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Tip # 5 for Couples: Create Boundaries

You’ve been isolated with your partner (and maybe children too) for a few weeks already and some days you feel you’ve got it and other days you are holding your breath, waiting to explode.  If the tension is mounting, it could be a good time to re-examine the structure you’ve set up in this strange new reality of 24/7 at home.

For you and your partner, it doesn’t have to be only about surviving this crisis – holding your breath and getting through each day.  Now is a time that you can develop new ‘muscles’ – better listening, deeper sharing and a more loving, kind way of relating.  You can be the couple with a strong, close connection when this crisis is behind us.

Today’s blog is Tip #5 from my list of  7 Tips for Working at Home with your Partner and Keeping your Relationship Close and Strong

Here are three reasons for you to establish boundaries while working together at home:

To enable your professional work to be as productive as possible.

In the workplace, professionals have optimal conditions to enable you to be industrious, collaborative and creative.  Establishing appropriate space and scheduling for each partner to be as productive as possible is essential – now more than ever – so that you can accomplish tasks, meet deadlines and be accountable to supervisors. 

To continue to feel actualized, autonomous and fulfilled as an individual.

In healthy relationships, each individual has the space and the capacity to maintain a sense of self and to recharge, independent of the relationship. In a normal routine, individuals have time alone – commuting, shopping, meeting friends, walking or working out alone.  In order to feel connected as a couple, each individual needs independence, autonomy and personal fulfillment. It is crucial that individuals have down time, an opportunity to blow off steam and breathe. This is not a selfish desire – even now. Without alone time, one partner’s tensions will spill over into the relationship.

To keep the emotional connection and passion in your relationship alive.

Couples need a balance of separate time and togetherness to keep the emotional connection close and strong.  Some claim that if you love each other, you should always want to be together.  Maybe this is true on weekends or vacations, but in everyday life it is fine to say that you love someone and need space from them. When one or two of the partners work outside of the home, you separate each morning and reconnect in the evening, you have a regular cycle of closeness and distance.

There is a danger that couples will significantly reduce their emotional connection and passion as they are spending all or most of the day together in the same house, fulfilling work and home responsibilities simultaneously, often in the constant presence of children.

In the words of brilliant relationships expert, Esther Perel:

Love likes to shrink the distance that exists between me and you, while desire is energized by it. If intimacy grows through repetition and familiarity, eroticism is numbed by repetition. Love is about having: desire is about wanting. An expression of longing, desire requires ongoing elusiveness.  But too often, as couples settle into the comforts of love, they case to fan the flame of desire. They forget that fire needs air.

Here are five suggestions for you to establish boundaries while working together at home:

1 –  Create separate physical space for each partner to work.

Be clear about what your needs are for your workspace. One person may need to spread out and leave books and papers on a table all day.  Another may need a noise-free area for meetings. Set up separate areas of the house or at least separate corners of a home office for each person. Check in to see that the designated space is still working for both partners.  Aim for zero criticism of the other’s clutter or super neatness.

2 – Create a schedule that clearly delineates work hours, together moments and alone time for each partner.

Make it a priority for each partner to be alone for at least one chunk of time each day. Create a plan for separate breaks – alone time in the kitchen, bedroom or porch.  Allow for the times that one person needs to concentrate deeply, come up with a creative plan or have a private meeting with a colleague or friend. Try not to take it personally if your partner asks for extra alone time.  

Headphones are a good way for one to be alone if s/he needs to be in the presence of the other. 

3 – Be mindful of your mood and try not to allow work stress and annoyance to spill over to your partner.

Emotions are contagious and affect the entire space and people around you. As you would in your office with co-workers, try to be optimistic and keep your frustrated outbursts to a minimum while your partner is working. Use your resources – a colleague or friend –  to unload your stress and don’t vent all of your work frustrations to your partner just because s/he’s there.  If you are feeling irritated – step away from your partner or schedule a time later to talk about it (as you would during a regular workday).

4 – Try not to distract each other.

When you are working you are working. Communicate your work style and preferences (for example, complete quiet, air conditioning or heat, music in the background, no interruptions) and respect each other’s different needs.  Send a text if necessary. Use headphones.

5 – Separate personal and family issues from the workday.

Try as much as possible to keep personal disagreements out of your home office and distinct from your work hours.

Create your own set of boundaries that work for you as a couple in your particular situation.  Make a quiet time for the conversation and listen closely to the other’s requests and do whatever you can to accommodate and be flexible. This is an opportunity to be generous and compassionate to one another and to grow together.



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