So many of us are #safeathome right now, which is why tons of you are reaching out to me saying things like, “My husband is driving me crazy.” I get it. This is one of the many problems with Husband working from home (or partner of any type!). Work from home challenges are real enough when you don’t have another person invading what feels like YOUR space. Since Husband and I are both working from home right now, I’ve compiled a list of tips based on questions you asked to help couples working from home.
Tips for Couples Working from Home
There are a lot of things you can do to make working from home easier, but they depend largely on the space you have available and your family dynamic.
This is a list of ideas that are working well for Husband and me because, admittedly, I’m loving having him here more!
(1) Have separate spaces
I realize this isn’t a luxury everyone has–say, if you live in a tiny inner-city Apartment–but if it’s an option, find separate spaces you can use to work.
We got super lucky in the timing of this. Our Atlanta home is far enough outside the city center to have some good square footage, and I set up a home office in January after too long in coffee shops and coworking spaces.
We’d also just cleaned out a room we don’t use much literally the week before our family’s shelter-in-place began, so Husband has used that as his office. It’s been a life saver.
Don’t have space? Get creative!
Divide the kitchen table into sides and designate what areas of the table belong to each person.
Or set up a folding table in the bedroom so the living and dining areas can remain family space.
This is an especially helpful plan if you are swapping kid duties, i.e. one partner stays “home” with the kids while the other tries to get work done!
(2) Set work time boundaries
Husband and I have always been very clear about boundaries, and I think it’s one of the reasons we work so well together. We know each other’s limits, when to push, and when to stop pushing. (Admittedly, I miss more cues to stop pushing than he does!)
Our ability to set boundaries has been hugely important since he started working from home. For instance, lunch.
Husband is used to going out to lunch with coworkers or vendors. Every. single. Day.
I am accustomed to hoping I have food in the house when I get hungry, grabbing it, and getting back to work.
So imagine my frustration when he waltzed into my office one day, asked if I’d join him for lunch, only for me to go upstairs and realize he wanted to:
- Choose something to order
- Order it
- Wait for it to arrive
- Sit down and eat it together
Do you know how much time that takes????
Husband could manage the time because he kept taking work calls while we waited. But I work on a computer all day long. If I wasn’t in my office, I wasn’t working.
So we set some ground rules. I will take a break to eat lunch with him because I know that helps him mentally, but I will only come eat under the following circumstances:
- Delivery food must already have arrived OR homemade food must be ready to go when I go upstairs
- He doesn’t take phone calls while we eat
- Lunch time is limited to 30 minutes
Boundaries are game changers for couples working from home. Don’t be afraid to have that conversation with your partner; it will only help, not hurt, as we’re all stuck together right now.
(3) Set non-work boundaries
Can you tell we REALLY believe in boundaries in my house?
So here’s the thing. Unless you both have designated office spaces at home, yours and your partners’ work and home lives are very blurred right now.
Boundaries can help. There are tons of ways you can set them, including:
- Time: certain times of the day are for work; others are not
- Space: work is off limits in certain spaces
- Cell phone usage: cell phones often lead to working, so putting phones away for a designated time can foster good “together” time, which is especially helpful if you’re frustrated by your partner being around so much, and yet you feel like you have little quality time together
(4) No judgment!
I am not used to having Husband here while I work from home. I also have an immunodeficiency that makes me require far more sleep than your average person.
Normally, Husband doesn’t notice how much later than him I sleep because he goes to work. Now, he’s in the room next to our bedroom on phone calls while I’m slowly dragging my weary body out of bed.
And you know what he doesn’t say? “You tell me you’re tired from working all day, but I was up and working 2 hours before you today!”
You know what I don’t say? “You seriously take an hour long lunch break every single day? I’m happy if I remember to eat!”
I actually had to wrack my brain to come up with these examples because one thing that’s great about our marriage is that we know each other’s faults, but we’re very careful not to judge them. Because we’re human, and we all have them.
Main point: you do not get to micromanage how your partner goes about getting their work done, and they do not get to do that to you. Couples working from home are in a full-time no judgment zone!
I’ve actually had a couple of people reach out to say “Help! Working from home is ruining my marriage!” I believe it. Boundaries that include lack of judgment can seriously save what’s being lost.
(4) Date — at home
Our lives all look different right now. Some of you are stuck in a small space with just two people. Others have kids running around and the idea of a “date” sounds utterly preposterous.
But try to have one anyway.
Maybe it’s one night where you put away phones, turn off the TV, cook dinner together, and eat on your balcony/patio/porch.
Too many kids running around? Maybe it’s a pre-planned movie night with popcorn after they go to bed.
Heck, maybe it’s taking a walk together in your neighborhood, or exercising side by side on your living room floor.
Finding something not work related to connect over will help you separate from your working at home stress.
(5) Get outside, if possible
I give this advice to everyone right now, not just couples working from home.
But it’s especially pertinent here. Whether it’s sitting on a tiny balcony or taking a walk on gorgeous trails behind your house (if it’s the latter, please tell me where you live so I can go there if we’re ever quarantined again), getting outside relaxes you.
It gives you vitamin D.
It’s a change of scenery.
And it’s a clear non-work space! Remember that thing about separating spaces? It’s super important here!
Also, there’s a sociological concept at work. The idea of “third places” originated as a way to strengthen a sense of community, something we’re all desperately lacking during social distancing. But they also bring an innate level of personal satisfaction.
Normally, your spaces look like this:
- Somewhere else (coffee shops, restaurants, parks, ball fields, breweries, etc.)
Right now, many of us have lost #s 2 and 3. And that’s a really huge problem for our own emotional health.
Getting outside helps you at least regain a second place. And right now, we need those places. I can get community from a Zoom happy hour with friends, and it’s awesome–but I’m doing it from my office, which is part of my home and thus both my first and second space. It blends the spaces.
Getting outside physically gives you a second place, and trust me, you need that.
(6) Move your bodies together
Again, this is something I recommend to everyone right now, but doing it together can be huge! Taking a walk, doing yoga on the living room floor, or even working together to clean the house can do so much good.
Or, obviously, you could have sex. That’s obvious, but many people are reporting lower sex drive since isolation began, and it’s definitely a good way to connect if you’re both on the same page about it!
By moving your bodies (sexually or otherwise), you accomplish something that makes you feel physically better, and you know the other person did, as well. There’s also a sense of camaraderie in accomplishing the task!
(7) Divide chores
This goes back to boundaries. Instead of having to get frustrated because you don’t feel like your partner is pulling their weight (especially since they’re now producing more dishes, trash, recycling, etc. by working from home!), talk about what needs to be accomplished each day.
Download the Anylist app and create a shared list of items that need to be accomplished each day, each week, each month. (I suggest a separate list for each).
Then, agree that you won’t go to bed until your daily items are done, and set a day of the week and month to complete those rarer items.
Assign each person different tasks that you agree upon (so yes, this takes preparation together). Each day, you can mark off items, then unmark everything the next day.
This will allow you both to know what needs to be accomplished without feeling like you’re nagging each other.
When you’re sharing a space and already short of temper, it’s more important than ever to have systems that keep you from getting on each other’s nerves!
(8) Establish the need and mechanism for alone time
Is one of you finding that you need time for peace and quiet in a way you didn’t before? That might be because you used to get it, say, in the car.
If that’s the case, find a way to try to “gift” that time to one another. Even if it’s just a few minutes a day, showing that you care enough to allow each other that time is really important.
It’s also a time when you can decompress, which again, will improve your mood in general.
(9) Don’t ask for things you don’t need
Remember, all of our fuses are a little short right now. So if you don’t need your partner to get you water, then get it yourself. But if you’ve been wrangling kids all day, or you have a call to take, or you’re just exhausted, then ask away.
Being courteous will go a long way in not annoying each other, especially when you’re already struggling with problems with your husband working from home.
(10) Do ask for what you DO need
We have a tendency to wait for people to realize what we need. Trust me, this is always a bad idea.
When your fuse is short, there’s no room for resentment over the fact that your partner didn’t realize you were hoping they would realize the sink was full and load the dishwasher. Just ask.
Dividing chores in advance will help with some of this. But still, we all have needs that go well beyond chores. I had a really hard day the other day, so I knocked on Husband’s “office” door, and he indicated it was a good time for me to come in.
“Can I just have a hug?” I asked.
Of course he was concerned. “What’s wrong? What happened? Is everything okay?”
But the truth was that nothing specific happened. I was just struggling in general and needed a hug. So he gave me one. And it changed my entire mood.
Make sure it’s a good time for your partner, especially if during work hours. But seriously, ask for what you need.
Talking to your partner about your needs can be hard, but my friend Melanie has created an amazing notebook to help you show your gratitude toward each other and communicate clearly.
(11) Make stop signs
Literally or not. I don’t care. Think of this as the adult version of the old college putting a sock on the door.
Maybe put a post-it on your door when it’s inappropriate for your partner to intrude.
Create a “safe” word that actually just means go away. Looking at your partner and saying, “Yellow canary, honey,” sure sounds a lot better than a frustrated, “Get the hell out of my space!”
Erica from Mom Break actually created a printable stop sign you can grab from her pool of resources in “Kid Activities for Dummies.” It’s meant to be a sign to keep your kids out when you’re working, but there’s no reason it can’t work for your partner too!
(12) Go to bed at the same time
Or if you don’t, have a reason for it. Maybe this is your alone time. For me, this is when I read a book and Husband watches TV or FaceTimes his parents.
But we don’t do that every night. We’re working hard on going to bed at the same time more nights.
Why? We’re constantly in the same space right now, but with minimal physical contact. Going to bed inherently means physical contact, and that’s comforting. It also helps us create some consistency and schedule, which is super necessary right now.
Not sure if this is the best move for you and your partner? Check out this super helpful article from Psychology Today to determine what’s right for your relationship!
(13) Give each other grace
Life is weird right now, y’all. It just is.
We’re all a little anxious.
We all want things to return to normal.
We’re all worried for our loved ones.
We’re all worried for medical workers.
We all wish our kids could go back to school.
We all hate that people are missing important, but “elective” medical procedures, and that infertility moms are struggling with canceled IVF cycles.
We all wish pregnant moms could be comfortable in knowing they won’t be stuck giving birth alone at the hospital.
Everyone is struggling in some way.
Give your partner some grace, and request the same for yourself.
Are you having problems with husband working from home? Tell us how you’re coping!
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, mom, recurrent miscarriage survivor, & owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society puts too many expectations on women that make womanhood and motherhood restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Romper, Scary Mommy, Demeter Press’s Motherhood and Social Exclusion, & more.