Workers across the country are sharing a new office with a new co-worker: their significant other.
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Working from home with your partner might be fun for a few days (Lunch dates! Early dinners with no commutes!), but it could become a strain on your relationship after a while.
“The central task of any marriage is the management of differences,” said Anthony Chambers, couple and family psychologist and chief academic officer at The Family Institute at Northwestern University.
“Couples who are together now 24/7, any differences can become magnified. Often times when we stay away from each other for eight to 12 hours a day, that helps manage those problems.”
Acknowledge the shift
This isn’t going to be easy. There’s a reason why we’re told not to mix business with pleasure.
Take a minute to acknowledge the challenges that you might face and figure out a routine, suggested Chambers.
“Being together now 24/7 can be very disruptive,” he said.
Have a morning scrum
Now’s the time to communicate … often.
Take a few minutes each morning to evaluate the prior day and review today’s schedule, recommended Melanie Katzman, a business psychologist.
“Discuss what worked yesterday and what didn’t, what’s on the schedule for today and ask, ‘how can I help you succeed today?’ or ‘what is it you need from me?’” she suggested.
Avoid the bedroom during work hours
If possible, try and work in separate spaces and avoid setting up shop in the bedroom.
“The bedroom needs to be a place where you just chat, sleep or be romantic,” said Kathy Marshack, a psychologist in Oregon. “You want it to be more of a family and couple space. Not your workspace.”
Have a designated ‘Do Not Disturb’ place
There’s nothing worse than being disrupted when you are on a roll with a project or have to really focus to meet a deadline.
Pinpoint workspaces or times of the day when you need absolute focus and ban any distractions.
At the same time, find ways to demonstrate you are available for interruption. For instance, sitting at the dining room table could mean you are taking care of emails and other lighter tasks that can handle a pause, while the door to the office being closed means do not disturb.
Don’t treat your spouse like a coworker
You might be sharing an office, but don’t treat your spouse as your work coach, advised Katzman.
Even though you miss brainstorming with your colleagues or turning to your office mate to discuss the awkwardness on the last conference call, don’t just turn to your spouse.
You are likely already sharing added domestic and childcare duties, don’t add work burdens on top of all that (plus, it’s good to continue to stay in touch with your colleagues).
“It can almost add too much pressure if you are expecting your spouse to be the one source of everything,” added Chambers.
Have a code word
Things are going to get tough. There will be good days and bad days. To help mitigate any damage if you are feeling like you are about to explode, Katzman suggested having a code word that signals you need a break.
“It can be an inside joke or a code word to be able to signal, ‘I’ve had it, I can’t even speak I am just about to burst,’” she said.
We could all use a scapegoat these days. So why not create an imaginary one to avoid pointing fingers?
“Blaming an imaginary co-worker or house staff like: ‘I can’t believe XXX didn’t take the dishes out of the dishwasher!’ or ‘XX is a such a loud worker!’ breaks the tension,” said Katzman.
“It breaks the tension, it’s OK to laugh. We can’t be in constant overdrive.”