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Find a balance working from home with your spouse, without driving each other apart

Manage the reality of working alongside your husband or wife, while maintaining your household’s harmony.

Find a balance working from home with your spouse, without driving each other apart
[Photo: SeventyFour/iStock]

The coronavirus outbreak has forced many of us to work from home, and while we love our spouses and partners, we may be spending more time with them than we’re used to. Managing work and life is about delineating boundaries, aiming for career success, and juggling all of your life demands.

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Many of us are left asking ourselves what happens when a crisis upends the normal work and home routine?

Popular wisdom on work-life fulfillment tends to ignore the role of spouses and partners, but these people in our lives are critically important to our success at work and overall life fulfillment, especially now when spaces are condensed for working from home.

In fact, a spouse or partner can play a crucial role in your professional life. Research from the University of Texas suggests that when you talk about work within a strictly home environment, and when you use devices during family or couple time, it can have negative effects on your work-life satisfaction, as well as your productivity. Moreover, these work-related intrusions can also have an adverse impact on your partner’s satisfaction and productivity.

Another study by Baylor University found both positive and negative effects when spouses or partners called or checked in with each other during their workdays. Although calls could positively help people handle home-related needs in the moment, they negatively affected and got in the way of people achieving work goals, positive mood, and work satisfaction.

The gist? Your partner or spouse matters to your work fulfillment—and you to theirs.

Here are five tips to help you through the process of managing your work-life boundaries and enhancing you and your partner’s work-from-home setup.

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Turn off

As demonstrated by research studies from the University of Texas and Kansas State University, it’s important to be able to turn off and keep work out of your living space, as much as possible.

While you may be working in a part of your home, try to keep an alternative space that is work-free. If you are working in a space shared with your living space, create a time boundary after which you shut down work and reserve the area for living, only.

When you bring work home or beyond this work boundary, you aren’t focused on your partner or family. In addition, it may introduce stress you’d rather avoid bringing into the home environment. You may also consider ways to get away from devices through being outside together, playing an at-home game, or even employing a “no devices” rule when you’re in the car together.

Tune in

In The Shallows, Nicolas Carr emphasizes how deep focus is necessary for empathy. He argues that if we lose the ability to focus on each other, we also will miss out on opportunities of connection and understanding.

Tune into your partner when they’re seeking it. When possible, avoid distractions created by your work and devices to ensure you’re fully present for your home life.

Listen without trying to solve problems

When your partner shares a challenge they’re facing, resist the urge to offer advice or solutions. Take a step back and try your best to just listen.

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Psychologists and healthy couples recommend active listening as a way to support each other, no matter if you’re in a state of calm or conflict. The skill is an important building block to relationships.

Moreover, a level of conscientiousness, according to a study by Washington University in St. Louis, can manifest itself as success and workplace progress.

Share issues without wallowing

It can be helpful to share issues with your partner who can listen objectively, provide perspective, and represent a safe haven. But once you get things off your chest, try your best to move on. Avoid the temptation to wallow in any remaining feelings of stress.

Protect the time with your spouse that is strictly apart from your work responsibilities. By carving out a special time slot, this allows you and your partner to detach completely from the space and mindset of work.

Appreciate your partner

According to research published by the American Psychological Association, gratitude can be one of the most powerful contributors to happiness, well-being, and satisfaction in life. Moreover, gratitude applies especially to your partner. No spouse is perfect, but appreciating all that is terrific about them—and recognizing that you’re in this crisis together—can go a long way toward your mutual life satisfaction. Aim to express your appreciation in big or small ways. Even a simple text midday, reminding them how great they are, can have a positive effect.

The coronavirus has turned the world upside down, and you likely are experiencing more closeness with your spouse or partner than before. While work-life fulfillment may feel like an especially personal issue, separate from your partner, in reality, it is deeply connected to them.

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Try to create a healthy boundary to protect your relationship from the intrusion of devices or work stress. Tune into your spouse and listen without trying to solve issues. Share your work stressors but avoid focusing on them too much—ensuring your home is a place to detach from work.

Work is part of each person’s ability to live a full life. Finding the right boundaries for you and your partner will create benefits for work and home when life finally resumes its normal rhythm.

Whenever possible, show your partner you appreciate them, and recognize the important roles you each play for each other in living in fulfilling lives.


Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.

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