Tips on Coping When You’re Both Working at the Kitchen Table

Absence, it’s said, makes the heart grow fonder. But lockdowns, we’re discovering, risk having the opposite effect. After endless months of being uprooted from our office routine with no business trips or weekend getaways to look forward to, it’s normal to feel claustrophobic, says marriage counselor David Wilchfort.

And it’s easy to blame your partner for stuff that bugs you at home, be it that clumsily loaded dishwasher or a lack of support with home schooling. “Couples need to learn to establish a new rhythm and to communicate clearly,” says Wilchfort, a therapist in Munich.

Being locked down has changed the way we interact with our partner and the amount of time we spend together, so we should articulate our needs and desires, even if it comes across as unnatural or awkward at first. Here are Wilchfort’s suggestions for maintaining harmony after months of working elbow to elbow at the kitchen table.

Take note: Leave notes

Evolution has wired us to be mindful of risk, so we find it easier to identify negative traits than to focus on a person’s good side, which we often take for granted. Try this instead: Set aside one minute each day to recall an enjoyable episode in your partnership in the past 24 hours, and write it down. At the end of the week, share the notes with your partner to relive those moments. Wilchfort has created a website where people can scrawl what he calls “love graffiti” on a virtual wall, with 25,000 entries and counting. “Some people might think that their observations are banal, but it’s exchanging the little positive things that keeps healthy partnerships going,” he says.

Go on dates

Those romantic dinners at your favorite Italian trattoria may be off-limits, but that doesn’t mean you can no longer go on a date. Just use your own home. Make an appointment with your partner for a midmorning cup of coffee at the kitchen table, a glass of wine on the sofa at night, or a candlelight dinner with that Bordeaux or Barolo squirreled away in the basement. “Many couples believe that a good relationship doesn’t require carving out time for dates, but these rendezvous make a good relationship,” Wilchfort says. “And don’t worry that it might feel staged.”

Find “me” time

Spending more time together at home doesn’t mean you have to be denied time to yourself. But it’s important to communicate your needs to your partner to avoid sending signals of rejection. Want to gaze out the kitchen window, drink a cup of coffee in solitude, or read the newspaper in peace for a half-hour? Not a problem if you’ve established your boundaries. “People tend to have an issue telling their partner that they want to be alone and need some space,” Wilchfort says. “It’s perfectly fine as long as it’s clear that it’s your need and nothing against your partner.”

Get stuff done—together

Now’s the perfect time to do the things you thought you didn’t have the time for. Paint the living room. Plan your next vacation. Design a photo book from your most recent trip. Clear out the basement. Dust off those board games. “When you’ve lost your old routine, try to establish a new one by discovering new things with your partner,” Wilchfort says.

Keep it steady

The above tips are going to work only if you follow them regularly. It’s natural to be a bit lazy, but “you feel great after jogging through the rain,” he says. “Picking yourself up is just as invigorating in a partnership.”

The bottom line, he says, is to be open and direct with each other. And it’s helpful to steel ourselves for the inevitable stressful moment—and use it to build a better dynamic in the long run. “Every partnership experiences crises,” Wilchfort says. “Couples should use these as an opportunity to lift their relationship to the next level.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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