Chicago Tribune (Sunday)
Keeping the balance
How to support a partner while they’re searching for a new job
So your significant other just quit their job. How do you maintain a balance when both you and your partner “work” from home? On the one hand, it may be a relief for both of you if their position was a source of massive stress. On the other hand, the prospect of just one of you working may make both of you anxious, because the established equilibrium of time, energy and money between the two of you got upset.
How do you stay balanced, focused, productive and not resentful in this situation? As a time management coach, I’ve worked with many people navigating these life circumstances. And I’ve found that the key to success is for both individuals to take ownership of their side of the situation and to work together to create a new sense of balance.
Here are the key areas where you’ll need to partner with your significant other to reestablish the rhythm of your relationship.
Determine set hours for work
If you’re the person who is still working and your job has set hours, this conversation will be a little easier. You’ll simply need to restate when you need to leave the home or when you need to be at your computer to honor your commitment to your employer.
Then you’ll need to stick to those times so your partner consistently sees when you are not available.
If you are employed but your hours are flexible, this can be a little more tricky.
One issue I’ve often seen is that the individual who doesn’t have to get up for work in the morning will often get the person who does have to get up to stay up later than they would prefer. Then the person who is still employed ends up being frustrated because they start the next day later than expected, when working from home, which means they then need to work late.
To avoid this vicious cycle, you’ll need to independently decide when you need to go to bed, wake up and get to work regardless of what your significant other decides to do. You’ll feel less frustrated when you establish and assert what works for you in order to get your work done, instead of falling into a routine similar to the one of your unemployed partner.
On the other hand, if you’re the person who is in transition and without work, you also need to set your hours. You may not have liked the job you left behind, but it did provide focus, structure, deadlines and purpose. And now that you’re on your own, you need to establish that yourself.
I’ve found that the key to success is for both individuals to take ownership of their side of the situation and to work together to create a new sense of balance.
Choose when you will spend set time looking for jobs, taking classes, applying for grad school, developing a business or other activities that will help lead you to the next phase of your life. For example, maybe you’ll pick 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. Then work on sticking to that time block and honoring it in the same way that you would for a boss.
You’ll feel more focused and productive. And your significant other will feel less concerned that you’re just hanging out at home “doing nothing.”
Stake your territory
When you’ve got an office to work from, clarifying when you’re in work mode is a lot easier. If you’re the one with the job, I recommend commuting if you can. If not, have a designated space in your home for when you’re “on the clock.” Establish the understanding that when you’re in that space, it’s assumed you’re focused on work and not available for long, casual chats. Try to avoid migrating to the living room or kitchen where your significant other may be watching TV or cooking so that you don’t get distracted. It’s not their responsibility to keep you focused — it’s yours.
For those currently unemployed, you’ll need to respect that, when your partner is in their workspace, they’re not available and that it’s not fair to expect more interaction during work hours than you would’ve in the past. Just because you’re feeling bored and missing the camaraderie of co-workers doesn’t mean it’s your partner’s job to entertain you. If you need more human interaction, go to a coffee shop or co-working space to plan your next career steps. Or simply engage in a healthy activity like hiking, going to the gym or volunteering.
Rethink household chores
To keep everything in balance with only one of you working, rethink household responsibilities. The person who is looking for a job shouldn’t have to do all domestic chores.
But it could make sense for them to take on more of the cooking, errands, laundry, cleaning and other activities, such as picking up and dropping off kids.
Talk about how you split up tasks in the past, and then explore what the person who is not working could take on. You want to make sure they still have time to focus on their job search or other next professional steps. And also that, with their increased flexibility, they’re helping more where they can.
The change in employment status will typically impact financial resources. So, you’ll need to decide as a couple what works for you now. That could mean cutting back on discretionary expenses. And if you each were paying for different things, it could mean that the person who is paying the bills changes.
Depending on your financial situation and the length of unemployment, you’ll need to review this plan monthly, or potentially even weekly, to make sure that you’re in agreement and that everything stays on track.
Also, you’ll need to talk through any changes in benefit status, such as health insurance or retirement, and how you’ll manage those transitions.
It’s not easy to reestablish balance when your significant other quits their job, but it is possible.
Through communication, teamwork and proactive responses, you can develop a new pattern that feels supportive and respectful for both of you in the midst of your transitions.