Realistic expectations for couples working from home
Updated: Apr 15
Divorce and separation has been on the rise in the UK since the pandemic began....or has it?
According to an article by the BBC, divorce rates are soaring, not just in the UK, but also around the world. Stewarts, a leading law firm in the UK “logged a 122% increase in enquiries between July and October, compared with the same period last year”, with countries such as China, Sweden and the US showing similar trends.
Many experts are expecting this trend to rise, particularly as many couples come gasping for breath out of the Christmas holidays at the best of times anyway, and we are entering a 3rd lockdown in the UK.
However an article from the family law website Todaysfamilylawyer.co.uk suggests that maybe things aren’t as bad as all that.
It cites a report by the marriage foundation that found ‘twice as many unions improved during the pandemic than made worse’ and that ‘Only 10% (of participants) said their relationship had deteriorated in the pandemic, whereas one in five married couples said their relationship became stronger’.
Although in the same article they do quote Boris Johnson’s divorce lawyer, Neil Russell, who says if their firm’s activity is anything to go by, divorce rates are definitely rising. But he does concede that those with strong marriages going into a pandemic are likely to have strengthened them by going through such a challenging time together.
'If you’ve got a good marriage then you’re likely to have improved your marriage, because you’ve spent more time together and you’ve been able to enjoy it.' - Neil Russell
So maybe a pandemic is the ideal health test for romantic relationships! If you come out with yours intact, you know you have a good one.
But it doesn't happen by accident. Couples who stay together do so because they consciously put strategies in place in order to adapt. The changes they make can be very small and simple, but they go a long way to stop couples reaching breaking point.
What struggles do couples face?
There are many reasons couples have separated during the pandemic…
· The arrangement of the domestic workload remaining imbalanced.
· Partners realising they don't have that much to say to each other.
· Mental health problems
A study in Canada has found that Feeling anxious or experiencing sleep problems occur equally between people who are single or in couples. Having a partner with you when you are struggling mentally does not always equate to having support.
· No more leisure activities = no more time apart to recharge.
This is especially hard if you are of a different personality type to your partner. Introverts may relish the lack of social interaction, whereas an extrovert will find the lack of stimulation extremely frustrating.
· Removal of routines that give comfort and meaning
· Or simply different expectations of how to be around the house. One person might be very messy, or very loud when at work. While the other is trying to get as far away as they possibly can!
How can couples working from home do it successfully?
We gathered a list of common tips for couples working from home that have surfaced across the internet, and we spoke to several women of couples who survived the first two lockdowns in the UK to get their thoughts.
Tip #1: Get out of bed at the same time every day.
All of our couples have children. So when faced with toddlers who are early risers, plus home schooling, this is an enforced routine anyway!
But it seems it is very important to start the day off with structure and purpose.
Stephanie Darkes is a marketing manager for a care company, owner of www.exploringexeter.co.uk, freelance writer and mother of two. So her day ahead is guaranteed to be full.
‘I get up between 6 or 6.30 am every day to run. It is how I guarantee time by myself and it keeps me sane!’
Bethany, a solicitor in Exeter, says ‘I make sure that everyone is washed and dressed. I don’t allow any sitting around in pyjamas. That is non-negotiable.’
Bethany also likes to do her hair and make up each day as if she is still going outside to the office:
'Work is more difficult if I don't look and feel ready.' -Bethany
Plus by doing this she feels the rest of the house matches her vibe of being ready for the day.
Tip #2: Divide up the household chores and be clear who is doing what and when.
All of the women we asked said the first lockdown was generally spent muddling through the home schooling, cooking and house maintenance.
The lion's share usually fell to the woman, because it seems that men don't get bothered by mess as much!
Stephanie said that she learnt her lesson during the first two lock downs.
'Rather than have to battle with my husband and then lose the plot, we now have a cleaner, and she is worth every penny!' Stephanie
For Bethany, the general childcare and household chores fall to her, despite working in the same firm as her husband with the same responsibilities. But this is because of how differently the children view mummy and daddy's work.
'For some reason the children seem to think that daddy's work is more important and will walk right past him if they need any help. They always come to me.'
She also says that conference calls with children yelling demands in the background are also a regular occurrence for her, but not her husband.
Tip# 3: Make your workspace nice
For our couples working from home, this was met with some laughter!
Again this comes down to expectations. Stephanie has an office space that she was sharing with her husband, but she was forced to vacate it to save her sanity.
'He is just so messy, and I need a clear space to work!' Stephanie
Bethany also leaves her husband in the office while she works in her bedroom on her dressing table.
'Working and sleeping in the same room is a struggle mentally' - Bethany
For Charlene Langley, owner of Moments to Media film and photography nurse at 111, and mum of three, it is not so easy either:
'There is just no way we can create a beautiful workspace! Me and my husband just both have our lap tops out and the kids run around making a mess!'
Tip #4: Get outside at least once a day
Charlene and her husband implemented a coping strategy during lockdown that enabled them to both grab some headspace amongst the intensity of working and home schooling:
'We implemented a 3 hour rule. We gave each other 3 hours a day to spend however we liked. It could be for work, housework or exercise, so we could be away from the children with no worries.'
Running for Bethany is her way to get outside:
'I either go running, or get out to the supermarket! My husband makes sure he has a walk on his own once a day.'
Tip #5: Speak up about your needs
Charlene said that her and her husband have been together for 20 years and are pretty good at listening to one and other.
'We really don't want to feel like we are taking the mick, so we are very mindful of what the other needs, and good at communicating that.' Charlene
Both Stephanie and Bethany said that it usually takes a blow out for any changes to be made, but that gradually everyone learns to adjust to the other person.
'Progress can definitely be slow but you learn how to be respectful of each other's space.' Stephanie
Tip #6: Don't be too hard on each other
Bethany says 'Lockdown 3 is much harder. Everyone is very bored.'
This was the general consensus of everyone. It is much tougher this time around.
Tip #7: Create a 'home time'
This is tough to stick to, especially for parents who have to catch up on work lost to home schooling, or for those living the freelance life.
Bethany says 'I create a routine around the children so that I can cook their dinner and see to their needs, but then I have to catch up on work in the evenings.'
Stephanie's children are attending school during this lockdown so she says couple time can be fitted in during the day.
'The freelance life means I can have lots of deadlines so I need to work into the evening.'
Tip #9: Schedule time alone
All of our couples do this and seems to be the most important rule of them all.
Stephanie and her husband have a 'closed door rule'. This allows them to either catch up on work uninterrupted, or to take some down time with yoga!
'When the door is closed, we are busy can't be interrupted.' Stephanie
Tip #9: Schedule time as a couple
With children in lockdown, 'scheduling' couple time is not very realistic, seeing as you can't invite any babysitters in.
'Couple time happens by accident' Bethany.
All of our couples take time to do things together once the children are in bed. Maybe for a movie or a glass of wine.
It can be done!
It seems like the key to couples working from home and surviving, is listening to each other and adapting to this new life together.
It is also important to realise that relationship success does not happen by accident. It takes conscious effort, and some creativity, to find what works for you.
And do not compare yourself to other couples if you want to stay sane. A bonus rule that Bethany lives by is to stay away from social media.
'People are irritating! I try to keep my mind in a mental bubble.' - Bethany
So whether you get a cleaner like Stephanie, or making sure your family is always ready for the day like Bethany, or allotting scheduled time for each other to work like Charlene, be gentle with yourself and each other.
Keep your workspace safe and organised
At NEXT DESK we understand how hard it is to create a safe and functional space to work from home. Children and messy partners make this especially hard.
Our desk/office pod was created to address these issues and to make the life of working families easier.
With our foldable and lockable desk, the problem of how to keep everything organised (and away from the kids) is solved easily, with one piece of furniture.
As well as creating a 'beautiful' work space, we have designed a way to create a 'hidden' work space!
The mental benefits of being able to fold all your working materials inside the desk, lock them away and be able to switch off completely are huge.
Like our couples working from home, if the only workspace you can find is in the bedroom, it is extremely hard to relax and unwind knowing that everything is there waiting for you. NEXT DESK removes this problem and keeps your home looking sleek and tidy!
It could be that extra little break you need that makes all the difference.