Sharing your workspace, chores, and kids

relationship difficulties

We’re hearing reports from all over that marital stress is escalating. This is particularly true for couples who both work from home and have kids underfoot. 

Here are 13 pragmatic ways to avoid marital stress, get your work done, and take care of your kids. But we must warn you in advance, we’re going to abandon some “common sense” along the way.

If there’s one theme that these 13 tips have in common, it’s that “good enough” will have to do.

We know it’s bad… But consider scaling back your talk about recent events

We’re getting overwhelmed with the daily news and everything we have to take in. It seems every day has a month’s worth of news.

It tends to make us feel anxious. While it’s crucial to stay on top of daily developments, you both should limit the amount of time you spend exposing yourselves to the daily news.

While current events are something we all need to be aware of, continually talking about it will only create more marital stress.

On the other hand, don’t try to manage your partner’s anxiety by minimizing

In most relationships, there is often one spouse partner who worries more than their partner does.

The problem is that the low-worry partner often attempts to manage their spouse’s anxiety by minimizing or dismissing their concerns. This can often lead to increased marital stress.

If your partner is anxious, it’s essential to hear them out. They will calm down when they feel heard. Most likely, they just want to talk it out and will feel better if you just listen and try to understand.

Once it’s clear that you are validating your partner’s concerns, they will likely calm down. It’s important to ask them what you can do to help them feel safe. For a lot of people, they just need to be heard and validated, which basically would mean the partner saying, ‘Yeah, I can see how stressful this is, I know you are worried, how can I help you? How can I meet your needs?”

Make a habit of checking in and attending to one another throughout the day

A great way to ensure regular communication with your partner is to check in with each other throughout the day. Discuss what you each feel is working, what needs improvement.

“I would really recommend couples are taking time each day at this point — because everything is changing. Every day it’s evolving, every minute almost. Sit down and say what went well today, what do we need to do differently tomorrow, how can I shine for you tomorrow?”.

Homeschooling doesn’t work for every family… So stop feeling guilty

More schooling is being done from home now. Your kids are home, and you’re worried about them falling behind. It’s more important that you have firm rituals and routines.

Is little Jimmy formatting your excel spreadsheets?

Is Carla applying her seventh-grade know-how by helping you edit that new policy manual for the Denver office? I didn’t think so.

Unless your kids are really little or have special needs, don’t take too much time away from your job to help them with their job.

And their job is to be little kids, trying their best to learn at home.

I’m sure their school is establishing some sort of routine or protocol. And I’m sure you’re intimately familiar with it. Sure, create an academic routine with schedules and breaks.

But don’t micromanage them. Your kids are more robust than you think…and they might be under more pressure than you realize. Don’t add to it. Or add to your marital stress.

This is no time to be a perfectionist, strive for “good enough”

Cut yourself some slack here. Don’t have a kid-centric household. I’m not telling you to engage in benign neglect, but a relaxed attitude toward homeschooling, if homeschool is what you decided on, would be a more resilient stance.

Or you can choose to send your child back to school, now that most are open and functioning normally. 

Will they fall behind if you homeschool and can’t give your full attention? Maybe. Will they fail? Sometimes. You’re not a grammar school teacher. Don’t try to be one. Set up a structure and discuss your expectations. And inspect what you expect. But don’t go overboard. There is just too much on your adult plates right now. They can catch up later…but Denver is calling now.

Here’s another idea. Maybe you could show them what you do?

Talk about the merits of Excel. Or what a policy manual is used for. This time they’re spending with you at home will be genuinely memorable. Build their curiosity. Show them what your job entails and encourage their curious questions.

Revealing your work-life to your kids might be a powerful, meaningful interaction that they will remember years from now.

Just remember, choosing to go a different route than homeschool is okay too.

Live by a schedule: establish routines, rituals, and protocols for your kids

Routines are an elegant necessity right now. Why do I say elegant? Because routines do several important things for your kids at the same time.

  1. Routines offer security and predictability during an otherwise insecure and unpredictable time.
  2. A schedule focuses on something that your kids have control over…how they spend their time.
  3. Structured time builds discipline, goal-oriented behavior, and manages expectations. This builds character and helps kids stay emotionally regulated. Structure equals security.

Go old school and avoid marital stress from technology squabbles

Perhaps families spent on screens all day might benefit by revisiting life before technology. Skip the electronics (besides, you’ll need the bandwidth more than they do). Struggling with your kids over devices has been a perennial source of modern marital stress.

Read aloud…to your children and to each other. For children, break out the craft kits. Teach new skills to them like baking.

Watch family-friendly movies together. Before doing anything with your kids, ask yourself… Will this activity build a sense of normalcy and routine?

This is really important. Teach your kids that there are ways to be challenged and stimulated that do not require electronic devices. Their experiences being stretched in novel low-tech ways may have a lasting, positive impact on their development.

We are all living in history, and memories are being made every day. Play a board game together or have a dance party as a family. We’re all together now, so let’s use this time to build a connection and create memories.

Don’t just eat together… Make meals together

Food has an even more profound significance now, as you may prepare it more at home. Preparing meals in advance is another elegant way you can decrease your marital stress by better managing time while teaching your kids new skills, and coming together as a family. But perhaps the main benefit of preparing meals in advance  is that it saves valuable time during peak working hours.

Recruit your kids into doing chores

Let’s face it. Couples and families who are self-isolating together should anticipate juggling a larger-than-normal amount of housework. The Gottman Intervention Negotiating Power, Who Does What is ideal for this purpose.

To help avoid conflict, couples should negotiate around their power dynamics and skillfully assign chores.

Give chores to your kids. Seriously though, having your kids fully engaged as working members of the household with age-appropriate chores will reduce your marital stress and help reinforce a regular routine for them. The better you are as a couple, the more they will succeed in the future.

Communicate with skill to avoid marital stress

To avoid marital stress, you both need to ramp up your communication. Don’t mind-read or think you know how your partner feels about something. Thoughts and feelings for both of you will need to be articulated clearly and often.

Couples tell us that the reason they’re looking for some good couples therapy or coaching online is that they both crave a communication upgrade. We can definitely help with that.

Work boundaries work

Both working from home? You’ll both need to carve out a workspace. How will you do that? Who will be where…when? And for how long? You’ll need excellent communication skills, To avoid marital stress, have a conversation about what social distance means, as well as your agreed-upon boundaries and shared expectations. How will you know when not to disturb each other?  How can you signal that an interruption is welcome?

Couples need to set boundaries, and have a really clear conversation about what their needs and expectations are about working from home, and set hours of the day for a no-disturbance zone from this hour to this hour.

Keep your network secure

One work boundary that you absolutely must look at is your network security at home. My friend Bruce Harrison at Malwarebytes offers these essential tips. Please keep in mind that the bad guys are working overtime to compromise the presumptively weaker security of home-based networks and they’re using fake WHO emails about the latest current events to accomplish this!

Care for one another, and be lovingly attentive… Keep an eye on each other

You, better than anyone, know your spouses’ strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots. You’re both moving through an incredible moment in history.

Keep an eye on each other. Make healthy suggestions. Breaks. Walks in nature. Lunch together. Turning in early. Marital stress is a common enemy.

This loving engagement may sometimes require a gentle confrontation with painful concerns. So make sure you always use a softened startup.

Look out for each other. Have each other’s back. Accept that both of you may occasionally tend to push your endurance beyond healthy limits.

Gently steer each other back into a healthy balance.  And reach out to us for science-based help to reduce your marital stress at this difficult time.

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