How couples can survive working from home during coronavirus lockdowns
For many of us, the reality of the pandemic means we’re spending a lot more time at home, and a lot more time with our loved ones. While a nice idea in theory, such intense levels of constant interaction can be destructive. Conflict resolution specialist Anne-Marie Cade tells Body+Soul how to navigate these challenging times.
As the pandemic rolls on with no end in sight, being trapped indoors is taking its toll on the relationships of many couples who are feeling the strain of having to “work from home” and “school from home as well.” While the idea of working from home with your partner might sound like fun in the beginning, it could become a problem over time.
Statistics tell us that applications for divorce rise significantly after couples spend time together over the Christmas holidays. Dealing with a pandemic throws a few additional challenges into the mix which can be difficult to navigate and will test the healthiest of relationships.
Managing expectations is key to surviving the experience. It’s important to set out a strategy at the beginning as to how you will deal with this situation so that expectations are managed.
Create a plan
Setting up a routine for the family is key. Everyone is stressed, including the children, so scheduling time to wake up, study, and eat together is important.
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Discuss the household chores and how they are to be shared by everyone, including the kids. The divide and conquer strategy works best when sharing home duties, so it’s important each person’s responsibilities are clearly set out to maximise efficiency and minimise disappointment.
Don’t place pressure on one person to do the household chores–make the rule that if you make a mess, you clean it up. Everyone needs to pull together and be a part of the solution.
Chaos isn’t fun and if things are not working out disappointment and resentment will follow. Each morning, discuss what worked the previous day and what didn’t, what’s on the schedule for the day, and make small changes if necessary.
Set up a workspace
Set up a designated ‘do not disturb space’ at home and put systems in place so that you have the privacy and quiet you need to work and be productive.
Take regular breaks as you would when you were working at the office. Taking a brisk walk in the middle of the day while enjoying the sunshine helps improve your productivity.
Also, try to schedule in regular Zoom catch-ups with workmates. Don’t work all hours and maintain strict boundaries between work life and home life.
Don’t treat your partner like a co-worker
You might be sharing an office, but don’t treat your partner as your work coach. You may miss the interactions with your workmates, but your partner is already managing the added burden of domestic and childcare duties. It’s almost too much pressure if you are expecting your partner to be the one source of everything.
Communication is the key to healthier, happier relationships. Make the time to have a conversation with your partner and communicate often and clearly. Set healthy boundaries.
Our patience can be tested in these times of uncertainty. If something is bothering you, it’s important to tell your partner about it, explain how you are feeling and the reasons for it.
Setting out clearly-defined expectations will lessen the stress. Unmet expectations are a key cause for stress in a relationship. If you don’t communicate the problem clearly to your partner they may make assumptions which are incorrect.
A common complaint I hear from couples is that “he/she did not listen to me.” Try to be as clear as possible with each other. If you are frustrated or stressed then try to use ‘I’ statements to communicate how you are feeling. “I feel” is very different to “When you …” or “You make me feel …”
It’s very easy to slip into the blame game when we’re stressed and it doesn’t help anyone. Ask questions to discover what the problem is, talk about solutions and share ideas about how to resolve the issues without blaming the other person.
Make the time to have a conversation
Calm yourself down and take the time and space to have the conversation. Remember when emotions are high, cognition is low and you may say things that are harsh.
Ask your partner when he/she would like to have a chat and schedule in a time to have a dialogue. Pay careful attention to your tone of voice and choice of words and start by saying something positive and share something that he/she is doing right.
Listen to what your partner has to say without interrupting. Pause before responding. Pick your battles. Once you have said something, you can’t take it back. Listen more than you speak.
If you are having arguments over little things, ask why and be patient. The aim of the conversation is to explore new ways to work together as a team to create more efficiency in the home.
Self-care is important. Make time to move and exercise frequently as exercise improves well-being. Reflect on all the good things that have happened and express gratitude. People who savour positive experiences report higher levels of happiness and self-esteem and lower levels of depression.
As a parent, nurturing yourself is vital so you can look after the others. There will be good days and bad days. But always keep in mind that this situation is temporary and will end.
Anne-Marie Cade is a nationally accredited mediator and conflict resolution specialist.