until 5pm. “This is essentially the way your day would have been structured if you were physically at your job,” Saltz adds.
Make time for romance
If you’ve felt the flame burning out thanks to remote working, know that you’re not alone. But also understand that you can get things smoldering again. As psychiatrist Dr. Jeffrey Ditzell says, it’s easy to get lost in the constant stress and demands of a packed life. However, you still need to make time for one another. “Actively wooing your partner daily is likely to not only result in a healthy relationship that can withstand a pandemic but also build the foundation for passion that intensifies over the years,” he continues. “Make time to be happy together.”