You’re in the middle of recounting a funny story you heard on the news. Silence comes from the other side of the room, so you glance over and see that your partner has his nose buried in his phone.
“Sorry, what did you say?” he asks casually, glancing over at you, not realizing that the jovial mood is now ruined.
“Never mind,” you mutter, and he goes back to his phone.
New research from Pew Center shows that 51% of Americans report that they often feel ignored due to how often their spouse looks at their phone. And 40% of people say that they are bothered by how much time their partner spends on their phone.
And now, with millions of Americans working from home due to COVID-19 distancing guidelines, many people are grappling with the fact that their partner is incessantly ‘plugged in’ to the office, often disregarding conversations or being abrupt or grouchy due to work distractions.
I have talked with many people who are feeling very overlooked or conflicted about how much time their partner is spending working at home. It’s really hard to find a work-life balance when your home has turned into your workplace, and you are both juggling your jobs, especially as most of your work is going to be done on a screen. No wonder partners are feeling replaced by phones.
So how can couples navigate the demands of their employers while still safeguarding their relationship?
Here are some of my work/life balance tips, geared towards couples who are concerned about their relationship quality during this trying time:
Set work hours. It’s tempting to make your own schedule and finish tasks whenever emails crop up, but you really need to set a strict schedule for work hours and for relaxation hours.
For example, you might decide to work from 8 a.m. to noon, then take a hour break for lunch, during which time you shut off your phone and go for a walk with your partner or maybe even have a picnic. Commit to this break and let your employer/colleagues know that you won’t be available during this time. It will do your mind and your relationship good.
No screen time three nights a week. Our screen time has greatly increased in the last couple of months. Whether we are working, obsessively checking the news, online shopping or just having Zoom calls with friends, we are always plugged in. Make a rule that for 3 nights a week you won’t use any screens. When 6 p.m. hits or whatever time works for you, shut off your phones and keep the television off. Play board games, read books, play cards, or go stargazing. Just turning off your phones can feel like a massive weight off your shoulders.
Agree to be patient. Don’t snap at your partner when you see he’s on his phone during dinner or she is checking her work emails in bed. This is such a difficult time right now and we are sort of making up the rules as we go along. So practice compassion and hold on to the belief that your partner is doing the best that they can. Realize it’s not about you, but their stress about finishing work when the world seems to be falling apart.
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