It's no secret that maintaining independence is crucial for a healthy relationship—regardless of current events. Yet, if you and your partner have been working at home due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, it may be time to check in with your sense of self.|
Here's why: When you work and live with the same person, it can be easy to fall into a constant flow of togetherness. This can strain even the healthiest relationships and, ultimately, your own mental wellness.
If you feel like your identities are blurring together, consider these tips for fostering independence as you work from home (WFH). After all, the more space you have to strengthen your sense of individuality, the more you can both show up as the best version of yourselves.
1. Go for a walk or hike alone.
Sure, physical activity may be fun with a partner, but solo outings have perks, too. Not only do they create breathing room for both parties, but they allow you to reconnect with yourself, says Sally Chung, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at Oceanside Psychological Services in Seattle. Solo excursions are also prime time for processing information and feelings that may be difficult to handle with other people around, she adds, which is crucial for coping with these stressful times.
2. Set work hours.
Though this can be difficult if you're new to WFH, it's key for shaping your perception of independence. Designating work hours makes it easy for your partner to know when you're on the clock—and therefore, need to be alone. It also solidifies boundaries and promotes separation, making the time you do spend together more meaningful.
3. Pick a sanctuary space for each person.
Even if you live in a small apartment, consider having separate "alone time" areas. This can be as simple as the balcony or an armchair in the corner. Look at each space as a personal refuge; when one of you is in their designated spot, it will signal to the other person that you need "me time," says Chung. Cramped for space? Try "rearranging furniture or creating barriers in rooms," suggests Benson Munyan, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and director of Neurocove Behavioral Health in Orlando.
4. Use signals.
If having separate areas isn't possible, try using signals, Chung recommends. Think: closing doors, wearing headphones or attaching a "working" sign to your laptop. Be honest about what each signal means for you, too. (For example, "It's okay to interrupt me if it's important" versus "Do not disturb.") By using nonverbal cues to indicate your needs, you'll create more opportunities to care for yourself, while the other person can practice respecting that.
5. Share a calendar.
It might sound counterintuitive, but a mutual calendar is an excellent tool for maintaining independence. For starters, it's "a preventative measure against avoidable intrusions that might otherwise chip away at personal space," explains Munyan. It also provides a clear reference for how you expect to use your time, which facilitates communication, he adds.
To help the practice stick, pick a format (paper, digital, whiteboard) that works for your lifestyle as a couple. Use it to track upcoming activities like Zoom meetings, online fitness classes or even those aforementioned solo walks.
6. Remember it's a two-way street.
"If you feel you need some space, it's possible you're not the only one," notes Munyan. As such, try not to take it personally when your partner's the one planning a solo hike or relaxing in their sanctuary spot. Instead, use this time to exercise compassion and remind yourself that their needs are just as important as yours.
After months of living and working with the same person in the same space, it can feel frustrating to not have it all figured out. Keep in mind, though, that we're living in an unprecedented moment in history, something for which no couple could have ever been prepared. But with time, practice and patience, it is possible to maintain your independence—and your relationship—by working together.