Chicago Tribune (Sunday)

Keeping the balance

How to support a partner while they’re searching for a new job

- By Elizabeth Grace Saunders

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.

Discuss finances

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.


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