For some, working at home with a significant other is a dream come true; but it can be a bit of a nightmare for others. “In relationships, we constantly navigate the balance of autonomy versus closeness, and too much of either can cause relationships to break down,” explains marriage and family therapist Talia Litman. When you work beside your spouse, “this delicate balance is challenged,” she says, “and the scale can tip toward too much closeness and not enough space.”
Without adequate space, work stress can spill into your relationship, says Melanie Shmois, a life and work coach for high-performing professionals at Mind Your Strength. Conversely, that lack of space can mean you can’t break away from your relationship problems, even for a few hours.
That’s why, Litman and Shmois say, it’s important to set expectations and boundaries if you’re working from home with your spouse. Here are four ways to make the arrangement work.
1. Set expectations from the start.
As soon as possible, sit down with your significant other and layout what you each need to work effectively says Shmois. “Some partners need silence and few interruptions,” she says, “while others thrive on having background noise and enjoy checking in and having lunch with the other person.” You can have a general conversation before you begin your work-from-home schedule, and regular, ongoing conversations to review your workdays. “I recommend having a 10-minute expectation meeting at the start of each workday so that each partner can review what they have on their schedule and when they need peace and cannot be interrupted when kids need to be taken care of, what appointments are there during the day, and so on,” Shmois says.
2. Schedule alone time.
Just like you would block off time on your calendar for a meeting during work hours, Litman suggests you block off time for yourself during after-work hours. “You can use this time to do anything you please: take a bath, catch up with a friend, read, review life goals, meditate, do extra work, play video games,” she says, adding that everyone should have at least one — and preferably two — “alone time” slots allotted each week. “Though it may feel odd to schedule time apart from someone you love, you are doing so to restore the balance of autonomy and closeness in your relationship, which will ultimately help you thrive as a couple,” she explains.
3. Create separate workspaces.
If your home allows it, consider creating individual workspaces during work hours. “When at all possible, I recommend working on different levels if you are in a home — or putting a screen in between the two of you, if you are in a studio apartment situation — and, when it is safe, for one or both of you to work at a coffee shop or library to maintain some separateness,” Shmois says. That distance can create some “intrigue,” she says, and it “decreases opportunities to interrupt each other, argue, or release stress on the other person because they are nearby.”
4. Establish connecting relationship rituals.
Despite being together (almost) 24/7, “you might find yourself less connected to your partner than ever,” says Litman. Work time can eke into personal time, laptops can enter spaces that are typically reserved for connection — such as living rooms and bedrooms — and “because you’re always together, you may think you don’t need to put in as much effort to nurture the relationship — but that’s not the case,” says Litman. It’s important, she says, to make time for “connection points throughout the day, like a pre-work hug and an after-work sharing of the day — like you would have done after coming home from the office.” Or, consider starting an evening ritual that allows you to transition from work time to couple time, such as exercising together, she suggests. “It’s also a great idea to have weekly events to look forward to, like Tuesday takeout and movie night or a walk on the weekends,” Litman says. “Just as you prioritize how to get all your work done, you also need to make sure you’re giving your relationship the attention it requires.”
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