By DANA MCNEIL | The Relationship Place
Like many of my clients, you have somehow survived the last several weeks working from home through a haze of shock, worry, and interrupted routines. This week you have decided that you want to have a plan in place as to how to best navigate what appears to be at least several months of working under the same roof and possibly even the same room as your partner.
You want to be able to do more than just keep the peace and be cordial with your unexpected office mate. You want to be able to actually feel productive while avoiding feeling resentful of your partner because of too much forced togetherness.
You have decided to that you need to set up a new set of rules as to how best to co-work without emotional distancing.
Here a set of guidelines I have been suggesting my clients put into place while waiting out the quarantine:
Rule 1: Set healthy boundaries around your space and time. Where is your work area, and how is it designated? Do your partner and family know how they can best honor the time that you are dedicating to getting your job done?
It is necessary and mentally helpful for you to create a workspace area in your home that is respected by other members of the household. This means this desk, kitchen table, or corner of the room is to be off limits for others to borrow from, play at, or disorganize.
You also need to create an area that you feel is safe for you to think and feel productive in. Consider making the area represent things that are inspiration to you – a picture, a flower from the yard, a quote or inspirational phrase that helps you carve out a little section of your world that represents your passions and motivators.
Also, understand that carving out a space doesn’t mean that you won’t ever experience any interruptions. Just like you probably experienced at the office, there are going to be encroachment and distractions. Take a deep breath and treat your family with the patience you would like to experience if roles were reversed.
Setting healthy boundaries around your time also means noticing and actively seeking out time for self-care. Honor that you will need some down time from your family and partner. Schedule at least an hour a day where you can go off to a room or backyard area and sit down with a good book, meditate, journal, or do something that helps you reset and take a deep breath. There is a lot being asked of you right now both mentally and emotionally. It’s time to honor the need for self-care now more than ever.
Rule 2: Hold family meetings and daily check-ins. Even though the pace of life in the outside world has slowed down to a dull roar, there are still a lot of things to co-ordinate and give your attention to inside your home and family.
Consider creating a daily checklist about the needs and to-dos that need to be taken care of. Assign tasks and chores to each family member so that everyone is participating in keeping the house moving and in order. Talk about ideas like earmarking a certain time of the day when everyone spends an hour working on their chores. Consider having a morning meeting or check-in where the family has discussions about what needs to get done or when tasks will happen so that priorities for the day are addressed.
This checklist should also include play time and the ability to build in some rituals of connection for the family to either continue doing, reinstate, or add as a new part of your time as a couple or family.
If you want to reinstate dinner at the dining room table at 5:00 every night and include a new habit of going around the table and talking about the biggest blessings you experienced for the day, then this is the time.
It will be much easier to make these habits a part of your daily routine during the quarantine than any time ever before in our hectic schedules.
Your family will also likely benefit from holding weekly state-of-our-union meetings to address how everyone is feeling and what may or may not be working in your current situation. If a family member or partner is feeling frustration, worried, unacknowledged, or concerned about how you are handling things as a family, this is a time that has been set aside to focus and hopefully find empathy and compromise about how to do things differently moving forward.
Rule 3: Be compassionate and help each other maintain a positive perspective. Your partner and your family don’t want to be in this situation any more than you do. If you are feeling frustrated and upset, it is likely your partner is too. They are not acting and behaving the way they are in order to make you mad or push your buttons. They are having their own experience that is painful, and they are suffering too.
I tell my clients to accept an attitude of being curious versus furious with their partners. If you are noticing they are not acting like they normally would, you can check in with them about what is happening that is making them upset or what expectation they have about the situation that is not being met.
What is causing them to feel disconnected, worried, angry, or upset? Checking in with your partner and finding something you can acknowledge for them does not mean you agree. It doesn’t even necessarily mean you are going to do anything differently.
What it does mean is that you are offering compassion, kindness, and care to a person that you love and admire who is in pain. This attitude is going to serve you well as you continue to manage confinement, close quarters, and the uncertainty of our current situation.
Rule 4: Have a sense of humor and find something to laugh about each day.
Nothing beats stress up better than a good belly laugh. Looking for something to share, such as a funny story, something you see online, or a remembered memory that you know will bring a smile to the face of your partner or child, is a good investment of your time these days.
Finding the humor in the situation, being able to do something silly with your family, or planning a surprise will be contagious and will encourage the playfulness to be reciprocated.
Maybe you all put your pajamas on and watch a favorite Disney movie or comedy on the wall of your home in the back yard. Maybe you start your day retelling a story about a time your partner made you laugh or did something that you still think about and smile. This is good medicine during such serious times.
Rule 5: Use this time to strengthen your relationship and deal with some of the communication issues that haven’t been addressed. Many of my clients want this time in quarantine to have meant something and see this time as a catalyst to finding the energy and time to work on strengthening their commitment to their partner.
If you and your partner have had issues with communication, trust, or feeling emotionally disconnected, it is unlikely that this time will automatically fix things without doing some difficult work.
Acknowledging the areas of the relationship that need some attention and some repair is one way to utilize the time spent with our partner. All of us want to have loving relationships where we feel acknowledged, heard, seen, and comfortable being emotionally vulnerable with our partner. If you find yourself dreading having so much time alone with your partner, that can often be a sign that your relationship needs some healing or you as a couple need to learn new tools to strengthen the relationship.
Consider using this time to enter into couples therapy as a way to manage this difficult time and as a way to help build the skills you want to cultivate with your partner. Having this much time at home with a partner is a perfect practice ground for the tools you can learn on handling conflict better, managing uncomfortable feelings, and making repair attempts when you experience disagreements.
The rate of divorce in China rose exponentially during their home confinement, and they have now has seen a record number of divorce filings. This doesn’t have to be the fate of your relationship, and your marriage doesn’t have to be a casualty of the virus quarantine. Taking the time now to craft the skills needed and work on finding new ways to respond to your stressors in the relationship is a valuable use of your time and energy.
— Dana McNeil is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and is the founder of a group practice called The Relationship Place located in San Diego, California. Dana’s practice specializes in couples’ therapy and utilizes an evidence-based type of couples’ therapy which is known as the Gottman Method. Dana is a certified Gottman Method therapist and Bringing Home Baby instructor.