It's easy to feel like you can never get enough one-on-one time with your partner. Enter the coronavirus pandemic, and suddenly, you have too much time. Couples across the country are facing a different dynamic as they’re living and working from home together morning, noon, and night. All that togetherness can result in some friction if you’re not used to being around each other all the time, which is why effective communication with your partner when you're working from home is especially valuable now.
“In this era of social distancing, working from home with your partner can cause tension and friction that may otherwise have been previously avoided,” says Christie Tcharkhoutian, licensed marriage and family therapist and professional matchmaker at Three Day Rule. “Every relationship needs a balance of autonomy and intimacy. As the saying goes, ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder,' and it rings true, because the time a couple spends apart during the work day can enhance the quality of time they enjoy when they are together. By working in the same space, they may feel easily annoyed or irritable because of their lack of autonomy and space. Having a conversation to set appropriate boundaries will be important for couples to get through this time.”
Here are some helpful ways the experts say you can step up your communication game, so that you can keep the peace while you social distance and work from home.
1. Talk About Your Needs For Space Up Front.
If lack of personal space has become an issue in your new work-from-home situation, Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples' therapist in Los Angeles, suggests taking a proactive approach by initiating a conversation around one another’s needs right from the start. He recommends asking questions like: “Is one of you more private than the other and needs more emotional space? What do you need to work in a confined space? How much do [we] want WFH to impact our lives as a couple and as individuals?”
Then, make sure to follow through by giving each other the space you agreed upon, Anita Chlipala, licensed marriage and family therapist and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love, tells Elite Daily. “Sometimes, friction arises because one person is in a bad mood and the other wants to fix it. Feelings don’t need to be fixed. Space can help a partner work through their mood or even just sleeping on it can help them feel better the next day."
2. Regularly Check In About Ways You Can Help Each Other.
Your needs in your relationship should be an ongoing conversation, says Dr. Brown. “Spend time at the beginning of each work day and ask your partner this question: ‘What can I do to make your day easier today?’ Simply asking that question will likely be very helpful because it sends the message that you are aware that they may have some needs that you would like to fulfill for them, if at all possible.”
3. Limit Negative Talk To A Specific Window Of Time.
Even though it feels like there's plenty to stress over, Chlipala says it's important to not let negativity take over your whole day. Instead, limit negative talk to a specific time when you can both vent together. “Relationships can buckle under the pressure of stress and negativity,” she says. “Try to contain negativity in daily gripe-fests. Keep them to 15-20 minutes each where you share your concerns about everything except your relationship. On particularly stressful days, or if you feel a spike in your anxiety or depression, have an additional gripe-fest.”
4. Get On The Same Page.
One easy communication shortcut you can apply to help you stay on the same page is to share your work calendars, Brenda Della Casa, a relationship coach and author of Cinderella Was A Liar, tells Elite Daily. “A shared calendar is a great way to give your partner insight into what your week looks like. If you have an important client call, for example, they can plan around that.” It also helps you get a clearer picture of what the other dealing with work-wise, which can assist with the next tip.
5. Empathy Is Everything.
If you want to keep your lines of communication healthy, even in tight quarters, Chlipala says the key is to “empathize, empathize, empathize.” That means making sure that your approach to any dealings with your SO begins with putting yourself in their shoes, especially when they’re struggling or feeling frustrated. “This is not the time to try to fix your partner’s feelings or have them look on the bright side. Your partner may feel invalidated or like you don’t care about what they’re going through. Empathize first with their feelings, and you can ask if they’d like you to help with problem-solving.”
6. Pick Your Battles.
If you want to keep things as peaceful and calm as possible through these tricky and emotionally challenging times, Chlipala says it's essential to choose which discussions are really worth your energy. “You’re going to have let some things slide. Your partner may be doing their best or may not be equipped to handle stress the way you are. Focus on the important things to you and bring up your concerns gently.”
7. Give Each Other The Benefit Of The Doubt.
Finally, even when picking your battles sparingly, there’ll likely be moments when you or your partner decide there’s something worth discussing. In those cases, Chlipala recommends entering the conversation with the intention of giving your partner the benefit of the doubt. “Working from home increases the number of interactions you have and also increases the opportunities for misinterpretation. Start with giving your partner the benefit of the doubt. Assume positive or neutral intention. And when necessary, check things out with each other.”
Making the transition to working from home with your partner may be challenging for some couples, and that’s OK. The key is to remember that you're in this together, and by improving your communication skills, you're strengthening yourselves as a team. This time won't last forever. “Acknowledge your fears but try not to be a prisoner to them. At some point, all of this is going to end. That is the historical nature of pandemics. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end," says Dr. Brown. "This will be over at some point and life will go on.”
Dr. Gary Brown, a prominent couples therapist in Los Angeles
Christie Tcharkhoutian, licensed marriage and family therapist and professional matchmaker at Three Day Rule