It’s been a year of upheavals, especially for couples cooped up at home. Their dynamics changed deeply impacting their view of each other, the relationship, and their respective positions within the relationship. They were forced to manage a crisis—sudden decision to work from home (WFH), online classes, no house help, restricted accessibility, etc.
As tensions increased couples found themselves constantly trying to make fair or right decisions and create backup survival plans. These provoked feelings of insecurity and a desperate need to reconnect and preserve one’s identity.
Ideally, when disaster strikes, it requires couples to discuss, share fears and concerns and negotiate their strategy— how bad is it? Is this as bad as it can get? Will it get worse? Often, they position themselves with different answers to these angst-ridden questions. They begin questioning themselves and suspect that their partner doesn’t understand thereby initiating the destructive pattern of taking out their frustrations on each other!
Pre-pandemic the physical act of leaving home for work meant that couples could transition from their marriage mode (at home) to work mode (at the office) effectively. Often, the tendency was to give their best at work while the leftovers came home. With WFH, this became more challenging.
Here’s what can help when rebuilding the relationship to ensure that WFH is an enjoyable experience.
• Emotional check-in: WFH calls for quick toggling between multiple roles. This can feel emotionally exhausting. Even though couples might admire or be aware of what their partners are doing, they fail to consciously and vocally be attentive. This makes the partner feel less important and alone. The loneliness increases when they see them checking in on their colleagues or friends and asking how they’re doing or feeling and how they can help. It’s not like they’re thinking about them more. It’s just that they’re doing a better job of accepting the vulnerabilities of others.
• Be there: Partners do value each other’s attitude towards work and their desire to achieve their goals. Their internal struggles (competing with a colleague, fending off a manager, feeling others are smarter or doing better, am I relevant, do I belong, am I good enough, can I catch up) can feel unsettling. Instead of leaving them feeling troubled and neglected, a partner’s presence can bring relief and calmness.
• Say it: You’re both equally busy so clearly ask for what you need physically, emotionally or otherwise. Don’t expect your partner to assume or understand the unsaid. When things feel frightening or become difficult, knowing you can ask for help makes you feel grounded and less vulnerable. You don’t need to solve anything and perhaps your partner isn’t even looking for them. They just need you to acknowledge their experience and feelings.
• Share chores: Every couple needs to deal with the practicalities of life and the mundane tasks that must get done. These include household chores, managing finances, the upbringing of children and caring for elderly parents etc. For dual-career couples, this is a challenge and can lead to friction and resentment. List the tasks, drop the unnecessary ones, claim to do the ones you love, outsource others and then divide the rest or take turns. Clarity builds harmonious relationships.
• Fixed meal-times: Depending on work demands, the simple ritual of eating together as a family provides a sense of closeness and relaxation.
• Inform: WFH doesn’t mean that your partner will know your work schedule. It’s necessary to keep them informed about calls or meetings and deadlines. This ensures that the partner feels connected and can help to keep the family away or share responsibilities or provide the support needed. It also gives the notion of being a team.
• Spend quality time: Own this time for yourselves without children or the family. It can mean sharing a drink or walking after dinner or watching a movie or simply sitting and talking. It’s not about what you do, how much time you spend or the time of the day you choose. What’s important is to be together without interruption. Put in the effort till it becomes organic. Asking for attention might make you feel needy but if it’s a ritual then you’re exempt from minimising your needs.
• Get intimate: When you find yourself at a loss of words or don’t know how to react to a partner’s stress, use hugs and kisses freely. It will not only make them feel better but show how much you care and want things to work out for them. It’s a great way to repair a bad moment or interrupt a potential destructive pattern. Feeling the warmth in silence can make you feel calmer, closer and supported.
In a relationship, you connect, disconnect, and then reconnect again. Unfortunately, when there’s no reconnect, then the arguments and disagreements tend to go over on repeat making partners stay away from each other.