Maintaining healthy relationships has been shown to relieve stress, help people heal better (physically, mentally, and emotionally), and encourage us to live healthier, more fulfilling, and longer lives (Kelly et al., 2017). The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted many facets (e.g., healthcare, education, economy, social, psychological, and political) of our everyday lives (Haleem et al., 2020; Akat & Karatas, 2020) including how we work. During the pandemic, most individuals (non-essential personnel) were forced to work remotely, and the benefits of remote work for family and work-life have been discussed extensively in the print media and empirical literature (Ward, 2020; George, 2021). In this essay, we specifically evaluate media articles regarding the negative impact of remote work on dyadic processes and propose recommendations for balancing romantic relationships while working remotely.
A dyad consists of two people who are interdependently connected by a relationship (Brauer & Proyer, 2021). Dyadic processes refer to how two individuals, directly and indirectly, communicate with each other to cope with different life events and stress, perceive body language and tone, and convey love (Brauer & Proyer, 2021).
According to the monthly employment trends in the United States reported by Gallup (as of September 2021), 25% of people were working remotely and 20% were working in a hybrid format. Of the workforce, 67% of people in white-collar jobs reported working from home either all or some of the time. Additionally, a nationwide survey of individuals working remotely done by the Detroit Free Press found that 25% of the people who telecommute reported working from home was damaging their relationships (Spelbring, 2020; Saad & Wigert, 2021). Further, Shah (2021) noted that remote work led to sharing of both personal and workspaces for couples during the pandemic leading them to work around each other’s schedules, adding to the existing stress in their relationship.
Another negative consequence of working from home is that partners begin to see each other in a whole new way. For instance, Birch (2020), interviewed counselors and intimacy coaches and found that couples began to see how their partners interacted with coworkers and saw them acting in ways that reminded them of their own coworkers they disliked. Additionally, issues that were easier to brush aside in the past would resurface more frequently, for example, distribution of household labor, unhealthy communication patterns, lack of dyadic empathy, lack of emotional and physical intimacy, and past unresolved affairs (Birch, 2020; Shah, 2021).
Furthermore, remote work may have unintentionally dulled couples’ sex lives. Margueritte Ward (2020) of Business Insiderdiscussed a problem called “the sweatpant paradox” where people do not properly maintain their appearance or get dressed for the day because they do not have to go into the office and want to remain comfortable, this lack of attention to maintaining professional appearance on a daily basis may cause feelings of disgust between partners and they may be less likely to initiate intimate moments. Thus, leading to added feelings of stress, frustration, insecurity, and resentment.
Based on the articles from digital media discussed above, it appears that in addition to the positive benefits of remote work as discussed in print media and literature (George, 2021; Wu et al. 2022), remote work may also be a “new” source of stress for some couples (especially those working remotely while also living together) due to the decreased communication between partners, unbalanced distribution of household workload, and a lack of self-care leading to issues with intimacy and attraction.
What can be done to increase and maintain healthy, happy relationships?
Digital media reports offer many suggestions to overcome the many challenges couples face when working remotely. Articles reported in Business Insider, Detroit Free Press, Well and Good, and Virtual Vocations all recommend the importance of setting schedules, respecting boundaries, making time for romantic moments, sharing home duties, and communicating openly and patiently. Fisher (2021), an expert, quoted in an article in Northwestern Medicine, recommended that romantic partners actively listen to their partner’s concerns and needs without deflecting and reacting defensively. Making a significant other feel their thoughts, feelings, and needs matter can lead to resolving conflicts more smoothly.
According to Rodgers (2021), for those whose partners work remotely, while they themselves work on-site, it is important not to have overestimated expectations regarding what the remote significant others can accomplish in a day. Working from home does not mean that one can do more around the house or run errands. It is important to set boundaries and mutually agree upon at-home work hours and personal hours, so as not to disrupt the balance between work and attending to family matters. As for partners who both work from home, it is recommended that they create separate workspaces and take time for themselves to avoid feeling suffocated by too much togetherness but also make separate time for dates to keep the romantic spark alive.
In a survey of heterosexual couples, Levesque et al. (2014) found that when partners in a romantic interpersonal relationship show empathy and concern, there is better dyadic coping to work side by side with the partner to get through stressful life events. Obi-Keguna et al. (2019) interviewed married couples to examine what marital habits and skills strengthen or impede healthy relationships and found that management skills, social skills, communication skills, and sex-related skills enhanced healthy relationships. Thus, it appears that healthy communication and trust, effective conflict resolution, mutual satisfaction, setting and respecting boundaries, understanding nonverbal cues, and limiting distractions when spending time together are key to maintaining a healthy relationship.
Maintaining healthy romantic relationships amidst the added and changing responsibilities presented by the pandemic has proven to be difficult. Reports in digital media concerning the challenges and suggested solutions for couples working remotely seem to reflect the findings of empirical research. These reports specifically highlight the importance of recognizing and understanding the disruption of dyadic coping and empathy when faced with challenges and how adapting the skills and habits mentioned throughout this essay can enhance these dyadic processes and positively influence romantic interpersonal relationships.
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Birch, J. (2020, June 3). How to keep too much time together in quarantine from Breaking your relationship. Well+Good. Retrieved October 21, 2021, from https://www.wellandgood.com/too-much-time-together-quarantine/.
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