I take thee in sickness and in health, but no one ever mentioned in social distancing…

24th March 2020

As everyone keeps saying, these are unprecedented times and it’s fair to say that life has changed in unimaginable ways, and to an unimaginable extent, in these past 10 days. But what does that mean for the thousands of couples who are now working from home, together, for the first time?

I’ll admit that day one of working from home with my husband was much more challenging than I could have ever imagined, and apparently, more challenging than he could have ever imagined too! At the end of that first day, he turned and said to me “it’s going to be a long few weeks…”.

Another stumbling block has been our individual responses to the various pieces of Government advice about Covid-19, social distancing, self-isolation and how that was going to impact on us for the foreseeable future. It reminded me of those couples who had voted differently on Brexit and subsequently questioned whether they really knew their partner at all.

As a divorce lawyer, you see the pitfalls that couples find themselves in and when left unaddressed for sustained periods of time, those pitfalls become huge canyons that become too big to cross. Two of these pitfalls are differences in communication and differences in how you resolve conflict and I can see how both of these issues, likely along with different approaches to money, could start to test even the strongest of relationships at this time.

So, as we find ourselves spending more time with our other halves than ever before (and for those with children, with our children than before), is there anything we, as couples, can do to help weather this storm? Absolutely, and here are just a few suggestions:

  1. Talk about it – whether it’s about your fears over what’s going on in the world or about the fact you’re getting infuriated with being asked every hour if you want a cup of tea. It’s important to talk and equally important to listen.
  2. Understand that both your jobs are equally important (irrespective of who gets paid more) – with schools now closed for the foreseeable future, lots of couples are also having to juggle childcare with work. Commit to a plan as to how you are both going to be able to work and care for your children, all the while being respectful of each other’s need to have time in the day to concentrate on work. Perhaps one of you could be on childcare duties in the morning, the other in the afternoon.
  3. Learn each other’s work routines – unless you and your partner already work together, it’s likely that you’re going to learn a lot about them and how they conduct their working day over these coming months. The quicker you know what a “working day” entails for them, the quicker you can figure out how you can both get on with your working days without getting in each other’s way.
  4. Ensure your home remains more home than office – it will be harder to separate home life from work life, especially if your office is now your kitchen table. Why not leave your house at the end of your working day, go for a walk around the block, come home and let your evening start.
  5. Laughter is a key part of any successful relationship and trying to find the funny side in even the most unnerving of times is always going to be beneficial. For example, this tweet from @mollytolsky has provided much light relief in my household “Pro-tips for couples suddenly working from home together: Get yourself an imaginary co-worker to blame things on. In our apartment, Cheryl keeps leaving her dirty water cups all over the place and we really don’t know what to about her“.
  6. Appreciate and acknowledge what you have achieved together – getting through every day, irrespective of its ups and downs, is a particular achievement during these times. It’s important that you acknowledge this and focus on the long game so in the future when people are talking about Covid-19 and all we had to endure, you and your partner will be able to say, “it was tough, but we got through it”.

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