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How to grow stronger as a WFH couple

The COVID pandemic has forced us all to change the way we work and live. Working from home (WFH) has become the new normal. Most of us have adapted to this new way of life; however, that does not mean it is any less of a struggle. As people are forced to spend more time together and re-negotiate working and living spaces, trivial matters can escalate into major conflicts. If not handled properly, marriage and love can fall apart.

As business partners and as a married couple with two young ones in the mix, Dating Moments' founders Edmund and Jenny definitely spend more time together than the average Singaporean couple. With so many aspects of their lives dependent on their partnership with each other, we turn to ask our bosses their secret to building and maintaining a relationship with a shared living and working space.

Q: What is the biggest issue for your relationship during this WFH period?

Edmund: Staying at home more means that sometimes, the lines can get blurry. Working time and family time is not so clear cut anymore. So I would say we work longer hours than if we were back in the office. This, of course, leads to repercussions like our neglecting our family responsibilities. We tend to push off our responsibilities to each other, especially in the beginning. Because unlike work, where we had a specific job scope and was clear on who managed what aspect, family responsibilities were less clear cut.

Jenny: Yes! Couldn't agree more. In the beginning, we tended to push our family responsibilities to each other and did not even make time for ourselves and our relationship. But as time went by, we realised that this was not sustainable and found ourselves arguing over small matters. So one day, we sat down and talked about it. We actually grabbed a paper and pen, the old-fashioned way, and drew a line down the middle. One side was "Edmund" and the other side was "Jenny". Then we made starting dividing up our roles and responsibilities for the family and putting it down under our respective names.

Edmund: Ya, so this was important for us as it really gave us a black and white record of our responsibilities around the house. It also helped to strengthen our bond because it made us feel like partners who were supporting each other and shouldering on the responsibilities together. The whole objective is not to achieve a 50-50 equal split, but really to provide an understanding that both parties are putting in effort to build up the relationship and family. With the list, it is also easier to see if one partner is contributing to more duties than the other person. If there is, like a 70% to 30% split between the parties, then the 30% partner must learn to appreciate and support the other in small little ways as well, so that the so-called "structural beam" of the family stays strong and feels loved.

Jenny: Actually, most of the time, people really don't mind contributing more for their loved ones and family. But the issue comes when people don't feel appreciated by their loved ones. That's when arguments often ensue.

Q: So how do you cope with spending so much time together?

Edmund: So we actually have had a lot of experience working and living together, for extended periods of time. For most couples, they will see each other in the day before leaving for work. Then head to work where they will spend the better portion of the day apart. After work, they head back home and reunite again. But for us, we actually see each other at home and at work!

For us, I would say it really helps to compartmentalize and set up certain boundaries and space. Respect your spouse/partner's space as you would your co-worker. In an office, there is a clear segregation of space and some unspoken rules about the use of physical office space. However, when you work from home, you may get too comfortable that you might cross into the other person's boundaries unknowingly. So it is important to establish some space boundaries first, and respect your partner's space.

Jenny: Yes, me and Edmund have our own separate desks at work and at home too! It really helps to keep us out of each other's hair. Another pointer that I found useful for us was to give each other space when we are off work as well. It is important to have different hobbies and friends as individuals. Just because you are a couple, it doesn't mean that you need to do everything together. Give each other space to pursue your own hobbies and relaxation activities, but make time for each other as well.

Edmund: For us, we will check in with each other during meal times. We will agree on a certain time that works for both of us and take a break from work to have our lunch and dinner together. So we get a good balance of work, leisure, and romance through this WFH period.

Q: What would you say is your secret to maintaining a functional relationship despite WFH arrangements?

Jenny: I think for me, it would be having open communication and being mutually supportive. A marriage is similar to a business partnership. Both parties have to support each other. One party alone cannot be carrying the weight of the relationship. Because we have two small ones at home, the both of us really have to take turns and support each other as parents. Take initiative to support your partner. If your partner does not show initiative, then have an open communication with each other. Don't point fingers, but instead, help your spouse see that you would like to him/her to help out more in certain areas.

Edmund: For me, I think it is important to set aside quality time as a couple. Some times, we get so busy working and taking care of the kids, I think some times we forget to make time for ourselves. Ultimately, marriage is the centre of the family. If the husband and wife do not have a good relationship foundation, the whole family crumbles.

It is also crucial to compartmentalize the different aspects of your life. Many people might take out the stress of work on their spouse. Don't let a bad day at work affect your relationship with your partner. This is extremely damaging to the relationship. Especially when people are working from home, many couples are prone to do that. Be mindful in your interactions with your partner and communicate effectively if something is bothering you instead of lashing out at them.

Q: Any last advice for couples still struggling with working and living together under the same roof?

Edmund: Communication is key. If something is bothering you, speak up. But use a gentle tone, of course. If you raise your voice, your partner will take offence and start to shout as well. Instead, talk about practical solutions for both parties to mitigate the issue. Don't focus on whose fault it is and push the blame around. This way, nothing gets solved and your relationship worsens.

Jenny: Yes, I agree. But apart from communicating, it's also important to rekindle the romance. Remind yourself of why you chose each other in the first place. Remind each other of your love. This way, you will be motivated to put in the effort to mend the relationship back. Always find your way back to each other.

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