10-Step Survival Guide for Partners Who WFH

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Couple working at table

Working from home is a novel concept for many of us, and we may find it particularly difficult if our partner works from home, too.

In fact, a recent study on working from home during the COVID19 pandemic found that 13.3% of individuals cite relationship stress as a block to their general levels of productivitay when their partner also works from home. Adjusting to viewing and respecting your partner as both your partner and co-worker can be a tough transition.

Looking for some tips to ease these difficulties (and any relationship strain)? Here’s a 10-step survival guide for working from home with your partner. 

Respect Each Other’s Schedules and Routines 

When you and your partner are working from home, it’s easy to forget you are both actually working. It’s fine to drop off a coffee on your partner’s desk, but you and your partner should try to respect each other’s typical workday activities. This means saving your rant about how Sarah left herself unmuted for your entire meeting until the end of the day, or at least until you’re both on a break. 

This links into routines – slightly different, but related. Are you used to taking a break earlier in the day than your partner? If so, continue! Does your partner typically start work earlier and finish earlier? If so, continue! Learn each other’s habits and routines and encourage each other to continue to do what works best for you both. 

Speaking of breaks – just because you and/or your partner are on a break, doesn’t mean they feel like chatting. Perhaps your partner typically takes breaks to decompress and be alone with their thoughts, or to think about work. Discuss boundaries with your partner and what you expect from each other, and stick to it as best as you can. 

The same issue may arise at the end of the day. If you finish work a little earlier than your partner, you may be itching to tell them about your terrible boss. Wait until both of you have finished with work before you start a rant. The added benefit is having your partners undivided attention! 

Finish Work When You Finish Work, and Ensure a Work/Life Balance

Hand closing laptop

I am sure you have heard the phrase “don’t take your work home!” or “leave work at work”. It’s impossible now, right?

Not quite. Ensure you finish work when you finish work. That may seem self-explanatory, but it’s common to add an extra 10-20 minutes here and there to your workday. So what if you finish at 5:30PM instead of 5:00PM? You’d likely be commuting anyway, so why is it a big deal? 

Maintaining a work/life balance for the health of your relationship cannot be understated. In fact, an older (1999) study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that not maintaining a work/life balance can contribute to relationship and family stress, as well as lower levels of productivity (which may lead to further relationship stress, and then further drops in productivity, and so on). Researchers further cautioned about the ‘spill over’ from work to home life, and the importance of clear boundaries for the benefit of your relationship. 

So, while you may be saving that extra time not commuting, working during that time will not do your relationship any favours. Maintain the balance for both yourself, and the strength of your partnership! 

Create Dedicated Workspaces, and Respect Your Partner’s Workspace 

One practical tip to maintain your work/life balance includes the implementation of dedicated, and separate, workspaces for you and your partner.

Try to both choose separate, low-traffic areas in the household to set up a personal workspace, and ensure you do not intrude on each other’s workspaces. This is easy if you have a spare room – you can set up an office and shut yourself off from all distractions.

But if you’re living in a small space, things become more difficult, with you both likely working in the same room (or even on the same table). Think of this as an open-plan office. If you wouldn’t make faces at your co-worker or blow kisses at them while on an important call, then you probably should not do so with your partner. 

There’s an added benefit – a dedicated workspace has shown to improve productivity and can lead to faster task resumption after an interruption. 

Compromise on the Office Environment

Couple on sofa working

When you do share a workspace, compromises may need to be made regarding the ‘office’ environment. For example, men tend to run hotter than women, so for those in heterosexual relationships, little office squabbles about ideal temperature of the workplace may not fully vanish in the home environment. Similarly, some may find ambient noise helpful, and others may need complete silence. 

The solution here is simple, but can be difficult to implement: compromise. Both you and your partner will need to make little (but frequent) concessions to make the other more comfortable. Whether this means purchasing a little space heater or several heat packs for yourself, or playing some white noise through your headphones, these little acts of love and compromise can boost your overall relationship satisfaction.

You’re taking care of each other, being considerate, and acknowledging each other’s preferences. Who doesn’t love that? 

Maintain Your Usual Split of Chores

While working from home, you may find the housework you need to do increases. This may include extra cooking, dishes, sweeping, and general tidying up. Further, as the lines between work and home become blurred (there’s a theme here, isn’t there?), throwing in a load of laundry on your break just seems like a smart idea.

Maybe it is – if it works for you – but it may not work for your partner. You and your partner should not expect each other to do things during the day that you wouldn’t during a regular workday.

Maintain the chore schedule and split as usual, but note that there may be more flexibility in timings, and your partner may prefer to wait until the end of the day before going into ‘housework’ mode (or vice versa!).

If you find yourself or your partner taking on more responsibility than usual, it may be useful to write a list of chores that you both should complete by the end of the day. This will hold you both accountable while accommodating individual preferences in timings.  

Those with pets (and many of you with new pets) will have found pet care to increase, too. You’re home, so why shouldn’t little Charlie get his 6th walk of the morning? While Charlie may deserve his 6th walk, resentment between you and your partner will quickly build with constant interruptions and potential squabbling over whose turn it is to wrangle his leash on.

With Christmas coming up, it’s the perfect time to invest in some interactive toys (or maybe an automatic ball launcher!) to keep your furry friends busy during the day. 

Make Time for Fun! 

Couple cooking in kitchen

While you should limit external activities during the day, it’s okay for you and your partner to sneak away for a quick café lunch or coffee, or watch 30 minutes of The Office while on break. After work, ensure you do the same, and include some romance. Neglecting to make time for each other can run the risk of your partner solely becoming your co-worker, rather than your partner.  

Fill that extra time that you are saving on your commute with new activities for you and your partner to try.

Maybe you can finally get into some of the best movies of 2020, try your hand at cocktail making,  or try to cook a new dish together! In fact, certain foods such as sweet potato, broccoli, and eggs have shown to reduce stress-producing hormones within your body and brain, such as cortisol.

Multiple studies over time have further confirmed that a reduction in stress, and a reduction in prolonged cortisol release, can boost your immune system and reduce sickness. But that isn’t all – one 2019 animal study published in Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience further found that reduction in stress can protect against psychological consequences of diffuclt events such as social isolation.

Perhaps a challenge is in order to somehow combine all stress-reducing foods into one bizarre meal, and finish off with a romantic dessert. 

Remember to Engage With, and Talk to, Other People. 

At some point, you and your partner will drive each other crazy. It’s normal and unavoidable – you are spending 24/7 with each other, and not all of us are built to do that.

This can contribute to further relationship stress as it may manifest in unhealthy ways, such as lower levels of patience when your partner leaves their coffee mugs lying around, and general decreases in tolerance. 

So it’s important to maintain your external relationships – whether that’s with your favourite co-workers, friends, or your family –  and ensure you occasionally do so without your partner present.

How do you do this during a pandemic?

Try to arrange virtual catch ups – a boys or girls night with your friends via Zoom, a trivia night with your family, multiplayer online games, or after-work drinks with the one co-worker who doesn’t drive you nuts. You could even set up a Netflix watch party so you and your friends can pretend you’re in the same room binge watching trashy TV.

Even if it seems like your partner is the best co-worker you’ve had (and they may be!) or your partner’s company is enough, independent time is vital to maintain for the health of your relationship, and for your own personal wellbeing. Discuss this with your partner, and try to set concrete times in which you both enjoy individual activities. 

Listen to Each Other and Respond to ‘Bids for Attention’

Couple sitting on balcony

When one listens to their partner’s ‘bids for attention’ and responds appropriately, relationship satisfaction and strength tend to boost. The concept of bids for attention, developed by Gottman, refer to turning ‘towards’ each other rather than ‘away’ – emotionally speaking.

For example, you may look out the window and say to your partner, “look at this neat squirrel!”. Ideally, your partner would indeed look at the neat squirrel – responding to your bid for attention.

This is particularly important in a work from home environment, where you and your partner may not be receiving attention from others throughout the workday. We all have a need for attention, and it’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

So when it is an appropriate time to do so, listen to your partner sharing their struggles – whether workplace-related or more personal (or a neat squirrel). Express your needs and listen to your partner.  

Remember the Benefits of Working from Home, and Be Patient with Each Other

Offices are distracting places, and you’re often forced to interact with people you cannot stand. Remember the benefits of working from home.

You get to spend extra time with your favourite person, experience a new event together, and learn a little more about them (is your partner the kind of person who says, “let’s circle back at a later date” or “let’s touch base in a week”?).

Be patient with each other, and remember that no one is perfect. 2020 has been a hell of a year.

It’s easy to forget that others are experiencing the same stressors that you are – maybe to a different extent, but it is stress, nonetheless. Yes, there may be extra dishes. Yes, your partners voice may be very loud when on calls. But you’ll miss them when you’re back in the office – so take advantage of this unique circumstance, and give them a quick peck the next time you walk by each other (on your breaks!). 

Don’t Neglect Your Own Needs

Throughout this article, we’ve mostly discussed steps that you can take to improve this experience. But it isn’t just your responsibility – both of you should work together and implement the same concepts.

Share this article with your partner, sit down, and talk about your expectations. Having one partner make all the compromises is a sure-fire way to build resentment within your relationship.

Remember that you are in a partnership, and work together to find solutions. Teamwork will make this experience much more pleasant for you both.  

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