“My partner and I are both working at home during the COVID-19 outbreak. So far it’s been one week, and all this togetherness is causing a ton of tension in our relationship. He is very loud when he works, whereas I prefer quiet to get anything done. We haven’t been seeing as many friends either, so there’s no chance to get away. How do we get space from each other so we don’t lose our minds? Or how do we learn understanding?”
This is a scary and uncertain time, and things can get tense in small quarters, especially as you and your partner adjust not only to your new daily routines working from home but also to each other. I’d like to think it could bring a lot of couples together if they manage their circumstances and physical closeness in positive ways. Here’s what I’m going to suggest you do to stay sane amidst the outbreak. Think of this as a crash course in togetherness.
1. Don’t internalize; verbalize.
If your partner is doing something that is disturbing your work productivity, just tell him as soon as it becomes an issue instead of biting your tongue, getting more bothered and getting further off track. Instead, say, “Babe, do you think you could process in your head or on paper? I can’t get my work done when you are constantly talking.” If you say it calmly and directly, he’s more likely to respond than if you say it with annoyance or snark. You want to tackle the problem, not rock the boat.
2. Set up separate work areas, at least some of the time.
In any relationship, some independence is good for the soul, whether it’s before work or after. If you have the capability to do it, don’t co-work every single day. At least some days, start working in different rooms so you can both be at your productivity peaks. If you can’t do that—maybe you share a studio apartment—set up two working nooks and use headphones to stay in your own personal space.
Co-working with friends or a spouse can be a lot like texting all day with friends or a spouse. Fun at first, but unproductive if it keeps up. Try to get some distance to avoid annoying each other and to keep work output high.
3. Get outside as often as you can.
A little fresh air is good for the spirit. Right now, we’re on the brink of more spring weather, which means sunshine and warmer temperatures. Depending on where you live, a walk around your quiet neighborhood or a hike on a nature trail could be a great way to diffuse stress and tension. Use this time to find solitude in nature with your partner, or without, if you need a break.
Obviously, it’s still important to socially distance. Respect the rules and stay six feet away from others when at all possible. For most of us, there are places in nature where we can escape and unwind.
4. Plan date nights in.
It’s not often we get to stay home with our partner with zero pressure to go out into the world. Not only do we have zero pressure to socialize with friends or professionally, but we literally have zero reasons to even plan outside dates. In a lot of ways, that is really freeing. Use this as a time to catch up with each other.
If you have kids, put on Frozen 2 and play a board game with your partner. Be creative with your groceries and do a little at-home cooking and wine night. Check out every Best Picture nominee from this year’s Oscars that you haven’t seen yet and vote for your favorites.
Use this as a time for intimacy you would not otherwise get. It can also be really freeing to talk about your anxieties about work, the economy, aging parents, kids, whatever. Use your time at night to do just that—connect—and then get back to work in the morning knowing your partner gets it, supports you and cares. Right now, that can help us get through the hard times.
Jenna Birch is a journalist and author of The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, a relationship-building guide for modern women, as well as a dating coach (accepting new clients for 2020). To ask her a question, which she may answer in a forthcoming PureWow column, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.