Five ways to survive WFH with your partner

We have been banging on for the last three years about why it is vital to strengthen home relationships so people can be more emotionally healthy and productive at work.  Overnight, with the mass move to work-from-home in response to Covid-19, this message has become acute.

For some people this will be the first time that one or both partners will be working from home and that comes with a whole host of challenges.  On a practical level, where there once was an IT department to sort PC issues, admin staff to sort paper and printer toner, purchasing departments to reorder stationery… now SOMEBODY at home has to do it!  The question is, which one – and depending on the personalities involved, that, right there, is the start of another argument.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, because the real challenge with working from home is not with the technology, it’s with the people! The quality of relationships and the ability to cope with this imposed change to routines, will determine the level of wellbeing, productivity and peace at home over the next few months. With urgency we must get this right. Divorce lawyers are already sounding the alarm. But with care and deliberate effort, we can strengthen our relationships with our nearest and dearest to survive Covid-19 and beyond.

Here are five key things you must do to make Work-from-Home work for you:

1) Organise your work-space and your stuff

Invading the home space will come with its own tensions and challenges but “your stuff” for doing work doesn’t have to be one of them.  If you are anything like us, you may discover that your work styles are polar opposites – neat desk vs lots of piles, attention to detail vs not etc – and that your work spaces reflect your personalities, for better or worse!  That’s fine if you have your own space and can close the door but it can become a real source of frustration when different workstyles have to share the same space. Organising and containing your stuff will help your partner and others at home feel more cared for and considered and minimise opportunity for resentment.  Of course, it will also help you be more efficient and prepared for impromptu video calls with the team as well!

2) Discuss expectations around roles and responsibilities around the home

Increasing your physical presence in any confined space generally increases the burden of maintaining the space. Food and drink supplies will run out more quickly, bins will fill up faster and toilets will get dirtier quicker.  Household chores are already one of the main sources of arguments between couples, so best to nip this one in the bud. Instead of assuming, have the conversation around who will do what in this new season. Nothing builds resentment faster than unmet expectations around involvement and support.  Even if you agree to keep everything the same, give each other consideration by discussing it. This might also be an opportunity to do things differently in order to create a better life balance for both of you. Above all, choose to be kind. Workloads might ebb and flow, but life together feels much better with a bit of kindness and consideration thrown into the mix.

3) Create healthy boundaries

We bumped into a friend one morning recently at a local café and it turned out he was delaying going home so he could have some “headspace”.  His wife started working from home the previous week and already it was too much for him! As he spoke, the feeling of “invaded space” came flooding back to me in an instant and I empathised deeply with him.  Three years ago, Jon started working from home, sharing the space I had had sole daytime dominion over for the previous 15yrs! One thing that we’ve found works well for us is agreeing a general schedule around when we are working, when we are available for chats / lunch / cups of tea, and when we need thinking time without interruption.  Having the conversation before it becomes a problem will help prevent hurt feelings. And while you’re creating healthy boundaries, remember that “start time” for work is as important as “stop time” so that work doesn’t bleed into home life – and vice versa. One of the main challenges with working from home is that the symbols of work – diaries, papers, laptops, phones, etc – invade your safe space and can be visual reminders of work stress.  And for some people that can be a really big deal. So, agree what works for you and as much as possible, keep work out of the bedroom or at the very least out of the bed!  

4) Choose your battles

The fact that you are spending more time around each other means that you will bump up against each other more, notice differences and irritants more, and have more moments of conflict.  Don’t panic, this is normal and as long as there are no underlying issues, you will find your equilibrium again. However, being more full time under the same roof means there is no escape now and the silent treatment or leaving things to fester will only make things worse.  There is a whole set of skills to be learnt and built to ensure we each “turn up” well to conflict situations, take care of each other no matter how intense the argument, and come out stronger without damaging the relationship. Meanwhile resist the temptation to give “generous” helpings of opinions and suggestions about how the other person should do things.  Remember, they’ve probably been managing fine all along! Choose your battles. Will it matter in a month’s time? 

(Important Note: If there is an underlying issue, now would be a great time to get professional help.  Nothing stays the same and the increased interaction at home means it is likely to get worse if you don’t. But with a few skills and better perspective it could get better.)

5) Make time for each other and for your relationship

It’s easy to get stuck in a routine of work, chores, children (if you have any) and not make time to enjoy “being a couple”.  You might not be able to go out for a while but you can still ring fence time together for date nights in, finishing work and banning all distractions – phones, kids, pets – so you can enjoy having fun together – movies, heart to heart conversations, doing whatever comes naturally 😊. It will breathe life into your souls, keep the spark in your relationship and create more “buffer space” against tensions and flare ups.  

Time to take action?

More than ever, the quality of relationships at home and the level of skill in discussing and agreeing “new normals” will determine how well we survive the next few months as families, and as a nation. If ever there was a need to get good at building strong relationships at home, it’s now.

For more tips on surviving work-from-home as a couple, check out our TEDx talk on The 4 Habits of All Successful Relationships.

For more specific guidance on going deeper and on how to develop the “skill” and manage the “will” to stay healthy, positive and emotionally connected in your relationship with your partner, check out our book – The 4 Habits of All Successful Relationships: Improving your relationships at home, at work and in life, or take our 4 Habits online course.

A man and woman sit around a cluttered kitchen table, each on a laptop working from home.

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