Let it go, and other tips for couples working from home
I’m scrambling an egg for the dog. The coffee is percolating, and my husband’s laptop is pinging. Do you want some juice, he asks as he pours his own.
I say, No, thanks, but I am not surprised when he pulls out a second glass, pours a short orange juice and places it near my coffee cup on the breakfast table.
It’s actually nice that he served up a morning OJ for me. But he isn’t listening.
One night a few years ago, one sister-in-law, observing my husband and I bump blindly, though pleasantly, into each other in the kitchen before serving dinner, asked me, without context or explanation, “What’s the secret?”
I had no idea what kind of weight was straining her relationship with my brother. With their children present, that moment was not the time to discuss such issues. But I glanced at my brother’s sweet, perennially grinning, countenance before I responded. “Sometimes you just have to let things go,” I said.
I figured that’d cover just about anything that might be taxing them, and if they accepted that advice, I selfishly would not have to worry so much about the state of their marriage, and we could have a nice pleasant dinner.
As it turns out, it appeared that they both accepted my advice. They let each other go.
Certainly, their trials were much more intense than I suspected.
But for my husband and I, we have generally avoided the most harrowing of challenges by accepting our differences, and navigating the mountains AND the molehills by letting go of the emotional “You don’t listen: I don’t want orange juice” types of discussions.
Yes, we have had plenty of practice. Throughout our 34-year relationship (30 of which has been in the state of matrimony), I think the practice of letting things go has been the key to our longevity. And I’m not embarrassed to say it: I learned it from him.
My husband has a knack for making me laugh when things are tense. For the most part, it is the most effective way to derail one of those Seinfeld arguments. (You remember: a show about nothing?) Those types of disagreements (Yes you do/No I don’t) do not accomplish anything positive and can be quite damaging in the long run.
Instead, he has accepted me and my various ticks. For one, I seem to be a sort of frustrated traffic cop. While we are in the car, I tend to note drivers who are not adhering to the rules of the road, especially ‘right of way’ rules. I can’t help it. I sound so snippy and downright obnoxious, yet try as I might, I cannot suppress these impulses.
He has also tolerated my few irrational fears — fast boats, people walking (or driving) too close behind, and now, unmasked strangers in grocery stores. He’s endured my decidedly liberal political rants (about one every morning) as well as my awkward attempts to explain myself in more centrist and conservative friend circles.
At the same time, I have no problem letting go of his peculiar habit of turning down the volume — on car radio especially — so that neither of us can hear it. Even when he is in my car.
He’s found a way to drive through my need to ask questions whenever there is a lull in car conversation. “Who did that song, Tom Petty? The Stones? Is that Sinatra? What is on the radio? Still can’t hear it. Where are we? Is this Westerly? Is that restaurant still open? How’s Paul doing?”
He doesn’t answer. He just expels one long sigh.
And then we both start giggling.
When we are home together and there is a television show we are trying to watch, or a song on the radio playing, I have learned to deal with the sensation of being locked in a closet during the entertainment portion of the evening, while he’s learned to withstand the feeling that he is on the Domestic Bliss Version of Jeopardy. “I’ll take 2-Too Many Questions, Alex.” He doesn’t mind my use of closed captions on our television, and I usually stifle my quiz master impulses for much of our evenings together. I’ve even texted a question or two when necessary. Ready for ice cream and cake?
So thanks to his sense of humor and our many similar character traits, it’s been mostly smooth sailing for three decades. Even in quarantine. (I did say mostly, right?)
Admittedly, there’s never been a bigger challenge to the placidity of our homelife than this very scary, global pandemic.
Displacement anger — redirecting the rage and frustration such crises create — can sound the death knell for any relationship. Even though finding solid numbers on how Covid-19 has infected America’s homelife is difficult to calculate right now, it is widely reported that more wedded couples than not agree that the pandemic has hurt their marriages.
The only positive aspect of this pandemic’s longevity is that it has given us time to further develop skills as good partners.
Sure, things felt strange and tenuous at first. But six months later, we’ve adapted and shifted our work habits in the name of our household harmony. We overlook the orange juice, the missed signals, the frustrations that come with working from home.
I am no expert, but I am dedicated to preserving the peace and wellbeing of our homelife. Here are some strategies that work for us:
- Give your partner space. If you’re both working from home, it would be wise to establish boundaries. Stick to them until the workday is over.
- Spend quality time together when you are not working. Though you may both be working at home, your leisure time has been dramatically limited by the crisis.
- Be generous. Be thoughtful. Make lunch for the other. Pour the coffee — or juice — in the morning. Bring in a flower from the garden. Maybe even provide some favorite take-out as a surprise.
- Go for a walk, run, bike ride. Alone.
- Go for a walk, run, bike ride. Together.
- Read a good book; entertain yourself when he or she is occupied.
- Stream a good movie that your partner will like, even if you have to pay for it.
- Offer hugs and affection for no good reason.
- And whenever you feel as if you are teetering on the edge of snarkiness, make a conscious decision to let that snub, quip, gripe, comment or eye roll go.
- Let it go.
- Let it go.
- Let it go.