By Anja van den Berg
The Covid-19 pandemic has dictated a new world of work where most of us work from home. Domestic harmony has been turned upside-down in many households, and couples now face unchartered – and dangerous – territory.
The stress of the coronavirus pandemic has created a volatile situation inside many homes, said Professor Mara Olekalns, an expert in negotiations and relational resilience. Olekalns added that the tension has damaged even the most robust partnerships and even ended some marriages.
“Balancing the demands of working from home with added domestic responsibilities such as cooking, cleaning, childcare, and home-schooling is increasing the strain on couples,” Olekalns continued. “Couples working from home during the pandemic face the challenge of balancing work and domestic responsibilities in a way that is fair to both parties.”
Couples navigating this strange new world should negotiate the division of work and how they will manage the boundaries between work and home duties. Here is how:
Don’t avoid talking about the elephants in the room. Things are different now, whether we like it or not. Address small frustrations and annoyances quickly and make a plan around it.
Problems that are ignored grow and emotions that are suppressed intensify. However, couples who treat adversities, both large and small, as opportunities for change are happier and healthier. Moreover, couples who reframe clashes as opportunities to better understand each other’s needs build stronger relationships.
- Find a dynamic equilibrium
Appeasing your partner may keep the peace – at least for a while. You might be the one who usually takes out the trash, unloads the dishwasher or walks the dog. So, your partner implicitly expects you to keep those duties on your do-list, while he or she doesn’t contribute to day-to-day home management. Accommodating your partner’s expectations may be effective in the short term, but it can also generate a slow burn of resentment. In the end, your job performance, marital relationship and mental health will suffer. Instead of accommodating, take time to explain what is important to you and invite your partner to participate in coming up with an equitable solution.
Throwing flames of blame will only boost the fire of frustration. Arguing about who has done more chores, looked after the kids the most, or spent more (uninterrupted) time on work doesn’t resolve anything. Instead, Olekalns recommends couples to make relational thinking and problem solving – rather than blaming – central to their conversation. “While calling out selfish behaviour is tempting and can be cathartic, stating your needs is more effective,” Olekalns adds.
Acknowledge the anxiety-laden context we are currently facing and put yourself in your partner’s shoes. Set your frustration aside and look for possible positive explanations for a partner’s seemingly self-centred actions. By tackling this new and strange beast together, you can renew your commitment to your relationship. Reimagine conflict as a problem-solving task — one you can conquer together.
Once you arrive at a solution, beware of declaring “problem solved”. Implementing agreements always reveals barriers. Revisit your plan regularly to make sure your arrangement is still mutually beneficial. Moreover, you will need to acknowledge that needs will change as external circumstances change. Be prepared to improvise and innovate.
Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/12/how-couples-can-find-balance-while-working-from-home
Fast Company: https://www.fastcompany.com/90489428/how-to-find-a-balance-working-from-home-with-your-spouse-without-driving-each-other-insane