Working from home straining your relationship? Here are some tips
Couples who live together, married or otherwise, can often operate "like two ships passing in the night" under normal circumstances, but if their routines have been thrown off by the coronavirus pandemic, the change could signal some yellow or even red flags going forward.
A recent state-by-state analysis of 3,000 workers by the digital magazine GearHungry.com found that 53% of New Jersey couples said stay-at-home orders had strained their relationship, the 12th-highest rate in the country and well above the 45% national average.
The survey indicated couples said they could work from home, together, for about eight days before feeling stressed.
Somerset-based marriage counselor Dr. Marty Tashman said the current crisis has "all the earmarks of an ongoing trauma" and compared it to "9/11 on steroids," as people feel they are losing control, their futures are uncertain, and they are powerless to do anything about it.
To cope, Tashman said some people need their space, while others want to be closer to their partner, which can prove a delicate balance in a traditional male-female dynamic where she is the "approacher" and he is the "avoider."
"There is not only a big physical problem, but there's a big emotional problem, because the rhythm of people's relationships is so distorted," Tashman said.
What is the key? In Tashman's words, "communication, communication, communication."
Once you take your own personal inventory of how you are feeling on a certain day, he recommends communicating that to your partner, then observing your partner's mood.
Having that self-awareness, which includes taking stock of self-care items like exercise, proper diet, and positive reinforcement, is the first of three steps Tashman suggests to get through the pandemic with a healthy relationship intact.
The second is to reframe this newly found time together as an opportunity a couple will never have again, and if they have children, to include them in that. And it all comes down to structure.
"To have a rounded life is, if you're working from home, to have time that you do the work, you also have time to take care of yourself, and lastly you make sure that you have time to be with your spouse," Tashman said.
You can still break away for private time or a personal project, Tashman said, but you should also make it a point to identify, on a daily basis, something (and maybe multiple things) you like about your partner that's gone underappreciated.
Third on Tashman's checklist is to rate your relationship. If a partnership was in bad shape going into the pandemic, he cautions that small irritations can become large in close quarters.
"Being at the edge, you can develop a whole bunch of resentments that happen as a result of being overly close to somebody, and they feel smothered, or overly distant and they feel rejected," he said.
If you rate your relationship in the middle on a scale of 1 to 10 — that's the "yellow flag" area — avoid too much exposure to the latest coronavirus news, and find activities to do together, like playing a game or cooking a meal or exercising.
In an environment where communication is generally good, Tashman said if worse comes to worst and you feel you may lash out, make up an imaginary coworker and blame your outburst on them!