How to Keep Your Relationship Healthy While Working From Home Together

couple working together at the dining room table with a toddler

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While many of us are grateful to have extra time with our loved ones at home—the one silver lining of the COVID-19 health pandemic—even the most codependent of us have probably come to understand one simple truth: human beings are not meant to spend 24/7 with each other. No matter how much we love our friends, family, or significant other, everyone needs their space—it’s human nature after all. So, if you are lashing out at your quarantine partner, it isn’t exactly out of character. 

“Lives are meant to be lived out, not quarantined in,” says marriage and family therapist Paul Hokemeyer, PhD, author of Fragile Power: Why Having It All Is Never Enough. “This fundamental principle is at the heart of the anger, resentments, anxiety, and restlessness that we feel during this stressful time. Unfortunately, the only way we are able to express these primal emotions is by lashing out at the people we are trapped with.” 

Lives are meant to be lived out, not quarantined in. This fundamental principle is at the heart of the anger, resentments, anxiety, and restlessness that we feel during this stressful time.

There is even a clinical term for this: misplaced or misdirected anger. “Because we can’t effectively discharge our anger at the very thing that is causing it, we impulsively find people who will take the heat,” explains Dr. Hokemeyer. In addition, the sheltering in place mandates have infringed on our personal space. “Human beings are animals at the top of the food chain. We need to feel that we are the masters of our territory. When we don't, we become hostile to those around us,” he adds. 

While living at home with your significant other can be hard enough, working in the same space can complicate things even more. Here are a few Dr. Hokemeyer-approved tips to make your live/work situation function more seamlessly.

1. Rotate Private Time

People need space, and in the current environment, you may need to schedule it. “Even if it's 30 minutes. Even if it's raining. Even if there are winds that would blow Dorothy's house off its foundation, get out of the house or apartment. You need to find alone time and allow your partner alone time,” Dr. Hokemeyer explains.

2. Use Theater Voices

Although it may be awhile before we are back in a theater, we can still speak in tones that respect the other people in the house. After all, if your partner can’t hear you while they are trying to get their work done, they might forget you are sharing the same workspace. “You don't need to yell at anyone or anything during work hours or shout in your smartphone—the technology is quite good,” he says. 

3. Designate Separate Work Spaces

Trying to work in the same space will definitely result in annoyance. If your living space is large enough, try and choose two places in the house far enough away from each other that you can each do your own thing without disturbing the other. 

4. Have a Routine

Just like any normal work day, a routine is key. Dr. Hokemeyer urges the importance of creating a schedule and sticking to it. “Start and end your work day at the same time. Take a break for lunch. Put on makeup and shave. Wear a clean shirt and trousers—it's okay if you want to wear your slippers though,” he explains. “By having a routine you'll be able to set boundaries and rules about how you are to function during this time period. Right now, we need rules to bring certainty to all the uncertainty swirling in the world.”

5. Share Responsibilities

If there are children in the home, have a clear plan on how the parenting duties are distributed. Also, if one of you has a conference call or needs undisturbed work time, make sure to clear it with the other ahead of time so they can schedule it into their day. 

6. Have Proper Meals at a Proper Table

One great way to coexist together during the workday is to share meals. “That would be breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Dr. Hokemeyer points out. “Laying on the sofa nibbling from a bag of chips is not respectful of your partner and will diminish their professionalism.” Instead, sharing a true meal will give you the opportunity to connect with one another and take advantage of all this extra time together. 

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