Kids, and working. Ja.
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  • Alexandra Stockwell is a relationship and intimacy expert.
  • As some companies settle in for remote work for the long term, couples who live together are facing a new challenge.
  • To survive this time, couples need to prioritise three different things: their relationship, time alone, and working successfully.
  • Here are nine strategies for becoming successful long-term coworkers while keeping your relationship strong.
  • Visit Business Insider SA's homepage for more stories.

In order to maintain vibrancy and long term health in intimate relationships, it's key to find new ways to navigate the day-to-day stress on couples that results from working from home. What may have worked for the initial phase of suddenly sheltering in place in the context of a global pandemic won't necessarily be adequate going forward. Many companies are transitioning their employees to working from home for the long term - and this means couples who live together are facing a whole new set of challenges.

Ensuring a relationship survives this compression requires a couple to prioritise three different aspects of their experience: the relationship, time alone, and working successfully.

Using these nine strategies can create excellent outcomes and set you up for relationship success through explicitly nurturing your relationship, spending time apart, and creating a positive work environment for both of you.

1. Prioritise your time together as partners

Employers may worry that working from home leads people to spend less time working, and more time with their families. In my experience coaching hundreds of couples, I have found it far more likely that the opposite happens. People become obsessed with work, and instead of bringing their attention to their loved ones, they keep working late at night and on weekends, less inclined to truly be "off."

This is especially true of entrepreneurs.

If you or your partner have this tendency, it is essential to create clear boundaries around work. Set specific start and end times and don't check work emails after dinner. It's also important to keep yourself from focusing mental energy on work challenges while with your partner. When you spend time together, prioritise connecting with one another and nurturing your relationship.

2. Create meaningful routines

Experiment with fun ways to transition into the work day, and back out of it. Do you want to kiss one another goodbye as if you were leaving for work, and embrace again at the end of the day? Dressing for work and changing into more casual clothes at the end of the day certainly provides a good transition. Another option is to take a walk together at the end of the work day, to assist your transition from office mates to loving partners.

Have dinner and spend evenings together if that's what you used to do when working in an office. (If you didn't spend evenings together, maybe it's time to start.)

Plan for date night once a week. Get dressed up. Enjoy special food. Dance, look through your wedding album or photos from trips you've taken together. Do karaoke, cook something new, or work on a puzzle together. Mix things up and don't default to Netflix every time. Even if you are in the same location the vast majority of the time, this is your life and it's a wonderful time to make special memories with one another.

3. Pick a shared project

One of the best ways to cultivate connection is to have a common goal. Couples bond over projects they do together.

Do you have a shed that needs to be cleaned out, organised, and painted? Have you been wanting to learn French together? Are you history buffs who enjoy listening to an audiobook together?

Consider reading a book for couples and doing the exercises together, in order to bring more awareness to your relationship and increase the intimacy. Two good options are "Getting the Love You Want" and "Uncompromising Intimacy."

At some point you will be spending more time with other people again - just imagine if your relationship is stronger and you are both more in love and more passionate when it happens.

4. Spend time apart

One of the most challenging aspects of working from home - and being so limited in social interactions with others - is that it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on marriages and romantic partnerships to fulfil all social needs.

No single relationship can ever achieve that, so being a great partner means making a point of getting social/emotional needs met in a variety of ways, with lots of different people - even though you are physically near one another all the time.

Nourish yourself. Take a bubble bath. Chat over Zoom with your friends. Organise the garage. Exercise. Journal. Whatever it is that nourishes you, make sure you are doing it. It is essential for you, and in turn it is essential for your relationship.

5. Take breaks on your own

Even though you are both at home, resist the temptation to connect whenever you aren't working. You both need your work time, your together time, and your alone time, and breaks during the workday is optimal for alone time.

Plus being together every day will invariably have you feel annoyed from time to time. Taking breaks separately helps "decompress any tension" that has built up and has you feeling glad to reconnect at the end of the day.

6. Set yourself up for success

Key to enjoying your relationship is having both of you feel supported in your work. Even if one of you earns significantly more than the other, or has more responsibility, it is essential to honour each one of you and your respective needs as a professional. Avoid the trap of feeling that your work is more important, and don't undermine your partner's ability to do theirs.

7. Have a planning meeting to set yourselves up for success

Identify what you need to be successful working from home. What kind of work space do you need? Do you need privacy, or space to spread out? Do you need quiet? Are there snacks you like to have on hand? You know what you need, and it's important that your partner knows too. Make sure to ask your partner what they need as well.

Set a time to discuss this, just as you would for a business meeting. Take turns sharing - first focus on what one of you needs, and then focus on what the other one needs. Once you both know what each of you needs, you have all the information necessary to create a win-win situation. Be collaborative and think outside the box, until you are sure that each of you will get what you need to thrive.

Plan to meet weekly at first, and then monthly, to update one another on how it is working out for each of you. Are there adjustments that need to be made? Are there new needs? Treat this like an important business planning meeting - because it is!

8. Designate work spaces for each of you

Each of you needs to have an area where you are sovereign, where you can easily find what you need, and can handle your own affairs as you wish. If you don't have two offices, one of you can use the kitchen table and the other the bedroom.

Don't meddle with your partner's workstation and don't think of it as a shared space - treat it the same way you would a coworker's, and refrain from criticising how it is organised.

9. During working hours, ask if you can interrupt

Don't assume that since your partner is nearby, they are available for a quick conversation. Instead, interact with the same level of respect you would have for a coworker's time and workflow, and confirm they are available prior to communicating. Many people assume work requires dedicated time and attention, and de facto assume their relationship will be resilient. That is often true in the short term, but over the long term it is not.

Therefore it is essential to arrange your lives so that both people thrive in work, both people have some time to themselves, and both people genuinely prioritise the time spent with one another. As it turns out, putting attention on all three is the best way to insure a relationship against the stressors of indefinitely working from home!

Alexandra Stockwell MD is a relationship and intimacy expert. She is the bestselling author of "Uncompromising Intimacy" and the creator of Heat Up Your Marriage in 10 Days.

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