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Partners to Coworkers: Covid-19 Is Redefining My Relationship

I never expected my partner to be my coworker. Soulmate? Maybe. Companion? Obviously. Coworker? Absolutely not. I know I should be grateful. We’re both still employed while so many others have been laid off or are otherwise out of work, but sharing the same workspace has put a strain on our relationship and we’ve realized that we have terrible office manners.

I don’t think we were particularly problematic in our actual offices. We never stole lunches, always refilled the coffee pot and used headphones appropriately. When our coworkers annoyed us, we had someone to come home and vent to. The petty squabbles and little annoyances could be left where they belonged: at the office. Now, however, all the little office melodramas are taking place in our home.
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Working from home released us from the unspoken social rules of the office. It’s not just that we now wear pajamas freely and often work in bed. I tap my pen with abandon while she mutters to herself as she works. Twice this week I have eaten leftovers that my partner was saving for her lunch. Meanwhile, she listens to videos on social media without headphones.

Instead of being able to leave, go home, and complain about my new and very annoying coworker, I’m stuck. So instead I grind my teeth, shove headphones in my ears and do my best to ignore the growing resentment.

It’s not a long term solution. If nothing else, Covid-19 has highlighted the serious gaps in communication in our relationship. We don’t take time to tell each other the little things. We don’t address the small hurt feelings and mild resentments as they come up. Instead we bury them.

If our relationship is going to survive the coming (presumptive) months of social distancing, we have to change. A few days ago I took the plunge and started the conversation. The first thing we agreed on was bringing office rules into the home. No pen tapping, lunch items should be labeled, and headphones must be worn. When little annoyances come up, we agree that we have to talk about them.

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If the stakes were lower, if our livelihood didn’t depend on our ability to perform well at our jobs, I don’t think we would be having the same problems. We’ve lived together for a while and have learned to cope with each other’s quirks. She has annoying habits and so do I, but under normal circumstances we are able to dismiss those idiosyncrasies and even find them endearing. There’s no real world effect when we become annoyed or distracted at home.

Now things are different. When I eat her leftovers, she has to spend more time away from her work preparing other food. When she listens to music without headphones, I have a harder time communicating clearly with my boss and coworkers.

It’s frustrating because our home has always been the place where we relax. Beyond making sure our various chores were done, we have never needed to impose rules on our relationship and I’m not sure how these new rules will affect our ability to decompress at the end of the day. We are only following the rules during normal working hours (9:00 to 5:30 on weekdays), but I feel as though we are sacrificing some of the comfort and casual happiness of our relationship in favor of being appropriately productive.

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I’m trying to look on the bright side. Our new policy of communication will hopefully bring us closer together. It will give us the opportunity to grow as a couple and better know and understand one another. That’s a good thing. We have been forced to change and adapt in ways that neither of us expected and while Covid-19 has certainly underlined the problems in our relationship, it’s also shown us how resilient we are as individuals and as a couple.

If you are facing the same challenges and have any other tips, please share them in the comments. We’re all in this together and while we are doing much better, there is always room to keep improving. Please let me know your tips and tricks for staying apart, together.

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