Are you spending your workdays, evenings, and weekends at home these days? Is it causing you and your partner or spouse to get on each other's nerves? If so, that's understandable. And a few simple changes to your routine can help a lot.
In these days of closed offices, canceled gatherings, and limited travel, more people are spending more time at home -- entire workdays, and sometimes evenings and weekends too. That kind of 24/7 togetherness can strain even the best relationships. At least, that's what I concluded a couple of days ago, when I found myself writing in my journal that everything my husband Bill said or did somehow seemed to bug me.
I knew the reason. We live in the Seattle area, where "social distancing" is becoming the norm. In particular, our usual social life, which revolves around gatherings of musicians drinking beer and sharing microphones has (wisely) been shut down, leaving us only each other to hang around with. But with many years' experience both of working at home, and of working out whatever conflicts arise, I also knew we could make things better.
Here are a few things Bill and I have learned to do over the years. They make being stuck together at home more of a pleasure and less of a struggle. These tactics are also recommended by business psychologist Melanie Katzman, Ph.D. If days and days of being home with your partner are starting to grate on you, please give them a try.
1. Tell each other exactly what you need.
Most of us -- definitely including me -- would like our spouse or partner to meet our every need, without actually having to say what those needs are. I get it, but the fact is even if you marry a psychic this just won't work that well. So tell your partner exactly what you want and need from him or her.
If you have a separate workspace, which is a really, really good idea, make sure your partner knows exactly when it's OK to enter that space and when it's not. If my office door is open, it means "I'm working, but feel free to tell me anything you want me to know, or to have a quick chat." If it's closed, it means, "I would prefer you not disturb me, but you can knock on my door if you need to tell me or ask me something that can't wait." If there's a Do Not Disturb sign on the doorknob, it means, "Knock on this door and I will be really angry." Usually that's because I'm on an important phone call that requires my full concentration.
2. Make time to check in with each other.
Given my fairly intense work schedule, we need to make sure we have time for conversation every day. Often this happens in the morning when I hang around the living room for a while before diving into work. We also often take afternoon walks together -- getting outdoors for a while is a great way to break up the claustrophobia of staying home.
Katzman also recommends setting a clear start time and stop time for your workday, preferably with a lunch break included. I agree this is important to do, and I'm ashamed to say I've never managed it. Maybe someday.
3. Don't turn your partner into your whole social life.
That's tempting to do if you're spending all your time at home. But the truth is, even if your spouse or partner is also your best friend, as Bill is mine, you cannot depend on one person for everything you need. So make time for coffee, or phone calls, or video chats with your friends, especially the ones you're accustomed to seeing at the office and who you may be missing now that you're working at home.
4. Cut yourself and your partner some slack.
Self-compassion is hugely important, and never more so than in a situation like this. Any relationship, no matter how solid, can be strained if you're spending all day every day together under one roof. So if you snap at your partner, or he or she snaps at you, or if you're feeling bored or impatient or grumpy, or your partner is behaving that way -- remember that it's perfectly natural. These are worrisome times, and our usual human coping response to gather in groups and share our worries isn't available when we need it most.
So do your best to lighten up. Look for ways you and your partner can have fun together while you're stuck together at home. Be sure to make some time for play. You're in this together. And together is how you'll get to the other side.