5 Ways to Save Your Relationship When You Both Work From Home
I’m a sucker for take-no-shit, suffer-no-fools advice, especially when it comes to the birds and the bees. Being an expert at failing at relationships (read: I have a high turn-over rate), I’m generally terrified of living with my boyfriend. So, I put my baggage aside in exchange for a little faith in our strength as a couple. After all, what could be better than having a wonderful, attractive roommate that you love? We decided to try out cohabitation. The catch? We both work from home.
Chances are you clicked on this article because you need a little help shifting your perspective about exactly that. Here are five ways to save your relationship when you and your partner both work from home:
- Acknowledge You're Both Flawed
- Think About Their Needs
- Don't Take Them for Granted
- Don't Quit Yourself
- Stay Inquisitive About One Another
1. Acknowledge You’re Both Flawed
It's not new news that everyone has flaws. Think about the lazy habits you have that you're working towards changing. It's likely that those habits don't go unnoticed by your significant other.
When you're both working from home, little flaws can add up and be distracting for both of us. We'll be on opposite sides of the room working and I'll get the urge to confront him about his mess while he's on the clock. This conflation of home and work time is detrimental to both of our productivity.
How Can You Get Past the Urge to Confront Your Partner During Work?
My partner and I are practicing radical empathy to overcome our urge to interrupt one another during our work day.
- We see and respect that the other person has flaws
- We mindfully choose to address the flaws after the other's work day
How Can You Foster Empathy in a Close Environment?
In my case, my partner and I have many of the same bad habits; this is a blessing and a curse. I’ve never met anyone who piles their loose socks on the ground and also gradually collects glassware on windowsills day after day. This has allowed us (forced us, really) to ask more of one another. Our mutual empathy for our respective uncleanliness means we have to work together to change “our” habit.
Love your partner’s flaws.
Reflect on Your Flaws
We have our individual quirks as well. When he’s anxious, he’ll absent-mindedly rub my palms with his calloused hands, creating a ticklish burning sensation. It drives me crazy. But, I’ll comb and pull at my hair and leave hairballs places. When I’m annoyed with his behavior, remembering that I suck too is a great way to stay in love. No one is perfect, but it's really easy to forget that when you're at your wits end with your partner. Breathe deeply and have a respectful conversation about what you can both work on, and above all, love your partner’s flaws.
2. Think About Their Needs
It's almost more difficult to do nice things for your partner when you're constantly near them, especially when you're both under pressure from work. This invites a common sentiment: It's time to either think outside of the box, or do things that are rudimentary yet helpful. Remind your significant other why you love them by thinking about what helps them go about their day. Some examples of ways to show love are:
- Switch the laundry
- Do the dishes
- Make them dinner
- Show them how much you care. Make them breakfast or something.
- Chop onions for them
My partner really appreciates it when I chop onions for him when we're cooking. Chopping onions for someone shows that you’d rather cry than see them cry. If you’re allergic to onions, this is terrible advice.
I don’t mean you need to make grand sacrifices for your loved one, but rather: Being thoughtful goes a long way, and can really take the stress off after a normal day at your shared office.
A Note About Interruptions During Work
In the process of planning something thoughtful, try not to interrupt them to ask about what they want. If you do your best to plan ahead in advance (ask them what they'd like for lunch the night before when off the clock, for instance) you'll respect their space during work and minimize disruption.
Disruption of their life in order to plan something nice detracts from the selfless intention of doing something kind for your partner. This includes making noise in the kitchen when they're clearly in the next room having a meeting. Do your homework and prepare something the night before. How thoughtful you've been will show.
What If They Don't Reciprocate Your Efforts?
If they don’t catch on and reciprocate in some form, have a conversation about it. If there are no behavioral changes, consider breaking up with your partner. You deserve someone at least as kind as you.
When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.— Brené Brown
3. Don't Take Them For Granted
Your couch is pretty great. It’s always there. Do you love your couch? Do you take your couch for granted, in part because it’s reliable? Don’t let yourself view your partner in the same way. As the prolific Brené Brown said, “[w]hen we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated.”
My partner and I have a simple trick for maintaining boundaries. We set a timer in between us.
Need to Set Boundaries? Set a Timer!
Let’s get real: Space is necessary for a healthy relationship. Give each other space by upholding boundaries.
- Set a timer (a kitchen timer, Alexa, or what have you) for how long you need alone time, and
- communicate your parameters (no talking, no TV, etc.)
Decide to take different rooms (or opposite sides of the studio). And be sure you’re also respecting their boundaries. Who was the first to “knock down” the invisible wall? Don’t hold it against your partner—just try again.
When your partner respects your space, let them know how much you appreciate it. Reward each other when the boundary has been lifted. Break out that Don Julio 1942. Give them a sloppy kiss. Celebrate!
4. Don't Quit Yourself
Don’t give up on yourself just because you aren't required to be anywhere. You don’t have anyone to impress, sure. Don’t lose yourself in the other person just because you now work (and live) in the same building.
Take Space From Your Co-Working Space
Now that my partner and I see a lot more of one another, I've started running again to take space from the house. It's really reminded me that I can push myself in ways that are beneficial to my mental and physical health. It's made me a much happier human, and because of this, strengthened our relationship. It also gives him alone time.
Make Time for Independent Activities off the Clock
What is it that excites you, that makes you forget to eat or sleep? Try to reignite the flame in your relationship by lighting the pilot light to your internal furnace; the one with interests, hobbies, and skills. Start investigating what you’re made of, and encourage your partner to do the same. Eventually, you’ll show each other the person they fell in love with.
19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
5. Play 20 Questions With Them
The unfortunate aspect of working in the same home (unwavering close proximity) is also beneficial. There's lots of time for two people to get to know each other very, very well. While this can feel tiresome, once you've put your best foot forward by being kind, setting boundaries, and investing in yourself, try a fun activity: playing 20 questions. This is best attempted after the above suggestions; it's most critical when you're working in the same space to be sure you're getting a healthy amount of space from your parter.
After a long day together and working separately, my sig-o and I will both exercise and practice things that make us feel happy. When we make dinner is when we hang out, converse, and play 20 questions. We ask one another questions about our work day as well. It's easy to assume you know a lot about their day when they're feet, or at most, meters from you.
A study done by Aron et al (1997) on interpersonal closeness argued that reciprocal personal disclosure could accelerate feelings of intimacy between strangers. What's the real-time, in-vivo rendition of this experiment look like? Asking your partner increasingly intimate questions.
Try the exercise from the article 36 Questions That Lead to Love by Daniel Jones in the New York Times to increase intimacy between you and your significant other. One of my favorite questions from this article is "If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?"
Bring Back the Honeymoon Phase
Asking one another questions reinitiates an exploratory process typically associated with the beginning of a relationship known as "the honeymoon phase." Two individuals whom have already been in love before have the potential to fall in love all over again by asking each other these same questions. If you want to feel like you did in the early stages of your relationship, recreate the behavior that made you feel the spark and fire for them.
If your partner has destructive habits that are cropping up and it’s safe for you to do so, try initiating a soft intervention.
- The healthiest way to maintain your relationship when you work from home is to take care of yourself. Don't forget about your hobbies and the things that make you who you are because you've lost yourself to someone else.
- Do kind things for your partner without disrupting their schedule and flow. Be sure to communicate boundaries so that they can respect your space as well.
- Take space from your partner.
- Ask them intimate questions.
- Stay alert and interested; complacency will kill any relationship.
These tips have strengthened my relationship, and I hope they'll help with yours as well. Please leave questions and comments regarding the topic of this article below!